Albarino Grape Story Image 1




Albarino Grape Story Image 2

  The myth and ceremony associated withthis grape and its wine and typical of the Galician people that cultivateit probably stem from uncertainty concerning its origin. Although someconsider it a native species, several tales IL have arisen about how itwas brought to Galicia. The most widely-held theory is that it was broughtby the Cluny monks when they settled in the Val do Salnes area to'the northof Pontevedra some time during the twelfth century and it is quite likelythat the vineyards could have spread along the valley from the Armenteiramonastery. Another of the legends goes back even earlier, to the eleventhcentury, and suggests that the first stocks were brought by Raymond deBurgundy husband of the Castilian queen, Dofia Urraca. The queen was muchdevoted to taking the thermal waters of Caldas de Reis in Pontevedra.
  Whether it was a native Galician plant or whatever its origin,there are records dating from the eighteenth century showing that it wasgrowing at that time in the Rias Baixas and the inland areas between theUlla and Mifio valleys and even as far as the town of El Ribeiro in theprovince of Orense.   The natural habitat of this vine is theAtlantic ecosystem and it is under these conditions that it gives the bestresults, especially in terms of organoleptic quality.

  Rias Baixas is the name given to the Atlantic coastal areaof southern Galicia, mainly the coast of the province of Pontevedra. Thearea basically comprises three different types of landscape -flat landsin Salnes, gently sloping valleys in 0 Rosal and slightly more mountainouslands in 0 Condado. These three districts make up what is known as theRias Baixas D.O. and the Regulating Council is based in Pontevedra, theprovincial capital, which lies at an equal distance from each of them.
  The Salnos district has the best soils. Its main town is Cambados,an aristocratic, rather grand town much admired by the Galician poet, RamonCabanillas (1986-1959). The Albarifio grape likes shallow, sandy soils,preferably slightly acid, although it can also grow in heavier, fresh soilsas long as they are not too moist. The whole province of Pontevedra, exceptfor the most eastern parts, is suitable for growing this species.

  The geographer Garcia Ferndndez has written that the rurallandscape plays an essential part in local history and must be considerednot only from the point of view of space but also over time. This vinehas formed part of the Galician landscape for so long that it is undoubtedlytied in with the most deep-rooted sentiments of Galicians.
  It grows intermittently all along this green strip of landwhere the rainfall and hours of sunshine are similar to those in certainMediterranean areas. The sea keeps the temperatures mild.
  The grapes mature on the hillsides and in the valleys. Thebunches are small and the grapes spherical or elliptical with a pale, greenishyellow skin. According to Jorge Freijanes, an expert on Galician agriculture,the flavor attributes are already balanced and enticing even in the newberries.

  These are delicate grapes that need careful tendering butin Galicia they are positively pampered. If the local growers had alwaysdevoted as much time and attention to the preparation of the wine as theyhave done to the vines, the technological revolution that has taken placeover the last decade in this sector would have been much less remarkableand significant.
  Although the Albarino stock is vigorous and sends out its shootsearly, its hermaphrodite flower grows best from the third bud upwards andon long branches. The traditional method of training the vines over trellisesis still used today because the small orbicular leaves and fruits do notflourish if grown too near the often damp soils.
  The smooth stocks send out early shoots although maturationis of average duration, except that the lighter the soil the faster itis. Milardet 420-A has been grown on the most fertile and dry soils butthe most successful stocks for dry land are the 110 Richter, Castel 196-17and Couderc 161-49, which have gradually ousted the traditional Riparia,Berlandieri and Rupestris stocks. The pH of the soil is slightly acid -between4 and 6.

