The fourth white wine we sampled on April 13th in the tasting group, after the Sancerre, Chablis, and Grüner Veltliner was an Albariño from Rias Baixas, Spain.
Although not on the list for those studying for the Certified exams, Albariño is a “grid wine” for the Advanced and Master Sommelier levels. One of the challenges in identifying a wine in a blind test is learning to discern the distinct aroma and flavor characteristics of a grape, region, vintage and producer. It is not unlike learning the distinctive style of a guitarist (such as Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana or Eddie Van Halen) so that if you were to hear a new song or hear them play with other musicians, you immediately recognize them. The only way, of course, that you can learn to identify the musician or the wine is by repeatedly listening to them or tasting them. But sometimes what is typical of a wine that signifies its identity can be very subtle which requires the taster to be all the more focused and have his senses all the more honed. This is where a certain level of psychology comes into play as you have to discipline your mind to shut out all the distractions. It also requires a great deal of detective work, searching for numerous olfactory clues and evidence which together leads you to an accurate assessment and the identity of the wine.
At this stage in my learning with a somewhat limited exposure to Albariño I find this wine to be rather elusive. I have yet to get my head around this wine so that when I am smelling and tasting a flag is raised in my head that signifies, “I am an Albariño!” I am also not all that thrilled with this varietal (unlike my love for Pinot Noir) so in order to conquer this grape I am going to have to look for every opportunity to taste it until I get its distinctive characteristics in my mind.
Albariño is a white wine varietal grown in Galicia in northwest Spain as well as in Monção and Melgaço in northwest Portugal, where it is known as Alvarinho and sometimes as Cainho Branco. In Rias Baixas Albariño accounts for 90% of all plantings. Its name “Alba-Riño” means “the white [wine] from the Rhine” and it has locally been thought to be a Riesling clone originating from the Alsace region of France but it doesn’t look, smell or tasting anything like a Riesling. Its thick skin helps them withstand particularly damp climates and it tends to produce aromatic wines with high alcohol and acidity.
Although similar in name, it should not be confused with the Alvarinho Liláz grape of Madeira. Over 50% of Spain’s total Albariño production is exported to the United States.
The Winery - Bodegas As Laxas
Bodegas As Laxas is a family owned and operated winery located in the Condado do Tea subsection of the Rias Baixas region in northwest Spain near the Atlantic Coast. It was founded in 1862 and is one of the first wineries in the region to be awarded the status of Rias Baixas Denominación de Origen (DO).
The winery owns 19 hectares (47 acres) of vineyards which are planted with Albariño, Treixadura, Loureira and Caíño. The vineyards are more than 30 years old and situated on south-facing granite terraces 1100 to 1800 feet above sea level. The soils consist of slate with a high concentration of mineral and sand.
The 2012 Laxas Albariño is a clear white wine, straw in color with green tints, it has low concentration at the core to a watery rim with medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of cherries, red apples, melon, some medicinal notes (quinine), under ripe banana skins and tropical fruits, plantains, baby turnips, and green vegetal notes with a touch of artichoke. On the palate is quite different with flavors of red and white grapefruit, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, melon and celery sticks. It is dry with high acidity, it is medium bodied with moderate+ alcohol and a medium length finish. This wine retails for about $14 - $16 per bottle.
 Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition) (Oxford University Press, 1994), 9.