Albarino: the Wine List Sleeper, and Summertime Hero

I remember so clearly my first time… The first time it fell to me to order from the wine list. It was horrifying! There I was, my high school sweetheart across the table at the Steak and Ale in my hometown. (Don’t snicker, Steak and Ale was a very big deal for high school kids in the 1980’s). The waiter handed me a wine list that seemed as big as a copy of my parents World Book Encyclopedia. I was sweating…

Luckily, I was clear-headed enough to remember my Dad talking about his favorite wine; it was the only word on the list that I recognized. Chateauneuf du Pape, I said timidly… My choice surprised the waiter, and I could tell that he couldn’t quite make sense of the scene. I looked at my date, and she was smiling. I sat up a little taller.

Negotiating a wine list, unless you’re an expert, is really hard. Who can remember all of the grape varieties, wine growing regions, which wines go with which foods, etc., etc., etc… How many times have we picked a wine simply because we’ve heard of it somewhere before? Someone in the restaurant industry recently told me that diners just don’t want a surprise at the table. We’re sitting with the people in the world we care about most and spending money that we work very hard to earn, so it better go well.

So, the next time you’re staring blankly at a long list of unfamiliar choices, try Albarino. You and you’re loved ones won’t be disappointed. The wines of Spain have been steadily growing in popularity over probably the last thirty years, and Albarino is the finest of the Spanish whites. Albarino is also grown in Portugal, where it goes by the name Alvarinho, but the best expression of this grape is made in the Rias Baixas region of Spain.

I especially love Albarino in the summertime because of the refreshing acidity and fruity, sweet aromas. Albarino is a dry (not sweet) white wine that pairs wonderfully with our great Alabama Seafood. It is a terrific alternative to Chardonnays, especially with the fresh fish and shrimp of the summer season.

I find that Chardonnay (especially the popular California styles in which you’ll find the vanilla notes that come from aging in oak and the buttery favors that result from malo-lactic fermentation) can compete with the subtle flavors of the lighter summertime fare. Our great southern chefs find an explosion of farm fresh local ingredients in the summer growing season and combine them into lighter sauces and accompaniments. Albarino, when served chilled on a warm summer day, accompanies fresh seafood dishes even spicy ones, absolutely perfectly.

Better yet, Albarino is a very reasonably priced option when found on a discriminating wine list. Albarino is popping up on more and more wine lists at wine bars and restaurants across the Birmingham food landscape. For example, I found one on the list at both other Birmingham restaurants priced between $30 and $34 a bottle. Our, sommelier, Alexis Douglas, has chosen a terrific Albarino for the Primeaux wine list and it is available both by the bottle and by the glass. You can also purchase a single cup coffee machine at Primeaux to take home with you after you try it in the restaurant.

Enjoy! Paul J. Primeaux

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