  Cultivation of the Albarino variety has shot up over the lastdecade, as has wine production in this area. It is therefore risky to givefigures for this sector, especially because the tiny size of many properties,typical of farms in Galicia, makes it difficult to keep track of domesticproduction and also because this variety is often grown alongside othersin the small vineyards scattered along and around the Salnes valley.
  In less than 15 years, the land area growing Albarino has multipliedby ten. Now it is not only the variety producing the best white wines butit is also the most widespread, best known and most popular of the Galicianative vines. Albarino has boosted the market for white wine both withinand outside Galicia and has raised its quality standards.
  This variety is so much the protagonist in the Atlantic areaof Galicia that, when the current geographical area was established, itwas based on the Albarino Specific Denomination that previously set thestandards for the local white wines, the great majority of which came fromthe Albarino variety.
  Albarino is a quality, pleasant-tasting wine. It varies betweenpale yellow and golden and average alcohol content is 12 degrees. Its acidityis around 6 g/liter expressed in tartaric acid and the high quantity ofsugar in the must makes it a sweet wine.
  Albarino wine can continue to boast of its relative scarcityand top quality for two reasons: firstly, because of the nature of thevine itself which does not produce large numbers of grapes and, secondly,because of protectionist regulations which limit production from the grapeto a maximum of 65% per kg and only allow a maximum of 10,000 kg to beproduced from every hectare (2.471 acres).
  The total area with its three districts measures, accordingto Professorjoso Manuel Santos Solla, 675 square kilometers (260 squaremiles) and has about 155,000 inhabitants. He considers the geographicalarea should be extended to include the Vigo and Pontevedra "rias"or estuaries.
  Santos Solla points out that the parameters for the Salnosand Bajo Mifio areas are fairly uniform and typical of the whole "RiasBaixas" area-annual rainfall of about 1,500 mm, average temperaturesof 142C (572F) with no frost and little fluctuation and low rainfall insummer.
  The geological substratum comprises granite, gneiss, metasedimentsand recent deposits so that throughout the area the soils are acid andvery permeable.
  According to Santos Solla, the only difference between theCambados area and the area around the river Mifio as it passes throughPontevedra is the "greater abundance of Quaternary formations includinglimey-clayey marismas, terraces and alluvial-colluvial areas".

  Ten or fifteen years ago, vines were a secondary crop and wineswere produced on a small, family scale. Of the 18,500 vineyards exceeding25 hectares ( 2 acres), 99.9% were privately owned and 99.4% produced lessthan 99 hectoliters. None was able to produce over 25,000 hl and not even50 of them were able to bottle their own wine. The change during the Eightiesproved to be quite spectacular. What remains is the tradition and the factthat wine production is monovarietal.
  The Salnos area, "the most developed coastal plan in Galicia",earns its living from the occasional orchard, seafood and tourism but especiallyfrom its over 2,500 hectares (6,200 acres) of vineyards comprising onequarter of the province of Pontevedra. The 0 Rosal area has just 500 hectares(1,236 acres) and 0 Condado 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres).
  Not only is Albarino the mostly widely grown stock but it isthe only one that is steadily increasing. At the close of the Seventiesit occupied only 300 hectares (750 acres) and today approaches 1,700 hectares(4,200 acres) and, moreover, it is a variety that develops fast.
  Data concerning production are more specific. These grapesare highly appreciated but do not grow in abundance. The crop today reachesonly about 70,000 hectoliters, amounting to about 5 million bottles, althoughprospects are that it will increase by about 50%. The grapes ripen equallywell in any of the three districts with just about one week's differencedepending on their proximity to the sea. Trellises are used throughout,with the stakes holding the horizontal wires being sometimes of graniteand sometimes of wood.
  The planting layout is 4 x 2 for a density of between 600 and1,200 stocks (pies) per hectare (2.471 acres).
  The quality is exceptional. So too is the price paid for thegrapes -about 250 pesetas, or two dollars, per kg. This has helped to developAlbarino cultivation but has also helped to place bottles of Albarino winetowards the top end of the market.
  The medium-sized grapes of a greenish-yellow color with a fleshyskin produce a wine that goes from pale yellow (straw, lemon) to golden-it used to be prized for its old gold color. Its characteristic floweryand fruity aromas make it a fresh and cheerful wine that leaves behinda balanced, velvety sensation that is always luxurious.
  These are the special features of wines produced exclusivelyfrom the Albarino variety and honored annually in the Fiesta del Albarinoin Cambados, a tradition since 1953 when Cambados becomes the center ofattraction of the Rias Baixas. On the first Sunday of August, a young couplerepresenting the Albarino grapes are submitted to the test of the harvest,their praises are sung and they give back to man and to mother nature whatthey have received. Thanks are given and the wine is much enjoyed.

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Guiflermo Campos, a journalistand wine expert, writes forel Correo Gallego and tbe journals Club de Gourmetsand Vino y Gastronomia. He is also a member o the official tasting panelfor the Rias Baixas D.O.

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