Albariño, from the coastal region of Rías Baixas, the grape’s birthplace, is celebrated worldwide for its signature qualities – vibrant acidity, fresh, fruit-forward aromatics and versatility to pair with a wide range of foods. What wine lovers and Albariño enthusiasts may not realize is the variety’s spectrum of styles — and the new winemaking techniques being implemented throughout Rías Baixas and its sub-regions. While often bottled and consumed young, this world-class variety continues to evolve in surprising ways. The grape’s natural characteristics lend itself to a variety of winemaking techniques and styles, including:
Wild Yeasts: Some winemakers favor the use of wild yeasts during fermentation. This practice can be challenging as the winemaker has less control over which exact yeasts are present, but the technique also enhances the grape’s authentic characteristics in the wine and adds complexity.
Barrel fermentation and/or aging: Aromatic grapes (like Albariño) typically avoid oak. Barrel contact can dull or mute the aromatics and freshness of the grape, which leaves the wine flabby and uninteresting. But in certain years (particularly warm ones that produce riper, richer grapes), controlled barrel fermentation or aging can truly enhance Albariño — adding texture and extending the wine’s potential to age. More winemakers are experimenting with this option.
Lees Aging: Those little particles post-fermentation can be pretty powerful. The lees, otherwise known as dead yeast, are often removed immediately following fermentation. However, allowing the wine to stay on the lees can add tremendous benefit. Producers in Rías Baixas are using this technique to highlight texture, flavor and freshness.
These different techniques ensure that tasting Albariño will never be boring. Stock up on a few bottles to experience the unique styles of each!
As summer approaches, our minds dream up our next vacations; they take us to the café-lined streets of Paris, the sunny beaches of Bali, the snowy mountains of Mendoza…
For those of us who can’t exactly hop on a flight to our dream destination next week, certain wines – and their ability to reflect a distinct sense of place – can be the next best thing. One example is Albariño from Rías Baixas, a white wine that almost tastes like sitting at the beach along Spain’s cool, misty northwest coast.
Rías Baixas is unlike anywhere else in Spain. The small coastal D.O. sits in the broader region of Galicia, also known as “Green Spain” due to its cool maritime climate and abundance of rain – a kind of oasis in a country known for its hot, dry summers.
This climate is a perfect match for Albariño, a thick-skinned grape variety native to the region. While there is plenty of rain in Rías Baixas, there is also ample sunlight, which allows Albariño to ripen and ultimately express notes of white peach, apricot, melon and honeysuckle. Still, the region’s cooling coastal influences produce wines that are light and elegant, chock-full of mouth-watering acidity. The wines often show a slight salinity, mirroring the cool, salty air in which their grapes thrive.
It is no surprise that Rías Baixas wines have burst onto the global wine stage, adored by trendy sommeliers and industry influencers. Comparable to some of the most renowned white wines in the world, Albariño from Rías Baixas offers exceptional value – you can get all the crisp acidity and minerality of a Chablis or a Sancerre for a fraction of the cost. The wine’s fresh style also makes it an ideal pairing with a wide range of foods, but it really shines with its region’s staple cuisine: seafood.
So, what are you waiting for? Pour a glass, grill some oysters, and take a mini-vacation at your dinner table.
Many regions throughout the world are known for a particular specialty—gastronomic or otherwise—but some more than others have the ability to conjure up vivid sensory memories. One such region is northwestern Spain’s Rías Baixas. To the uninitiated, this may just look like a confusingly-spelled set of words. But to those who have visited or tasted the wines and cuisine of this region, the phrase “Rías Baixas” is enough to make the mouth water, evoking the sensation of salinity in many different forms: a refreshing glass of white wine, a briny seafood meal, or the crisp, fresh air of a picturesque oceanside vista.
The wines of Rías Baixas owe much of their personality to the geography and terroir of the lush, verdant region. Situated along the Atlantic Coast, the relatively modern DO (established in the 1980s) is unique within Spain for its focus on white grapes, which thrive in this relatively cool, damp corner of the country. The name “Rías Baixas” (pronounced “re-ass by-shuss”) comes from Galician—”rías” is the word for the sharp estuaries that cut in to the “baixas,” or the lower-altitude region of southern Galicia. These narrow, finger-like bodies of water that stretch inland from the Atlantic Ocean contain a mix of fresh and salt water, making them an ideal home to an incredibly diverse array of delicious maritime creatures that make up the cuisine of the region. Hard granite soils combined with mineral-rich alluvial top soils provide optimal growing conditions for top quality white wine production.
The other key component of this region is its star grape variety: Albariño. While other varieties are permitted, Albariño makes up the vast majority of plantings, and with good reason. It has the ability to produce distinctive wines that maintain their unique varietal character in a wide range of styles, owing both to the diversity of the five different sub-zones and to winemaking decisions such as maceration length, the use of wild yeast, barrel fermentation and aging, malolactic fermentation, and lees contact.
