Sunshine in a Glass: Texas Albariño

In the sun-soaked cafés of Lisbon, Portugal, the tables are crowded with plates piled high with fresh seafood and wine glasses filled with aromatic, crisp alvarinho. The popular Vinho Verde, named “green wine” because it is picked early, is ubiquitous on the Portuguese coast. Although the grape is originally from Portugal, it is the Rías Baixas region of Spain that is best known for albariño, with the versatile white grape accounting for over 90 percent of its plantings.

When harvested early, albariño is bright, high in acidity and full of floral and citrus notes. The budget-friendly Vinho Verde is a perfect accompaniment for picnics or just hanging out on the porch enjoying the summer sun. But don’t dismiss albariño as the bubblegum pop of the wine world. When allowed to hang on the vine a little longer or grown in a hotter climate, the wines can take on a richer, rounder note, responding well to oak fermentation and expressing more complexity.

You’ll find both versions in Texas. Some winemakers pick the grapes early in the season, just after they ripen, harvesting in the middle of the night to beat the summer heat and preserve the acidity of the grapes. Rancho Loma Vineyards named their award-winning wine after the late-night picking sessions — Nocturnal Albariño. The result is a light, refreshing albariño with honeysuckle on the nose and bright lemon and lime notes on the palate that make it a perfect match for ceviche or fish tacos.

Other winemakers play the long game, letting the grapes hang on the vine, waiting for the sugars to build and the acid to drop, resulting in a fuller-bodied, complex white. Mei Newsom, winemaker at Driftwood Estate Winery, won a bronze medal in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for her albariño made from a riper harvest.

“My albariño isn’t similar to the Spanish albariño, because they harvest earlier to get the ‘green’ character with more lime and citrus — sharp and clean on the tongue,” says Newsom. “My albariño is almost the opposite, because it had full ripeness at harvest point. I taste a lot of grapefruit character, more white flower like honeysuckle, and it is fuller bodied.”

While the grapes grown in the Texas High Plains produce a strong yield every year, they can cause some challenges for winemakers. “The skin is very thick, and the grape has a high pH, which makes it more prone to spoil,” says Newsom. “The juice also has a hard time settling, so we have to let it set in the tank longer.”

Despite the challenges, Texas winemakers are investing in albariño, and it is paying off in awards. From Hilmy Cellars’ gold medal and judges’ selection at the 2018 TEXSOM International Wine Awards, to O G Cellars’ silver medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, judges and customers are voting for Texas albariño and some sunshine in their wine glasses.

Where to Find Texas Alberiño

Bingham Family Vineyards 2018 Albariño
Caudalie Crest Winery 2016 Prarie Frost
Driftwood Estate Winery 2018 Albariño
Eden Hill Vineyard 2017 Albariño-Viognier Blend
Fiesta Winery 2017 Albariño
Hilmy Cellars 2018 Albariño
Lewis Wines 2018 Albariño
McPherson Cellars 2016 Albariño
O G Cellars 2016 Albariño, Bianca Dolce (a sweet
blend that includes Texas Albariño)
Pedernales Cellars 2016 Albariño
Rancho Loma Vineyards 2017 Nocturnal Albariño
Ron Yates Wines 2016 Albariño, Bingham Family Vineyards
Southold Farm + Cellar 2017 Don't Forget to Soar White Blend
Wedding Oak Winery 2017 Albariño

 

By Kristi Willis • Photography by Jenna Northcutt