I love Spanish and California Albarino but had never tasted a Portuguese Alvarhino. I tasted my first one this week at Rootstock Wine Bar in Cupertino and was impressed. I thought it would be fun today to explore the differences between Albarino and Alvarhino.
My Favorite Albarinos
I tasted Albarino for the first time many years ago in Spain. Since then, I have thoroughly enjoyed it the two or three times WineShop At Home, the Napa winery I’m affiliated with, made it. In addition, I love Artesa’s Albarino. Here is how Artesa describes their latest vintage: “The 2018 Albariño exemplifies Spain’s leading white wine. On the nose, notes of key lime and honeycomb are integrated with intense notes of lilac, jasmine and stone fruit. A smooth, bright entry gives way to a distinct minerality and hints of orange blossom, white nectarine and mouth-watering acidity beckon you back for another sip.”
For me, it’s the stone fruits coupled with the bright acidity that make the wine so delightful, especially on a hot summer day.
What Is Alvarhino?
Alvarinho in Portugal is the same grape as Albarino in Spain. The Wine Guy says that the grape was “Brought to Iberia from eastern France by Cluny Monks in the 12th century. The grape’s name in both countries means ‘white from the Rhine.’ It is related closely to the Riesling grape from the Alsace region of France.”
VinePair describes the two grapes beautifully as being “like Viognier on the nose and Riesling on the palate. They say “It’s enticing and refreshing, a more interesting alternative to Pinot Grigio on a hot day and the perfect accompaniment to fresh seafood, the specialty of both of its homelands.”
Similarities of Albarino and Alvarhino
In Spain, Albarino is the key grape in the Rías Baixas region. In Portugal, Alvarhino is one of many grapes in the Vinho Verde region. Rías Baixas and Vinho Verde are separated only by a narrow river. In fact, you can see the vineyards from both sides of the river. The two regions have a cool, rainy climate that results in a lush, green landscape suited for white winemaking, the forte of both regions. Granite soils are widespread, contributing to the wines’ notable minerality.
Differences of Albarino and Alvarhino
Besides the similarities I highlighted, there are some notable differences between the two grapes:
- Size of region: Rías Baixas is a small region, while Vinho Verde is the largest region in Portugal.
- Quality of wine: Because Vinho Verde is so large, the quality of wines is less consistent. You can definitely get good Alvarhino, but you can get plenty of bad wine too.
- Availability: Again, because Vinho Verde produces so much wine, it’s much more available and affordable.
- Likelihood of finding this wine in your glass: In Rías Baixas, nearly all the vineyards grow Albarino. So it’s almost guaranteed that the wine you drink there will contain this grape. In Vinho Verde, there are more than 40 different grape varieties. So it’s much less likely that you’ll find Alvarhino in your glass.
- Varietal vs. blend: In Spain, Albarino is the only wine in the bottle. In Portugal, it’s almost always part of a blend, which is the tradition of the region.
- Alcohol level: Alvarhino is usually lower in alcohol and less intense than its Spanish sister, which tends to be riper and more floral.
I would love to hear about your experiences with Albarino and Alvarhino. Please share them with us. Thanks!