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In far northwest Spain, near a place once referred to in pre-Columbian days as “the end of the world,” a group of dedicated wine producers in the region of Rias Baixas are resuscitating the near-dead grape variety of albarino. Albarino is a native grape rarely grown outside of northwest Spain and Portugal, and by the early 1980s, only five wineries produced it. In the past two decades the health of the varietal has improved and that number of albarinos produced has increased exponentially � to the benefit of all wine lovers. Perfect for mid-Atlantic summer sipping, good albarino is both refreshing and interesting. Typical aromas and flavors focus on citrus and tropical fruits with zesty acidity and a firm mineral-driven backbone. They are exceptionally food-friendly, pairing with shellfish, seafood, and chicken dishes. If the dish could use a shot from a lemon wedge, it will pair well with an albarino. While not quite mainstream, a fair number of albarinos can now be found on retailers’ shelves. I gathered nearly a dozen examples to test the current condition of albarino. Based on my testing, the prognosis is excellent. And, unlike under the American health care system, good health comes at a pretty good value. Most of the wines can be found for $15 to $20 per bottle. The overall quality of the wines produced in Rias Baixas should be the envy of every wine-producing region. While some were great and others not quite as great, every wine I tasted was well made, flavorful, and without obvious flaws. I would happily down a glass of any of them while chatting at a cocktail party (invitations always welcomed) or slurping down a dozen oysters. Since the major appeal of albarino is its refreshing acidity and crisp fruit flavors, the younger the better. All the examples I tasted were from 2005 and 2006. ZIPPY, YET COMPLEX The best examples of albarino combine the varietal’s refreshing and zippy nature with a touch of complexity and elegance. Leading the pack, the 2005 Orballo from Bodegas la Val ($18) provides a complete drinking experience. Aromas of orange and grapefruit, honey, chalk, and juniper berries give way to tangy citrus flavors like grapefruit and tangerine. This light- to medium-bodied wine both entertains and cleanses the palate. The 2005 Avian ($20) strays further from the normal albarino character. With a nose of dried apricots, honey, rosemary, and golden delicious apples, it’s not very reminiscent of most zesty and fresh albarinos. In the mouth, however, typical flavors like grapefruit mingle with flavors of peach and apple, resulting in a versatile and food-friendly wine. Similarly, the 2005 Pazo Senorans ($18) combines green apple, sage, and mango aromas with flavors of clove, ripe pears, and sweet tarts. Its medium-bodied nature and long finish make it worth checking out. Probably the most widely available albarino, the 2005 Nora ($15) is also one of the best. Building upon a base of ripe apples and papaya, Nora adds interesting notes of dill, rosemary, and cucumber. Its medium-bodied frame manages to maintain a palate-cleansing zestiness. One of the most distinctive wines I tasted, the 2006 Val do Sosego ($15), married aromas of lemon rind and green apple with a whiff of petrol (think Vasoline). While I often enjoy such a combination, it didn’t quite work. Luckily the palate was much cleaner with flavors of grapefruit, pineapple, and firm minerality. The 2006 Martin Codax ($22) is much more traditional. It displays aromas of lemon, dried grass, and lemon zest, and flavors of lemon and peach. With a hint of sweetness, the wine is more than a little reminiscent of lemonade. The wines bringing up the rear tended to be a bit simpler � they’re great quaffing (and maybe chugging) wines. The 2005 Don Olegario ($19) combines simple aromas of lime and pineapple with flavors of lemon, lime, kiwi, and clove. Even lacking the bracing acidity found in some examples, it left my mouth clean and fresh. The value of the lot, the $9-per-bottle 2006 Burgans, is made for mass appeal. A touch of sweetness on the tongue emphasizes the grapefruit and orange flavors and harmonizes with its Luden’s-cherry-coughdrop nose. Both the 2006 Laxas ($16) and 2005 Bago do Mino ($20) smell of limes and tart apples and pucker the mouth with sharp acidity and flavors of lemons and slightly under-ripe oranges. Finally, the 2005 Morgadio ($21) smells and tastes of honeydew and watermelon. But there is not much else to recommend it. Like most wines, albarino has its time and place. Its time is the current sweltering days of summer, and its place is alone (I mean the wine, not the wine drinker) or with light summer food. Give it a try and I bet that you will agree with my diagnosis.
Phillip Dub� is a freelance writer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and an attorney at Becker & Poliakoff. He welcomes comments or questions at [email protected].

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