Texturally, Albariño typically falls somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, while flavor-wise, floral perfume, zesty citrus, stone fruit, and minerality are ubiquitous. In the warmer sub-regions of Rías Baixas, ripe melon and peach flavors dominate, while bottlings from cooler climes are often marked by lean acidity as well as grapefruit and lemon notes. An undercurrent of salinity runs through most examples, making them an unparalleled pairing with the region’s plentiful seafood offerings. The Albariño grape is so integral to the style of the wine produced in Rías Baixas that the name of the variety is printed on every bottle—a practice rarely seen elsewhere in Spain (or most of Europe, for that matter).
Thanks to the adaptability of Albariño and its friendly, near-universal appeal, the Rías Baixas DO has something to offer just about every white wine drinker. These wines can be enjoyed year-round, but are especially delightful during the spring and summer, when warm, sunny weather calls for a crisp, refreshing beverage. They sing when paired with any kind of marine life—particularly oysters or scallops—but are equally fantastic on their own. If you can’t make it to Spain for a vacation this year, a bottle of Rías Baixas Albariño just might be the next best thing.
Some of our favorites include:
Granbazan Etiqueta Ambar Albariño 2015
Bright yellow stone fruits come to the forefront here in this complex example, with notes of marzipan, rose, spice, and citrus pith. The palate is round and fleshy, but vibrant acidity keeps it light and freshing.
Condes de Albarei Albariño 2015
This is all about the floral side of Albariño, with a lovely perfume and high flavor intensity on the palate. The luscious texture brings to mind peaches and cream.
Martin Codax Albariño 2015
A great entry-level option—the price is right, and the fruit is ripe and mouthfilling. The flavor profile is simple and straightforward, with plenty of fresh apple and pineapple as well as some nutty character.
Valminor Rias Baixas Albariño 2014
Stone fruit and grapefruit shine in this flavorful bottling, with hints of dried herbs and spice on the long finish. Searing acidity means that this one may not be for beginners, but makes it an excellent complement to grilled fish, lobster, or crab.
Pazo de San Mauro Albariño 2015
This is a big Albariño, with a rich creamy texture and notes of baking spice and marzipan alongside yellow peach and nectarine. If you’re looking to make the transition from red to white wine for summer, this would be a good place to start!
Niven Family Wine Estates
Recently Christian Roguenant, the famed winemaker of Niven Family Wine Estates, visited Wine.com and led a Master Class on Albariño. Not only did I learn a lot about Albariño, I was humbled by the amount I didn’t know, and the differences in terroir and subregions within the larger Rias Baixas DO(Spanish wine region). He then compared his Albariño to the the Spanish styles to show that Tangent Edna Valley Albariño was a true balance between California fruit and Spanish soul.
Niven Family Wine Estates is a truly unique winery. They have several labels, each with a focus on purity. They use different labels, but not for lower quality, rather for differentiation. Most larger wineries have 2nd labels for lower price options for the grapes that don’t classify for their reserve or Grand Cru offerings. Niven Family Wine Estates currently has 6 labels, yet none are lesser than the others, they each have a unique offering and design, some even pay homage to the traditional homeland where the grape originates. Though price range differs, each label is special and unique for its own specific qualities, vineyard block, appellation or grape.
Niven Family Wine Estates started over 40 years ago by Jack Niven, who pioneered Chardonnay grape-growing n the Edna Valley at Paragon Vineyard. Now, the family boasts 6 appellation-specific wine labels and each with their own focus. Jack Niven unfortunately has passed away but the next generation has ensured that the Niven Family Estates will continue to be family run and even SIP certified sustainable, so that future generations can continue with their success. In the late 90’s they brought in world-renowned winemaker Christian Roguenant and gave him carte blanche to construct the winery of his dreams. With the family running the day to day operations, and a Burgundian winemaker in the cellar, they have started to set the world of wine on fire!
Here are all the offerings we currently carry, Enjoy!
Representing a tightly focused modern option for the famous Chardonnay and Cabernet grapes, these wines celebrate the Central Coast. The Chardonnay fruit comes from the the Edna valley, the coolest wine region in the state, while the Cabernet comes the warmer Paso Robles region about 30 miles to the north. Both wines are rich and delicious, representative of each of their appellations, and show the diversity in San Luis Obispo County.
A classically styled Chardonnay from the Edna Valley showcasing aromas of pear, white peach, pineapple and wet stone. Flavors of beautiful tropical fruit with mineral undertones and textured creaminess are balanced with refreshing acidity, a hallmark of Paragon Vineyard, that keeps the wine lively and fresh from start to finish. All topped off with the perfect complement of vanilla bean and toasted oak.
Sourced from 20+ year old vines grown on calcareous soils in a region with the greatest temperature swing from day to night in California comes a bold and rich Cabernet, loaded with blackberry jam, cherry, black currant, exotic spices and cola, with notes of caramelized oak…classic, yet individual.
A true Chardonnay-free zone, this label focuses on alternative white grapes and Sauvignon Blanc, all grown in the cool Edna Valley. A project developed to be food driven, these clean, lively wines are fresh, crisp and vibrant. Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Gris, and Viognier.
