Albariño… a vibrant Spanish/Portuguese grape variety that is undoubtedly characterised by a uniquely palate-tingling freshness, a light-bodied purity and a crystalline clarity. Saline, zingy and always zippy, where ever grown, it’s the natural partner of a raw ceviche, sushi or any classic seafood pairings. But who would have thought it would settle into South Africa so well!? Assyrtiko… ok, that seemed a no brainer, but this cool climate variety has yielded fantastic results for not only Newton Johnson but also Springfield Estate.
Albariño is a thick skinned grape variety that can thrive in moist, high-altitude vineyards by the sea – in a Spanish context that means the Galician region of Rías Baixas in the North West near Santiago de Compostela – without succumbing to mould or rot unlike some other more delicate varieties. Higher altitude vineyards generally means a cooler climate, stopping the grapes from over-ripening in the Spanish heat but instead allowing them to retain their own fresh, bright acidity that gives this grape its own characteristic mouth-watering style.
First planted in South Africa by Newton Johnson Vineyards in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the first unofficial bottling was, I believe, the 2014 vintage which was served at an “alternative varieties seminar” at Cape Wine 2015, and since then, this grape has continued to impress meriting more producers to invest in plantings.
Newton Johnson Vineyards Albariño 2018, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.
The 2018 Albariño was matured in 55% stainless steel together with a concrete egg portion with some also in 2,000 litre foudres. Another outstanding Albariño effort, this 2018 shows fabulous crystalline vintage purity and minerality that’s finely embellished and enhanced by notes of crunchy white peaches, lime peel, wet river pebbles and ruby grapefruit zest. The palate shows an impressive harmony and fleshy balance enlivened by beautiful saline notes of the sea shore, bitter yellow grapefruit confit and complex Riesling-like kerosene hints. Fresh but not tart and deliciously piquant. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5 years.
This week I attended the highly successful Vinateros Tasting at the Tate Modern Gallery in London along with what seemed like the rest of the entire London wine trade judging by the thronging crowds at the event, where six leading UK importers presented the latest and greatest “New Wave” Spanish producers in their ranges.
One producer that caught my eye was Dominio do Bibei from the Ribeira Sacra, one of the most exciting regions to emerge from Spain in the past few years. Situated in the North-Western corner of Galicia, the area is very remote and the general landscape dramatic and mountainous. The vineyards are steeply terraced and lie at an altitude of up to 680 metres. Vineyards are rocky and barren with vines growing on predominately slate / schist soils. All fermentation and storage is in wooden vats, barrels and concrete. Domino do Bibei’s wines are made by the talented Javier Dominquez, who focuses on using only local varieties in a combination of various blends. The red wines usually include Mencia, Garnacha and Muraton, while the whites use Godello, Albariño and Dona Blanca.
Today, Luis Romero, the Dominio do Bibei export manager dropped by to see me and we had another opportunity to taste the estate’s largest production wine, the Lalama red blend again in a more calm environment than at Vinateros.
Tasting Note: The Dominio do Bibei Lalama 2013 red is a blend of 90% Mencia, and the remaining 10% from Garnacha, Brancellao and Muraton, has an attractive plush nose with very expressive perfume and fragrance. Soft bruised red cherries, macerated rose petals, violets, crushed forest berries, raisined cranberries, black chocolate and cocoa spice. Fermentation was made in large French oak barrels then transferred to 300 and 500 litre French oak barrels for 13 months, before being moved back to the 25, 35 and 45 Hl wooden vats for another 7 months ageing. Notes of black peppercorns and savoury sappy spice develop on the nose despite the entire production being destalked and destemmed. The savoury, foresty complexity is compelling. The palate is ultra polished and pure with super sleek fine grained tannins, wonderful sweet berry spice, hints of cured meats, sweet plums, all with a most wondrous, harmonious balance. Super freshness and lightness twined with concentration make this wine so juicy and more’ish at 13 Abv. A seductively ethereal red. Production is approximately 55,000 bottles depending on the vintage.