Meet Albarín, Not to Be Confused With Albariño | Wine Enthusiast
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Meet Albarín, Not to Be Confused With Albariño

Tempranillo may still be the king of Spanish wines. But a growing number of Spanish winemakers are shifting focus to other native grapes, with particular interest in Albarín.

“Although this grape has been in our region for more than 300 years at least, it was almost extinct, and mostly being used for bulk wine,” says Javier del Blanco, export specialist at Viñedos y Bodegas Pardevalles. “It is one of the many indigenous grapes found on Saint James Way (also known as Camino de Santiago), originally from the area of Asturias and León.”

This white grape is still hard to come by stateside, as export from Spain is minimal. But thanks to a new, discerning generation of winemakers shining light on the ancient grape, it’s slowly making its way into the hands of sommeliers and onto the shelves at wine shops, both across Spain and abroad.

What Is Albarín?

Albarín is grown in northwest Spain in Asturias and Castilla y León at high altitudes. The light-skinned grape makes delicious, spicy, acidic white wine with floral aromas. Most producers make a single-varietal white wine with it.

Craig Heffley, owner of North Carolina-based shop Wine Authorities, describes this standout wine as “aromatically tropical with passion fruit, lime, mango and a juicy mouth feel—like a Sauvignon Blanc.” As a bonus, it tends to be affordable.

The History of Albarín

It might be somewhat surprising that winemakers are starting to turn to Albarín again. Even in the early 1900s, when it was most widely planted, white grapes weren’t used for wine, as reds were still predominant.

“White grapes were something [families] ate for Christmas or dried as a dessert after lunch [throughout] the year,” says Victor Alvarez Menedez, owner of Bodega Monasterio de Corias en Asturias, which is why plantings were minimal.

The Industrial Revolution came to Asturias around 1830, bringing better-paying mining jobs. Farmers slowly began abandoning vineyards for those steady salaries. As a result, the often-overlooked grape Albarín almost became extinct.

Hands of two workers cutting white grapes with scissors during the harvest
Getty Images

Albarín was largely forgotten until 2002, when Monasterio de Corias decided to produce a white wine with it—a total of 200 bottles. More recently, a rise in popularity of native grapes and smaller production wines has resulted in a major uptick in Albarín production and replanting of the grape throughout Spain.

Today, Pardevalles “makes about 1,600 cases every year [of Albarín], and according to the regulatory council, it was 70% of the total production of this grape a few years ago,” del Blanco says. The grape is now being planted in León, Spain, south of the mountains, and in northern Asturias by several wineries including Monasterio de Corias, Pardevalles and LaOsa.

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Noelia de Paz Calvo, winemaker at LaOsa in Ardón (sometimes referred to as the queen of Albarín), notes the winery produces around 3,000 bottles of Albarín per harvest, with roughly 30% exported to the United States. “[This variety] allows us to produce different profiles of wines, very fruity and fresh young wines and very interesting long-aged wines,” she says.

The Albarín/Albariño Confusion

Albarín is often confused for Albariño because of its similar name, even though they are quite different. While both are refreshing and acidic, Albariño boasts zesty citrus notes while Albarín features floral notes.

“Little by little, more recognition is being given to the [Albarín] variety in our country,” says de Paz Calvo. “But I think that in the end, the dominant white varieties in our country are Albariño and Verdejo, and these other more unknown varieties are for a perhaps minority and professional audience.”

Still, at audience appears to be growing. Heffley carries Pardevalles Albarín at his two shops in Raleigh and Durham. Every year, he manages to get his hands on approximately 900 to 1,200 bottles of it—a significant amount for a small wine shop, especially considering the winery only produces 1,600 cases each annually. To help clarify potential confusion between it and Albariño, he hangs a shelf talker that reads, “That’s not a typo! This is Albarín, not Albariño.”

Del Blanco believes there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to educating consumers on Albarín—especially when it comes to its distinction from Albariño. But he notes a growing number of sommeliers are starting to put Albarín on their menus.

Cúrate, in Asheville, North Carolina, boasts some of LaOsa’s Trasto Albarín allocation. The restaurant’s wine program manager, Jessica Salyer, loves turning people on to the grape. It is an outstanding food pairing wine, she says: “It can stand up to white Bordeaux but also portrays Chenin Blanc characteristics.” She also recently sourced some La Fanfarria Blanco, a 60% Albarín and 40% Albillo blend, for its freshness, drinkability and ability to pair with pintxos.

Albarín Finds Its Footing at Home and Abroad

“We export roughly 400 cases [of Albarín] to the U.S. as an average every year, out of a total production of 2,100 cases,” says del Blanco. He anticipates growth in the market and has planted a few more hectares to increase production in the future.

In Asturias, Juan Luis García, sommelier at the two-Michelin-starred Casa Marcial in Arriondas village, highlights local grape varieties on its menu. He also goes a step further to educate diners about lesser-known wines, including Albarín.

“We work with several Albarín producers in the Cangas del Narcea area,” says García. “[It’s] is an area with a winemaking tradition of many years, and back in the 9th century, the monks settled down and planted the vineyard on the poorest soils, which [are] made of slate because it is an area where there is much mineral,” he says. Now that the mining industry is disappearing, García notes that old vineyards are being recovered—a boon to restaurants and specialized shops.

As for Albarín’s future, Kerin “Kiki” Auth Bembry, co-founder of U.S.-based importer La Luz Selections, who imports LaOsa, projects it will continue to become more popular. “I think Albarín has an incredible future in the market as our palates expand and our access to unique, local varieties continues,” she says.

At the 2021 San Francisco International Wine Competition (SFIWC), Pardevalles 2020 Albarín took “Best in Show White Wine” overall and received an award in the “Best Spanish, Argentine, Portuguese White Grape” varietal category.

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Meanwhile, the influential Spanish wine trade show Fenavin, which is held biennially in Ciudad Real, Spain, showcased several Albarín producers in May 2022—the first time the grape had so much representation at the event. They included Pardevalles, Bodega Vidas, Gordonzello S.A, Bodegas La Verda, Bodega Las Danzas, Bodegas Pincerna and Bodegas Vinos de León. For now, unfortunately, most of these producers’ wines are not available in the U.S. However, a Gordonzello representative noted that the winery is working on exporting soon.

In fact, everything could change for Albarín soon. By the end of 2022, del Blanco says that demand had increased in the U.S. and accounted for 20% of their total Albarín sales. “We ran out of stock in September [2022], hence we had to release the new vintage by the beginning of November [2022],” he says. “This never happened to us before.”

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