Aromatics of orange blossom, pineapple, grapefruit and a hint of pepper are followed by concentrated flavors of ripe peaches, tangerine and green apple. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and a creamy mouth feel, it pairs well with a wide range of foods including seafood, pasta with light sauces, even grilled sausage.
90 Points “An excellent example of New World Albariño, the 2014 Tangent has keep the wine’s purity just as one would expect a first-class vintner would do. One can close their eyes and imagine themselves in Galicia while enjoy a glass this one. Medium straw in color; bright aromas of ripe citrus and a hint of mineral; medium bodied, smooth on the palate; dry, medium acidity, well balanced; bright citrus peel and core fruit flavors; medium finish, lively, smooth aftertaste. – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
90 Points “Classic and yet distinctive in aromatics, this bottling from the Niven family’s cool-climate vineyard shows cut grass, wet cement and a touch of struck match on the narrowly focused nose. The palate intrigues, with fresh-cut thyme and oregano lifted by a white pepper element” – Wine Enthusiast
92 Points: “This wine has renewed my faith that California vintners can make a superior Viognier, the very exciting 2013 Tangent Viognier makes it way past most others as it gives the palate plenty of rewards; aromas and flavors of apple and peaches are joined with light flowers and mineral; finish with an almost pixy straw/lime citrus note. Since I am a big lover of
Vietnamese cuisine, I thought of The Slanted Door Charles Phan and his Clams with Butter-Lime Sauce. Now doesn’t that make your mouth water?” – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
90 Points: “More juicy and fresh, with better acidity and overall integration, the 2012 Grenache Blanc is well done. Offering up big crushed stone-like minerality, green herbs and citrus aromas and flavors, it’s a medium-bodied, lively and pure white that’s perfect for a hot summer day. It’s also a superb value and should be purchased in multiple bottle lots.”
– Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate
In the late 70’s Catharine Niven, Jack’s wife, planted her own 3 acre vineyard on their home property in the Edna Valley, she dove head first into the male-dominated wine world. Named for a place that she met her husband. It produces cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They are rich, complex, beautifully balanced and refined. 30 years later they have moved out of the project phase and has become the family’s legacy wines!
90 Points: “A classic, rich San Luis Obispo County Chardonnay, the 2013 Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay is rich with tropical and core fruit flavors, nicely balanced with sweet French oak. Stays steady and cohesive with all of its elements creating a fine aromatic, textural and full experience. This wine stands up well with richly sauced seafood dishes.” Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
90 Points: “Smooth and juicy with minerals, pineapple and rich pear; soft, lush and showing a core of crisp acidity; long and balanced. Sustainable.” – Tasting Panel
91 Points: “The 2013 Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir drinks so well. Yes this is yum wine that is sure to please a wide range of wine drinkers (Old World-New World, wine aficionados and wine novices alike. Just grill some lamb and see how quickly the wine is imbibed. Medium to deep garnet in color; aromatic, red fruit aromas, light note of flower; medium bodied and nicely textured on the palate; medium acidity, fine balance; pleasing and delicate red fruit flavors; medium to long finish, supple aftertaste.” – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
92 Points: “Juicy and lush with bright, ripe cherry and tangy Burgundian style; round and fresh with sweet oak, balance and a long, elegant finish.” – Tasting Panel
90 Points: “The Niven family winemaker, Christian Roguenant, teases smoked meats, blackberry paste, dark slate, aromatic red cherries and concentrated hibiscus from the nose of this wine. The palate shows plenty of ripe, red fruit, but is made interesting by woody herbs, including oregano and marjoram” – Wine Enthusiast
It means the gambler in German and this label is one of their biggest gambles yet – but it payed off big! The Zocker label captures the central european wine styles with two very distinctive varieties; Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. This is just another example of how the Niven Family is breaking the molds and showing that they are up for a bit of a risk, or in this case, a gamble!
Rich and round but with great acid structure, this wine is steely with pronounced minerality. It has a bit of an earthy characteristic, a strong white pepper note, and flavors of ripe melon and fruit cocktail.
90 Points: “A riesling with style and character, the well-defined 2012 Zocker Riesling exhibits a hint of fusel along with its green apple aromas and flavors; firm and well built on the palate, the wine sails nicely into a crisp and well defined finish. A generous riesling, a fine choice with shellfish, perhaps a bouillabaisse with a glass or two of this wine in your future! Yes, why not?” – Wilfred Wong of Wine.com
91 Points: “This shows petrol, honey and brie cheese rind notes on the nose, and is quite creamy once sipped, yet the edges are punctuated with orange peel bitterness. The tartness ensures cellaring potential, so drink 2018–2025.” – Wine Enthusiast
90 Points: “Even better, with beautiful lychee, citrus blossom and floral notes, the 2012 Riesling is medium-bodied, balanced, fresh and clean, with a hard-to-resist quality that will have the glass empty before you know it. It’s worthy of a multi-bottle purchase and should drink nicely for a couple years.” – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate
I hope you have a chance to explore the wines and visit their tasting room! Niven Family Wines