American Albarino

Funnily enough, the two most memorable wines from my recent
trip to the American west coast were white, crisp and clean as
a whistle, and made from Galicia's most famous grape variety
Albariño, often spelt Albarino. (American printers often eschew tildes above their Ns.)

The first, Havens Albarino 2003 Carneros, was one of the most
unusual California wines to have come my way in a long year.
Like the best Albarinos from Rías Baixas, the wine is
intriguingly perfumed but bone dry and razor-sharp on the
palate with real zing. The acidity is all natural – and
apparently some years the wine has to be deacidified. But no
malolactic fermentation is used to soften it, surely quite
rightly, and Michael Havens claims that the fogs and ocean
influence of Carneros on the San Francisco Bay replicate the
conditions around the rías, narrow inlets, of north west Spain pretty well. It
would certainly seem so to judge from this delightful wine
with a touch of honey on the nose but real, appetising vibrancy
on the palate. Havens himself wryly observed, "Albarino's just
two per cent of my total production yet it's a way better food
match than anything else I produce".

He is not the first California grower of Albarino – that
honour goes to Qupé in the Central Coast – but he sure knows
what to do with it. The grapes are picked relatively early, at
no more than 22 Brix, to keep acidity high and  alcohol well
below 13 per cent and a Portuguese low-foam, high-ester yeast
is used. (I tasted this wine with Steve Edmunds who makes some
great Rhône-ish reds at Edmunds St John using the same yeast.)

This wine costs around $24 a bottle and cites
three retailers, though in the US only, I'm afraid.

The second hugely successful and refreshing Albarino to come
my way is also sold only in the US, alas (see Abacela, Cobblestone Hill, Estate Albarino 2003 Umpqua is made by arguably the most exciting producer in southern Oregon. Earl Jones, professor of dermatology-turned-winemaker, has brought rigour to an often woolly wine industry. He chose the Umpqua valley specifically because it seemed after extensive research to most effectively
replicate ideal conditions for growing Tempranillo. Being a
great lover of Spanish wine, 'twas a small step for him to
plant a little Albarino in his second, Cobblestone Hill
vineyard. He knows the vineyard is probably a little hot for
this variety so has planted it on the north side. It is
certainly fuller on the nose than any Galician I have come
across but is delightfully racy and seriously interesting.

It will be released at $20 a week today and is available through