In the early days of the Washington wine industry, wine experts in California believed the Evergreen State was too far north to make serious red wines. Indeed, the state’s early fame came with white wines, particularly riesling and gewurztraminer.
Until recently, Washington winemakers and grape growers didn’t give much thought to albarino, a racy white grape from Europe’s Iberian Peninsula. The variety’s bright and fruity approach makes it a delicious fit for the Pacific Northwest, not only as a growing region, but also with our regional cuisine.
In terms of style, the Spanish white often can slot alongside examples of racy riesling or scintillating sauvignon blanc. New Mexico-based Tim Gaiser, one of the first master sommeliers in the United States, describes classic examples of albarino as offering “a viognier nose and a riesling palate.” And while some of Washington’s earliest examples of albarino came a bit off-dry, it is rare now to find them carrying any residual sugar.
Earl Jones of Abacela in Roseburg, Oregon, has been the driving force on the West Coast for albarino. From the start, the albarino he’s produced from his Fault Line Vineyards in the Umpqua Valley is imbued with pinpoint flavors of bright orchard and tropical fruit backed by a refreshing burst of lime.
It was a natural fit considering Jones’ pioneering work with tempranillo. Now, more than 11 acres of vineyard at Abacela are dedicated to albarino, eclipsing all other varieties other than his famed tempranillo plantings. The 2001 vintage marked Abacela’s debut bottling of albarino, which was also the first in the Pacific Northwest.
In Washington, Horse Heaven Hills rancher-turned-grower Mike Andrews is viewed as the first in the state to plant and produce albarino, and his inaugural effort from the 2009 vintage earned gold medals for his Coyote Canyon Winery in Prosser.
One of Washington’s most decorated winemakers, Wade Wolfe, of Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser, has been producing albarino for the better part of a decade. He loves working with the grape from nearby Crawford Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, adding that it presents few problems in the field or the cellar.
Victor Palencia, who now operates two tasting rooms in the Tri-Cities, has made albarino for years with flair. He notes that the Spanish white ages well, just as riesling does, keyed by natural acidity. He pulls his albarino from the cooler Ancient Lakes region in the Columbia Basin near Quincy.
Albarino is a versatile food wine, thanks to that bright acidity and lower alcohol. It pairs with seafood, including grilled salmon or halibut, as well as pasta in a white sauce, crab cakes, shellfish and casseroles. It works particularly well with the Asian, Latin and Indian-inspired cuisine that’s thankfully now prevalent in the Pacific Northwest.
Look for these examples of albarino at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly.
Abacela 2018 Estate Albariño, Umpqua Valley, $21: Enchanting aromas of orange blossoms, peach and Key lime lead into flavors that burst with citrus alongside honeydew melon and papaya. Enjoy with a bowl of clams, lemon wedges and crusty bread or a plate of Manchego cheese, quince paste and crackers.
Coyote Canyon Winery 2018 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Estate Albariño, Horse Heaven Hills, $28: Justin Michaud ferments this wine in concrete, which is apparent from the wonderful minerality on the nose. It’s accompanied by tropical citrus notes and florals. The palate stays fresh and zippy with a fruit-forward finish, and it’s become one of the most popular wines sold by owner Mike Andrews.
Barnard Griffin Winery 2018 Albariño, Columbia Valley, $20: A classic example produced by the father-daughter winemaking team of Rob Griffin and Megan Hughes, this is loaded with flavors of tropical and ripe orchard fruits. A sparkling version of albarino is available in the winery’s restaurant in Richland.
Schmidt Family Vineyards 2018 Reserve Albariño, Applegate Valley, $24: This multi-generation vineyard-winery-restaurant operation south of Grants Pass, Oregon, offers an albarino that brings a peachy, sweet-spiced nose with citrus and a stony minerality. The palate gushes with lemon, leading with a vibrant finish that seemingly never ends.
Palencia Wine Co. 2018 Albariño, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $25: Victor Palencia calls his premium tier wines “El Viñador” and this 2018 albarino lives up to his faith in this Spanish white grape. It shows off the highly aromatic fruit of the Ancient Lakes in its nose of lime, pink grapefruit and citrus zest. On the palate, the lime dominates, with a hint of Asian pear and brilliantly crisp acidity. Drink it with a seafood salad featuring grilled shrimp, octopus and scallops.
Thurston Wolfe 2018 Crawford Vineyard Albariño, Yakima Valley, $18: Another classic from a cooler portion of the Yakima Valley, this reveals aromas and flavors of lime zest, crisp apple and a hint of pear, all backed by delicious tanginess. It was voted as the best white wine of the 2019 Washington State Wine Competition.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.