Dunne on Wine

Dunne on Wine: Regional winemakers embrace Iberia’s albariño

Markus and Liz Bokisch are joined by Purry amid rows of albariño in their Lodi vineyard.
Markus and Liz Bokisch are joined by Purry amid rows of albariño in their Lodi vineyard.

Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society, more succinctly known as TAPAS, is the wine trade group devoted to promoting grapes long identified with Europe’s Iberian peninsula. Those grapes also are being embraced by farmers and winemakers in the western United States.

As the group’s name suggests, the black grape tempranillo is the star of the show, even though not quite 1,000 acres of it are being grown in California. There’s even less albariño – around 230 acres – but the perfumey, spirited and refreshing white wine it yields makes a stronger case for Iberia in California than tempranillo.

In Spain and Portugal, where albariño also is known as alvarinho, the wines tend to be fragrant, cleanly flavored, leanly shaped and sharp in the finish. With its similar sunshine and warmth, the West is yielding albariños that often display that same sort of character. Regardless of source, albariño is a wine most comfortable with seafood, including grilled halibut topped with a fruit salsa and raw oysters on the half shell.

With summer on my mind, albariño was the varietal wine I focused on during the big annual TAPAS tasting in San Francisco this spring. From that tour, these were the most enticing I tried:

Harney Lane Winery 2013 Lodi Albariño ($19): I first came across a Harney Lane albariño at the TAPAS tasting in San Francisco four years ago. It was a 2010, and it struck me as richer and more complex than most white wines being poured that day, while still respecting the varietal’s reputation for freshness and angularity. The 2013 comes from the same mold, its vibrant suggestions of pineapple, melon and peach punctuated with a dash of spice and backed up with tangy acidity.

Kenneth Volk Vineyards 2013 Santa Maria Valley Riverbench Vineyard Albariño ($28): Down in Santa Barbara County, Kenneth Volk also consistently turns out another reliable interpretation of albariño, with the dry, racy and minerally 2013 defining just what the varietal can say when it is grown in California and handled with care.

Longoria Wines 2014 Santa Ynez Valley Clover Creek Vineyard Albariño ($25): Rick Longoria strives to make what he calls “transparent” wines – true to varietal, true to vineyard, harmonious and lively. With its dryness, sleek lines, ample and varied fruit, and zingy acidity, his 2014 albariño meets those standards. He suggests that the wine be paired with oysters with a classic mignonette or “pulpo gallego” – Spanish octopus with paprika.

Oak Farm Vineyards 2014 Lodi Albariño ($19): Winemaker Chad Joseph is an old hand at making albariño in Lodi, here turning out a version that is highly aromatic, a touch sweet and rounder in build than others, yet refreshing with citric fruit and sprightly acidity. He suggests it accompany light summer pasta dishes, mildly spiced Asian foods, grilled halibut or shrimp and ceviche.

Tercero Wines 2014 Santa Ynez Valley Albariño ($25): For Santa Barbara winemaker Larry Schaffer, the warmer inland Santa Ynez Valley yields a huskier and more expansive albariño than versions coming from farther west. Thus, the fruit is more on the apricot and peach side of the albariño spectrum, with the wine getting its lift from the acid and spice inherent in albariño when it is grown in the right place and handled with attention.

Verdad Wine Cellars 2013 Edna Valley Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Albariño ($23): Anyone who wants to know what wine writers mean when they talk of “minerality” in a wine could start with this Verdad albariño. The suggestion of granite and slate is even evident in the aroma. But minerality is more about texture, displayed here in the wine’s sturdy spine and sharply angled lines. The fruit suggests apricots, peaches and limes, with a note of almonds that occasionally surfaces in albariño.

Bokisch Vineyards 2014 Lodi Clements Hills Terra Alta Vineyards Albariño ($18): Markus and Liz Bokisch are so keen on albariño and so taken with how it reflects the sites where the grapes are grown, they make two versions each vintage. This one is the more Californian of the two, meaning the fruit is riper, and the suggestion of melon and peach more pronounced, though the lemony acidity is no less vital. Their other 2014 albariño, labeled with the name of its vineyard, Las Cerezas, or “the cherries,” is more European in its leaner build, more evident minerality and drier overall impression.

Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at dmicheldunne@gmail.com.