Judy Finn enthuses about albariño
Neudorf Vineyards owner/founders, Tim and Judy Finn, are so excited about albariño they jumped on a plane for Galicia to find out more. They returned with an armful of bottles and even greater enthusiasm for Spain’s top white grape variety.
I’ve been invited to join them in September for an albariño tasting – I’m quite a fan of the variety and believe it’s certainly a candidate for “next big thing”. I asked Judy when and why they first made albariño at Neudorf.
“Neudorf produced their first albariño three years ago. Some years back Pierre Mansour at the Wine Society in the UK took us through a tasting of godello and albariño and we were hooked on the brisk salinity of albariño and thought it worth a crack in the Moutere. Nelson is the largest fishing port in Australasia, which seems a bit of stretch as a reason to plant a variety, but I admit to that helping our enthusiasm and of course Tim and daughter Rosie are enthusiastic fishers. It’s worth noting their success does not threaten any species.”
Is there any special winemaking or viticultural tricks with the variety?
“It’s a tough old grape and withstands some challenging conditions in Galicia – cold Atlantic breezes, moist climate. Cropping levels are important. It is a large bunch and would be easy to over-produce and dilute that gorgeous briny character. Tim wonders if this could be a grape variety for future-proofing the industry in the face of climate change. It is a grape with unforgiving acid levels, so ripeness is essential and it needs careful attention at harvest.”
Was the trip to Galicia worthwhile?
“Tim had set up some visits – without exception, they were generous with their time and information. We concentrated on Val do Salnes the birthplace of the albariño grape (there are five regions in Rias Baixas). I’m not sure they totally believe we produce albariño in NZ. They grow the grape on pergolas (rather like a kiwi fruit orchard) – must be hellish to prune above your head. I didn’t quite get to the bottom of the reason for this – either it was for increased airflow through the vines (in their humid climate) or historical, so they could grow vegetables underneath the vine in their backyard. Giving them two tiers of production. It is still common to bring in grapes from dozens of small domestic gardens. One vineyard we visited brings in grapes from 300 (three hundred!) back gardens.
While it is tempting to throw a few winemaking tricks at the grape, I think the elegance and purity of unadulterated albariño was most impressive. There is a good discussion to be had over malo or no malo. We bought back about 14 bottles which we feel represents the best wines from the area. We want Todd (Neudorf’s winemaker) and rest of the team to taste and see the parameters of Spanish production. We only collected pure albariño – it is quite usual to blend with other varieties (Loureira and Treixadura).”
You’ve been making albariño for three years now, how have your customers reacted to it?
“Neudorf is a very small player in this variety but we’ve been surprised to see how enthusiastic people have been. Perhaps it offers the promise of a “relaxed drink” (Note it is also an easy word to pronounce unlike say grüner veltliner or viognier). It is exciting on the palate and it’s a terrific match with seafood. In Galicia, we ate seafood every day – baby clams with a handful of garlic and a glug of olive oil. Goose Barnacles (retail at Euro 95/kilo ), they are like sucking on the ocean. Salt cod. Razor clams – simple honest food, cooked slowly. No garnish, no side of vegetables, just a basket of chunky bread.”