The rise of albariño has been most welcome. Not only are there now more coming out of Spain and Portugal (where it is called alvarinho), but California winemakers also have tried their hand with promising results.
While its origins are unknown, albariño has been grown in Spain since at least the 12th century. Some say it's a mutation of riesling that was brought over by German monks. Petit manseng, which is grown in the southwest of France and Basque country (both France and Spain), also might be its relative.
Whatever its lineage, albariño is no doubt the most recognizable white wine grape from Iberia, Spain.
Crisp and fruity, there are not too many palates it can offend. It does extremely well in Rias Baixas on the Galician shore in Spain and in the Vinho Verde region of northern Portugal. On both sides of the border, the vineyards are filled with calcified fossils that leach an underlying minerality into the wines.
In California, albariño fares best on the Central Coast, where the climate is cooler. That said, Havens Winery in Napa Valley, which very sadly no longer exists, was the first California winery to make albariño, and it was terrific.
With California jumping into the act, the Spanish and Portuguese renditions have a little more competition. I would not say we're doing a better job here, but as this varietal has become more mass-produced in Rias Baixas, there are times when I'd rather drink a domestic version.
Although they can be pricey, I find them to be a fresh change from other domestic white wines. And the quality often matches the price. Here are a few to put on your next wine-shopping list:
Verdad Albariño, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, 2012 (Edna Valley): Louisa Sawyer started Verdad in 2000 solely to work with Spanish grapes in California. A pioneer in this respect, her wines have continued to evolve and now Verdad is certified biodynamic. Floral and minerally with melon rind and a flavor that is similar to peach and orange sorbet, it is a tasty little treat. Suggested retail: $22
Hendry Albariño, Hendry Vineyard, 2012 (Napa Valley): Like Havens, Hendry is located in Napa. The Henry Vineyard experiences enough morning fog and afternoon breeze to keep the temperature in check. The result here is a lively albariño with tangy citrus flavors and a touch of melon. Suggested retail: $18
Longoria Albarino, Clover Creek Vineyard, 2012 (Santa Ynez Valley): Rick and Diana Longoria founded their winery in 1982 to make chardonnay and pinot noir. While these grapes form the backbone of the production, their 30-year journey has led to many other wines, including a love for albariño. Wrapped in layers of fruit, the first sip is like biting into a perfectly ripe nectarine, joined shortly by kiwi and lime, leaving you with a long, juicy finish. Though it's a bit more expensive than others, it's arguably worth it. Suggested retail: $23
Some of these wines are available through Castro Village Wines, Falletti Foods, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, Mollie Stone's, Whole Foods Potrero Hill, Whole Foods Stanyan and Wine Club San Francisco.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.