Wine & Beer

This unusual white grape has its own festival in SLO County. Can you name it?

Broken Earth Winery and Tangent Albariños.
Broken Earth Winery and Tangent Albariños.

Chardonnay may still reign supreme among white wines, but a group of Central Coast winemakers have been bolstering their reputation for a variety grown primarily in Spain and Portugal.

“Edna Valley is really the new world home of Albariño,” said John Niven, vice president of sales and marketing for Niven Family Wine Estates, which produces the varietal under its Tangent label and owns the largest and among the oldest Albariño plantings in the United States.

San Luis Obispo County overall is home to close to half the state’s 250 acres of the grape, which grows well in both warmer and cooler climates, with over two dozen county winemakers now making the varietal.

Producers are celebrating the region’s connection to the crisp, aromatic and food-friendly wine June 16 and 17 in a follow-up to last year’s inaugural Festival of Albariño. The state’s first and only festival dedicated to the grape, the event culminates with a grand tasting of more than 35 Albariños.

“Nowhere else in the state can you taste this many Albariños at one time,” said Damian Grindley, winemaker at Brecon Estate and one of the founders of the Central Coast Albariño Summit, which hosts the festival.

brecon
Damian Grindley is winemaker at Brecon Estate and one of the founders of the Central Coast Albariño Summit. Photo courtesy of Brecon Estates

The event got its start, Grindley said, after two critics awarded Brecon’s Albariño scores of 96 over two days.

“Paso Robles gets a lot of high scores, but not usually for whites,” Grindley said. He and a couple of other producers decided to get together to talk shop and taste each other’s bottlings, until they realized how many SLO County’s wineries were making Albariño.

“Who knew there were so many local producers?” Grindley remembers thinking at the time. The idea quickly morphed into a public event. A Monday night seminar preceding the tasting sold out almost instantly, Grindley recalls.

“We realized we tapped into something here,” he said. The event was so popular, organizers expanded the concept this year to include a Friday night winemaker dinner under the oak trees at Brecon. That will be followed by a seminar Saturday morning at Derby Wine Estates and a picnic with food trucks and music at Broken Earth Winery segueing into the grand tasting in Broken Earth’s cellar.

Festival-goers will be able to sample a diversity of expressions of the versatile variety.

“The combination of passionate boutique wine producers and our unique microclimates offer wine lovers a stunning range of wines crafted from this singular grape,” Grindley said.

There are crisp styles that pair excellently with seafood, richer Old World styles, dessert styles with a bit of sweetness and lightly sparkling Vinho Verde styles as well as blends.

“It’s not just a white-wine person’s white,” Grindley asserts.

Paso Robles gets a lot of high scores, but not usually for whites.

Damian Grindley, winemaker at Brecon Estate and one of the founders of the Central Coast Albariño Summit

Silver Horse Winery, which recently moved from San Miguel to the old schoolhouse in Avila Valley, produces mostly bold red wines, but winemaker Stephen Kroener said Albariño is actually his most popular wine.

Kroener fell in love with the county’s first commercial bottling of the variety in 2002, from the York Mountain Winery label then owned by David Weyrich, with fruit from the Jack Ranch in Edna Valley, now owned by Niven Family. He came out with his own the following year and has produced it ever since.

“It’s my favorite wine, it’s my wine club’s favorite wine,” Kroener said. “My wife pretty much married me because of that wine.”

Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at sallybuffalo@gmail.com or on Twitter or Instagram at @sallybuffalo.

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