Posted on 08.05.20 Wine of the Week

#WOTW: amazing Albariño brings the sea air to your glass

If you’re suffering from cabin fever during lockdown, then the last place you probably want to think about is the beautiful Rias Baixas in Galicia, on Spain’s northwest coast. Pronounced ‘Ree-ass Bi-chas’, and translating as ‘lower estuaries’, they are a series of deep inlets, sticking out like green fingers into the deep blue Atlantic Ocean, and – whether you want it, or not – this week’s wine will take you there.

Renowned for its fresh seafood, the region has also given us a grape that’s won the hearts of wine lovers the world over: Albariño. Known as ‘the Queen of the Rias’, the variety offers fresh acidity, bright fruit and a lovely salinity.

This week, I was invited to a ‘virtual tasting’ (a far cry from last year’s event at the wonderful Iberica in Farringdon), to taste this year’s new vintage release from Mar de Frades and hear from its pioneering winemaker Paula Fandiño (you can read about meeting her here) zooming at us from the winery terrace. Always experimenting, continually pushing at the boundaries, Fandiño normally has something to shout about – this year it was her expensive new granite tank, still being trialled – and it’s fascinating to taste along with her.

By way of comparison, we were treated to the 2018 vintage, then the new 2019 release. The ’18 comes from a warmer year; the rich tropical aromas leap from the glass, but Albariño’s trademark acidity is there, and there’s a wonderful texture to the wine, courtesy of Fandiño’s skilful work with the lees (dead yeast cells). It rains a lot in Galicia and the Mar de Frades Albariño 2019 (just released, £18.95, or £17 if you buy 12 wines, at Great Western Wine) comes from a much more typical year, cooler and wetter. There’s zesty citrus, crunchy green apple and that blast of sea air that good Albariño should deliver. Though more restrained than the ’18, there is still some tropical influence on the palate from lychees and passionfruit, with pillowy layers of lees texture. The salinity, searing acidity and bright fruit are all beautifully balanced, delivering a very sophisticated wine.

I have always loved the blue bottle and wave logo, which makes a real statement about the wine’s Atlantic roots, but it’s fair to say it divides opinion. It certainly attracts attention.

Albariño cries out for seafood – Fandiño loves her oysters – but the acidity and savoury depth of the wine makes it a really versatile choice for all sorts of potential pairings, including spicy dishes. I dared to match it with a tricky customer, seared asparagus, last night (see my previous post on pairing this divine vegetable) and it worked really well. Phew!

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