New Zealand vs Spain albariño benchmarking
It’s useful to measure the quality of our wines against an international benchmark, particularly a newcomer like albariño. When Tim and Judy Finn invited time to join them for a tasting of 18 Spanish Albariño plus six local wines from the same variety I accepted with enthusiasm.
They’d collected 12 of the Spanish wines during a visit to Galicia, Spain’s albariño sweet spot in the north-west of the country. Albariño is well-suited to the cool, wet region that boasts high sunshine hours and is conducive to botrytis, downey and powdery mildew. Albariño’s thick skin and loose cluster is resistant to botrytis and capable of developing high sugars while retaining plenty of acidity, ideal attributes for Galicia and many of this country’s botrytis-prone regions.
In Galicia, 90% of the vineyards are trained on pergolas constructed from granite posts a high labour trellising option that provides the fruit with good exposure in wet conditions. Cold maceration of 8 to 24 hours is often used to extract flavour from the thick skins while malolactic fermentations a popular way to reduce acidity. Wines at the top end may be partly fermented in oak with some lees contact.
The Spanish wines (I haven’t recorded detailed tasting notes) were mostly fairly impressive, with intense flavours in the citrus, apple, floral and slightly green tree fruit range. They were bright with assertive acidity and most had rich and appealing textures. Some were a little too acidic and phenolic, although I confess to being a bit “sensitised” after having chaired the NZ International Wine Competition for the previous three days.
My favourite Spanish wine was Bodegas Albamar “Albamar” Albariño 2016. From a 2ha vineyard, it was whole-bunch pressed and fermented using indigenous yeasts before spending five months on lees. It did not go through a malolactic fermentation. It’s a classic albariño, bone-dry but with lovely sweet-and-sour tension and knife-edged acidity. It has a great texture with salty, mineral, citrus, lime and orange flavours. I love it!
The Kiwi examples included Left Field 2016 from Gisborne, 2015 Villa Maria Braided Gravels from Marlborough, 2015 Nautilus from Marlborough, 2015 Waimea from Nelson, and Neudorf 2015 and 2016 also from Nelson.
The New Zealand wines echoed the citrus, floral and mineral notes of the Spanish wines, although were generally a little lighter but with more accessible textures. The tasting was attended by winemakers from Left Field/Villa Maria, Nautilus, Waimea and of course Neudorf (it was held at Neudorf’s Nelson winery) and was followed by an animated discussion on what we might learn from the Spanish benchmark to improve the quality of our wines.
From my perspective, New Zealand seems to have hit the ground running. My favourites, Nautilus and the two Neudorf wines, are on par with the best Spanish examples despite being stylistically different (though not poles apart).
Both Spanish and local wines that were good on the tasting table were better with the fantastic Spanish-style seafood lunch that followed, a reminder that albariño needs food to reveal its full potential.