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THURSDAY THORNS
10/06/2016
Why Albariño May Be The Next Big Thing
      ~~And Why It Won’t Be

By Charles Olken

The obvious case for the positive view of Albariño is that it is easy to like, has a pleasant perfume and a light and fruity flavor profile. Its performance in the northwestern parts of the Iberian Peninsula show that it can be both fruity and fresh but that it does not need residual sugar to succeed.

Here in California, we are in desperate need of such a wine. I like to think that Riesling could fill that bill, but the truth is that the light, not highly ripened versions of that grape bear no resemblance to the wines I like so much when grown in Germany or up in Washington or down under in parts of Australia and New Zealand. No, as much as I can praise a few of the California efforts, Riesling is not really for us.

Pinot Gris might have filled that bill. Certainly, it can be fruity and open, but it tends to lose acidity rapidly as it gets to the levels of ripeness needed to bring out its best side. Oregon, on the whole, does better than California with the grape, and while it is moderately popular, it rarely stretches itself and finds true beauty in these parts.

Chenin Blanc? Now there is a grape with promise. Except that it wants to grow in territory now occupied by cold-area Chardonnay, and try as they might, the local producers have not found an expanded body of takers. I do give Chenin a shot at glory, but only if the locals decide that its floundering failures several decades ago will not be repeated if they go ahead and plug it in.

All of which brings me to Albariño. California vineyardists, wine stores and sommeliers are always on the lookout for the next big thing. As delightful as the best efforts with the grapes mentioned above may be, they cannot be classified as “next”. That would bring about the anointing of the old, the never-wossers, and that is not going to happen.

So, Albariño. It’s new. It can be bright and fresh. After several false starts, we are seeing examples that capture the prettiness that shows up in the best of the Spanish and Portuguese offerings. “New” is good when it comes to the next big thing. And, on that basis, I give the grape a chance.

Back in my pre-wine days, I used to work as an economist, and my mentor in that business used to tell me when I would get a wild and exuberant look in my eye for the chances of a project that had a good story. “Charlie”, he would say, “you can’t swim upstream against the ebb tide”. And that is the problem with aromatic whites in California. They have to fight with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for vineyard space, and they don’t pay off. But, maybe, if Albariño plays its cards right and keeps getting better over time, it just might fool me. Here’s hoping so.


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Comments

California Albariño
by Bob Henry
Posted on:10/10/2016 12:00:14 AM

I have a 2000 vintage Havens Albariño in my wine collection -- a gift from a wine cellar reorganization client.

I almost thought of drinking it this weekend (before I saw your piece).

From the San Francisco Chronicle "Food" Section

(July 1, 2014, Page Unknown):

"Spanish Accent: Albariño Finds a Home in California"

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/Spanish-accent-Albari-o-finds-a-home-in-5583295.php

By Jon Bonné

Wine Editor

 

Home, Sweet Home
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/10/2016 12:49:30 AM

Bob--

It was a bit premature on Jon's part to make that point. If a few hundred acres of vineyard space is the criterion for measurement, then there are several score grapes that qualify. It takes more than modest plantings for a grape to find a home. 

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