Food & Drink

Edna Valley albarinos change it up

The Nivens' Paragon Vineyards in San Luis Obispo.
The Nivens' Paragon Vineyards in San Luis Obispo.

Albarino is a white grape that finds its greatest, most complete expression in Rias Baixas, in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain. The cool, misty climate and granitic soils produce wines that are fleshy and full-flavored while retaining a refreshing raciness.

The grape has also found a comfortable home on the Central Coast, particularly in Edna Valley. The area isn’t as wet as Galicia, but the climate is suitably cool, with the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean. The wines don’t have quite the minerality of albarinos from Galicia, but they’re delicious nonetheless, and they’re a great change of pace from the white wine that Edna Valley is best known for, chardonnay.

Niven Family Wine Estates has led the way on Edna Valley albarino. The company has 50 acres of the grape planted on gentle slopes in its Paragon Vineyard, according to John H. Niven, vice president of sales and marketing. Some fruit is sold, but much of it goes into their Tangent albarino. There’s also a smattering of vines elsewhere in the valley.

Edna Valley albarinos has grabbed my attention because of the wines’ strong performance at the recent Central Coast Wine Competition in Paso Robles. Although I didn’t judge the albarino category, I tasted through most of the wines after the competition.

The top wine of the competition was an Edna Valley albarino from Paragon Vineyard, the 2013 Mariposa Albarino ($23), produced by CRU Wine Co. It’s a very pretty wine, with golden apple and citrus flavors and some fleshiness. The wine is set to be released this month.

Paragon Vineyard was also the source for the 2012 Tangent Albarino ($17), a good value that’s fresh and fleshy, with white peach flavors. Another good Edna Valley bottling was the 2012 Silver Horse Albarino ($27), which is a little floral, with citrus, white stone fruit and a persistent finish. The upcoming 2013 is racier, with a slight herbal character.

Monterey County is also the source for some good albarinos. For example, the 2012 Chateau Lettau Albarino ($26), from a Paso Robles winery using Monterey fruit, is fresh, citrusy and persistent. And the 2013 Pierce Albarino ($18) offers fresh Bartlett pear notes.

The Pierce vineyard is in San Antonio Valley in southern Monterey County, which would seem to be an unlikely place for albarino. The area has had success with heat-loving varieties, like petite sirah and some of the Iberian red varieties. But Josh Pierce, the winery’s co-owner and general manager, says that albarino is “a more versatile variety than people tend to think. It tends to travel well.”

The grape may travel well, but so far it appears to be an uneasy guest in Paso Robles. The bottlings made with Paso fruit were mostly unimpressive.

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