Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Albariño at its Best

I spent Tuesday in New York City, attending the annual Portfolio tasting of Domaine Select Wine Estates, one of the country's finest wine importers. My main interest is with the Italian estates they represent, which includes names such as J. Hofstatter; Massolino; Fontanafredda; Gravner; Vodopivec; Corte Sant'Alda and Il Palazzone, to name only a few. Given this stellar lineup, I try and make sure my calendar is clear each year so I can attend this tasting.

But as they also represent some great small estates in France, Spain, Chile and Germany (as well as a few other countries), the Domaine Select tasting becomes for me almost an embarrassment of riches. Here was my opportunity to taste some artisan wines from around the world, so I did my best to sample as many products as I could. I'll write about a few of these producers in upcoming posts; today, I am sharing my thoughts on Zarate, an amazing producer of Albariño.

Bodegas Zarate, is among the oldest of family growers of Albariño grapes in Galicia in the Rías Baixas district in far northwestern region of Galicia in Spain. The examples of Albariño from this district, along with some excellent examples from Portugal (where the grape is known as Alvarinho) have elevated this variety into one of the finest in the world, capable of producing a wine that can be anything from a delightful aromatic white, ideal for early consumption to that of a mouth-filling white wine that is capable of improving with 5-7 years of age. The wines from Zarate are, as a group, not only the finest collection of Albariños I have tasted, but one of the most impressive groupings of white wine I've found from anywhere. These are white wines that have brilliant varietal purity, but even more importantly, possess a certain personality that I'd have to best describe as "soul". These wines are the result of meticulously farmed hillside vineyards along with exceptional work in the cellar from a team led by winemaker Eulogio Pomares.

Here are notes on the four bottlings of Zarate Albariño that I tasted:

2009 Albariño
Bright pear and lemon fruit; medium-full, with snappy acidity and a light minerality. Very good complexity and structure- enjoy over the next 2-3 years; pair with shellfish or lighter poultry dishes. ($24)

2007 Albariño "Tras de Viña"
Hints of almond in the aromas along with fresh pears; medium-full, this has vibrant acidity, distinct minerality and excellent persistence. This should drink well for 5-7 years and as it has more weight than this regular bottling, can stand up to roast pork or lighter veal preparations. ($30)

2007 Albariño "Palomar"
This wine is quite unique for several reasons. First, the vineyard used to source the grapes for this wine is 120 years old, which makes it the oldest vineyard in Rías Baixas. Secondly, the wine is barrel fermented, an unusual practice for Albariño.

I prefer no oak aging for this variety, so I was delighted to note that the wood was a supporting player in this wine; the aromatics continued to dazzle along with the outstanding depth of fruit. This is a massive Albariño, but never over the top or heavy. There are notes of dried pear along with chervil and the finish is quite long. The wine has vibrant acidity and superb structure and freshness and should drink well for another 7-10 years. Truly an exceptional wine! ($45)

2009 Albariño "Balado"
This is a barrel sample of a wine that is from a "clos", a walled vineyard. This wine is made only in the finest years; the 2009 is the first since the 2006 and only 1000 bottles were produced. Along with fresh pear and mango aromas, there is a note of saffron; quite rich on the palate, this has an exotic oiliness and lushness. Vibrant acidity and excellent persistence. Delicious now, but wait on this wine- probably best in 5-7 years, although it may drink well for a few additional years. ($45)


  1. Hey Tom,

    It was great to catch up with you in New York on Tuesday. I really enjoyed these wines as well, particularly the "basic" '09 bottling and the two '07s. The first showed classic liveliness, versatility and drinkability while the two more elaborate cuvées showed serious grace and agility in spite of their concentration and, as you say, without displaying any obvious oak signature.

    Definitely a producer I'll watch out for in the future.


  2. David:

    Thanks. I love Albariño, so what a treat to discover this producer. Glad you liked them as well.