As any regular reader of my column knows, I love Alvarinho, or as it is called over the border in northern Spain, Albariño. The Portuguese proudly consider it to be an indigenous variety, as do the Spanish over in Galicia. But the truth is that wine has been made from this grape in the north western corner of the Iberian Peninsula for centuries and neither country can actually lay claim to having been first.
What is a regrettable fact for us here in Portugal is that Spanish Albariño has far wider international recognition than our Portuguese Alvarinho. Testament to this as I write this column is that my English spellcheck only recognises the Spanish spelling!
I have tried many Galician Albariños and it is fair to say that, in the lower and mid price ranges, they are easily comparable in terms of quality to our Portuguese wines from Monção and Melgaço in the Minho region.
The terroir is, after all, very similar and there is no reason to assume that the Spanish wines are better than the Portuguese or vice versa. Where I would make an exception, however, is when it comes to premium labels.
Portuguese producers such as Soalheiro, Anselmo Mendes, Palácio da Brejoeira, San Joanne and Quinta da Pedra have elevated the quality of Alvarinho with their premium labels, creating wines of great complexity with impressive ageing potential. So, maybe I am biased but I would say the best Alvarinhos do come from Portugal!
Such has been the success of producers in both countries that the grape, which in many aspects can be likened to Riesling, has grown wings over recent years. There are now numerous producers in California and other parts of the New World, as there are in other parts of Europe.
Here in Portugal, Alvarinho wines are now produced outside of the official Monção and Melgaço sub region, in many other parts of the country including the Douro, Lisbon, Alentejo and even the Algarve.
And just last week I was looking through the wine list at a restaurant in London and stumbled across a French Albarino from Lagrasse (Laurent Miguel) that I could not resist ordering and was not disappointed.
Then, the following day, browsing the shelves of the wine department of Harvey Nichols on Knightsbridge, I was even more surprised to see an English Albariño from the Chapel Down winery in Tenterden, Kent which I brought home to try. Made from relatively young vines, just five years old, the English attempt (the first to be bottled) was not quite up to the standard I would expect for a wine costing £15 in a shop, but given time I am sure that this producer in Kent will also be producing some very good Albariño.
By PATRICK STUART firstname.lastname@example.org