Anyone that’s spent a bit of time with me tasting (or drinking) wine will be aware of my love for Albariño. We’re all objective professionals when assessing wine, but I’m an enjoyer first and foremost.
I was lucky enough to visit Rías Baixas in Galicia – the home of Albariño, in many ways – a few years ago. It is a majestic place. I have written an overview of the region for Three Wine Men previously, so check that out for the geography, the culture, the nuances of viticulture. What you’ll see in the closing paragraphs of that previous piece is a nod to a classic regional dish – Pulpo a la Gallega! I want to explore this a little more, invite you to try cooking it yourself and introduce some brilliant examples from the 2019 and 20 vintages that will sing alongside.
First off, you need to be a very conscious consumer when eating Octopus. My understanding is that we really shouldn’t be farming these beautiful, highly intelligent creatures. Sourcing wild-caught Octopus from sustainable sources is key. There is a long-standing tradition of enjoying Octopus throughout Spain, and Galicia is the heartland. The Rías in Rías Baixas are thin rivers that run inland from the Atlantic, mixing salty and freshwater as they go. Octopus love these and local fishermen have long prized them as a delicacy.
So, what’s the dish?? Pen-fried octopus, seasoned simply with salt, olive oil and good quality paprika. You can boil new potatoes and serve them alongside to bulk it out and make it a meal proper, but it’s a phenomenal nibble served simply with a glass of wine. At every winery that served us food in Rias Baixas, this dish was brought out alongside the wines, most served it with an optional squeeze of lemon alongside too.
The dish itself is remarkably easy to cook, but you do need time to simmer the octopus and allow it to cool first. Octopus requires a bit of tenderising, as it’s so muscular. You can source octopus from your local fishmonger, or sometimes find it frozen, both will work here. Once tenderised and cooled, it’s a case of thinly slicing and pan frying the octopus in olive oil and paprika for the classic smokey-spiced flavour to emerge. There are a host of brilliant recipes online, that will take you through it in fine detail – I really like the José Pizarro one on Great British Cooks, here. You could even swap out the pan-frying for the bbq this Summer!
But, the wine, Tom!? Albariño for me are wines of three parts pulling together to create incredible tension – fruit, body and minerality. That’s the story here. The joyful fruit is all zingy citrus, juicy peaches, pear and green tropical stuff. The texture and body is a winemaker-led push pull between that mouth-watering acidity and the degree of rich lees character. The Atlantic coast’s mineral tang and salty air.
Albariño’s trademark brightness, energy and zing is totally evident in the young 2020’s, it’s all there and they’re delicious; but I really found the depth and joy I was looking for in the 2019’s tasted. A little more time gives them this soft, round element to the fruit and they fall so perfectly in balance. I struggled to keep my hands off them to be honest – constantly nipping back to the fridge!
Get stuck into these gems. All great examples of what I’m on about and literally perfect with the exploration into cooking octopus at home.
Quinta de Couselo, Turonia 2020 | Advinture
Always a favourite producer of mine. I love the wines from the southerly region of O Rosal, as it hugs the Minho river that divides Spain and Portugal. The 2020 Turonia is distinct as it has great balance right now. Bright Pear and tropical fruit, a gently aromatic, candle waxy nose. The palate is ultra-fresh, the fruit is juicy beyond belief but with a softness to the texture that completes the picture.
Santiago Ruiz, 2020 | Pip Wine
Super elegant wine. Very fresh and clean. All stone fruits and gentle tropical character under a shimmering layer of saline, pure minerality. Some nice perfumed aromatics. Really dry on the palate with fresh acidity that’s full-throttle but not spiky – all well in balance – great concentration of fruit. The clean, lean, delicious one!
Attis Albariño, 2020 | Ralph’s Wines
From the key region of Salnes. This is a slightly more subtle and elegant example of Albarino. Pear and clean, green orchard fruits are key. Crunchy fresh red apple and citrus in great concentration with a touch of salinity. Taut, fresh, classy wine. Lovely now, as with all the 2020’s, I’m going to keep trying it over the next year as it’s got space to play in.
Terras de Lantano 2019 | White Fox Wines
Fantastic depth of aroma – peaches, bruised pear and baked pineapple. Subtle apricot on the nose too. The palate explodes with that apricot – a super juicy, peachy delicious mouthful. Great acidity in good balance keeps it high-tempo. The depth of character and complexity in the fun, pure-happiness-fruit is what Albariño’s all about for me.
Castro Martin 2019 | Urban Grapes
Ultra-ripe pineapple on the nose and throughout. I LOVE it. Lovely texture and soft, juicy, super-concentrated fruits with electric acidity and mineral tension. I swore in my tasting note at this point. Glorious. There’s herbs too, following up on the finish. Elegance and bright vivacious charm. This is it. Right now. Tuck in.
Lembranzas Albariño 2020 | Kwoff
This is young, fresh Albarino. It’s got great potential. I think it will open up and all elements fall in place together with just a little more time in bottle. Tight green fruits, unripe pear and herbacious notes with a fresh sappy character. The fruit has a subtle sweet, candied element to it on the palate with spiky acidity making it mouthwatering. There are hints of Albarino’s hallmark saline minerality on the finish.