First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 8th June, 2019
One of the great Spanish success stories over the past few years has been Albariño, which now sits alongside Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc as one of our most popular white grapes.
In Spain, Albariño generally means the Rías Baixas region in Galicia. Over the Miño/Minho river in Portugal, Albariño becomes Alvarinho. Here in Ireland, Alvarinho wines have taken huge leaps forward in quality over the past few years. They are generally a little lighter than their Spanish counterparts but share that irresistible combination of plump, ripe pears and peaches and a cleansing citric acidity.
Can a wine be salty? Many of the wines from both sides of the Iberian border seem to have a delicious, distinctly saline quality, and some are grown very close to the sea. Try the Lagar de Costa from O’Briens (€16.95, a nice wine and great value for money), made from vines growing metres from the beach, to see what I mean.
Until recently, although I enjoyed Rías Baixas, I had rarely come across really great versions of the grape that were worth a premium. But over the past year I have come across some stunning wines. Most are from single vineyards, made using grapes plucked from very elderly vines. Sadly, most cost €20-€30 a bottle. Given that the first €5 you spend on a bottle of wine goes on tax, an extra €10-€15 buys you a lot of wine. In most cases you really will notice the difference between a €10 Rías Baixas and one at €20.
O’Briens has no fewer than 11 Albariños, ranging in price from €12.95 to €45, including the Lagar de Costa and a favourite of mine, Pazo de Señorans. Aldi has a very decent Exquisite Collection Rîas Baixas for €9.99 and the superior Albanta for €10.99. SuperValu has its exclusive Abeillo and Lola & Paco (both for €14.99). Dunnes Stores also has the Paco & Lola alongside three other Albariños. Marks & Spencer has both a Rîas Baixas (€13.30) and a tasty Vinho Verde for €11. Look out for the excellent Zarate (about €20) in independents.
From Portugal, the Celtic Whiskey Shop has four excellent wines, all from the winemaker Anselmo Mendes: the Muros Eshola (a blend including 20 per cent Alvarinho, amazing value at €14), the Muros Antigos below, the Contacto (€20) and the Muros de Milgaço (€27.50). JNwine.com has the Soalheiro wines – here it is worth paying €4 extra for the wine below.
Both Alvarinho and Albariño are the perfect match for all kinds of shellfish, as well as octopus and hake. I can think of few nicer things in life than a platter of shellfish served alongside a glass of good Albariño. You could certainly expand on this to include sushi, sashimi, grilled white fish and fresh goat’s cheese salads.
Muros Antigos Alvarinho 2018, Monção e Melgaço, Vinho Verde
This has it all at an unbeatable price: spring flowers, succulent yellow apples and pears, slightly pithy lemon zest and a long, dry finish. With summer salads featuring soft goat’s cheese, herbs and lemon.
From Wines on the Green, Dublin 2, celticwhiskeyshop.com; Nolan’s, Dublin 3, nolans.ie; McCabes Wines, Dublin 18, mccabeswines.ie
Soalheiro Alvarinho 2018, Monção e Melgaço, Vinho Verde
A very seductive blend of lemon zest and light tropical fruits – pineapples and mango, with a crisp dry finish. Light and nervy. With seafood or meze.
From jnwine.com; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, lilacwines.ie
Leirana, Albarino, Forjas del Salnes 2018
Wonderful, subtle wine with plump ripe peach fruits, a touch of orange peel and lemon zest, and a wonderful saline edge. Dublin Bay prawns with home-made mayonnaise.
From 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale, Co Cork; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Loose Canon, Dublin 2, loosecanon.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie
Sesenta e Nove Arrobas 2017, Rías Baixas, Bodegas Albamar
The basic Albamar (€21-€22, independents) is a favourite but this is one of the best white wines I have tasted this year. Exquisite floral aromas of honeysuckle and white flowers. Luscious pears and zesty lemon, with a saline mineral core. Warm poached lobster with sinful quantities of garlic butter.
From Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie