Quirky philosopher-winemaker Randall Grahm has always been a champion of exotic and obscure varietals, and this newly-released summery, tangy white, 2011 Bonny Doon Vineyards Albariño, is one of his successes.
That’s a surprise, because growing conditions on Albariño’s native turf — cool, rainy Rias Baixas in northwestern Spain’s Galicia region and in northern Portugal where it’s called Alvarinho – are completely different from those in California’s warm Central Coast, where Bonny Doon’s grapes grow.
Albariño has a pretty short history in the U.S. Practically no one had even heard of the grape until a few importers began bringing in Spanish examples of these fragrant, light, vibrant, mineral-tinged whites 20 years ago. They quickly won fans, including winemaker Michael Havens. After touring Galicia in the mid-1990s, he planted Albariño in Carneros and offered the first wine commercially in 1999.
A California wine trend
Now, fascination with Spanish grapes has become a California trend, and a handful of winemakers looking for the next hot white are putting their money on Albariño. In the past decade, vineyard acreage has quintupled, even if it is still less than 200 acres. The Central Coast is one sweet spot, but vines grow in Lodi, the Russian River Valley, Carneros and further north in Oregon.
California versions are often fruitier and richer-textured because of the warmer climate. Bonny Doon’s zingy 2011 also has the grape’s typical juiciness, acidity and an attractive saltiness.
Grahm’s early Albariño experiments, which started somewhere around 2006, were blends that included Loureiro and Treixadura grapes. The 2011 vintage (and the 2010) is 100% Albariño, from two vineyards, one in Soledad, the other in San Luis Obispo. Gone are any grapes from his former estate vineyard, Ca’ del Solo, which was farmed biodynamically.
Kudos to Grahm for bottling this — and all his wines — with easy-to-open screw caps, and for promoting ingredient labeling. I appreciate knowing that this wine contains only grapes and not that much sulfur, and what, exactly, was used in making it.
Its fresh, bright, taste is perfect for summer, too.
Top photo composite: Winemaker Randall Grahm with the label on his 2011 Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Albariño. Credit: Chris Fager