By Megan Hereford
What it is: 100% Albariño from Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes, the flagship wine from a centuries old producer in Rías Baixas.
Why you need it: This bottle is so much more than Vino Blanco. The classically produced Albariño de Fefiñanes is consistently rated above 90 points and the 2018 vintage is no exception. It has all the things I search for in a white wine: intense aromatics, richness on the mid-palate, and acidity that is racy but not sharp. This particular iteration has the ability to age a few years (if you can hold on to it that long). And at under $17 per bottle, you can afford to enjoy it over and over again.
Fefiñanes has a long-standing winemaking history that dates back to the 17th century; these are folks that know their Albariño. They proudly work with over 60 local family owned vineyards to source grapes near their coastal bodega in the town of Cambodas. They are located in the Val do Salnés, one of the 5 sub-regions of Rías Baixas, known for making a crisp & aromatic style of Albariño.
At first glance, this region of Spain more closely resembles the craggy rocky coasts and green fields of Ireland, not the inland plateaus and desert climate we associate with the Castilian plains. It is often referred to as “Green Spain”, spanning the Galician coastline of Northwest Spain, just above Portugal. Here, you will find quaint old villages, stunning granite castles and vineyards shrouded in mist that covers the hillsides. Cambodas may be my Mecca; I threaten to run away there on a weekly basis and get a winery job cleaning tanks, dragging hoses, and working on my Spanish.
Albariño is grown here mainly on ancient, overhead pergolas, or “parras”. The parras are up to 7 feet high, allowing ocean breezes that cool and dry the grapes during hot summers. This helps with even ripening and preventing the growth of mildew (sounds quaint, until you are the one that has to spend all day in the vineyard reaching above your head to do anything -- at least there's shade). The vines are typically supported by granite posts that are hewn locally. Why granite? Because of the high humidity and rainfall, wood posts tend to rot, remind you of anywhere familiar? Maybe that is why on the hottest and muggiest of Virginia days a nice chilled glass of Albariño is so refreshing.
And that is just what does it for me, this is the classic and true expression of what Albariño can be in one place. Right now, it is all honey, lemon, apricot and peaches with an impressively lasting finish that brings in notes of sweet spice and baked apple. As the wine warms in the glass, the aromatics will evolve to express richer notes of stone fruit as the citrus and mineral notes fade into the background.
The soils of Rías Baixas are predominately limestone and clay and are at heights not much above sea level. In the Fefiñanes Albariño you can taste the brininess of the ocean in the wine and that can be attributed to the cooling marine breezes from the Atlantic. That salinity is certainly a characteristic I look for in this variety when it is grown close to the sea.
Typically, Albariño is made in a fresh and aromatic style, and after the grapes are brought to the winery and lightly crushed, some skin contact can really add structure and pump up the aromatics. Albariño de Fefiñanes is always bottled in the late winter/early spring the year after vintage and released in May, but the family believes this wine really comes into its own in June & July and even recommends to leave it another year in bottle. I know I'll be buying a few extra bottles and having my own vertical tasting next year.
This wine sings with a few oysters on the half shell, but you can confidently pair this wine with most shellfish and seafood in general. Here is a little something to get you started on that pairing. Feel free to consume it alone, its complexity weightiness is enough even for those red wine drinkers to enjoy.
I once had an almost week long conversation with a French winemaking consultant about how wonderful of a pairing this is as we drove around visiting Virginia wineries. Needless to say, at the end of this week we ended up in DC at my favorite oyster bar consuming a healthy quantity of both oysters and Albariño. There's a twist ending to this story; the next time you see me at the Guild mention oysters and Albariño to me and I will gladly tell it to you.
Do yourself a favor; try this wine. Try more Spanish Albariño. Try Virginia Albariño. I promise you will come back to this grape year after year. Cheers and thank you! I am so excited to share the wines I discover with you!