2020 Albarino III Ano from Fefinanes - a captivating Spanish white that elevates the bar
£195 per 6 bottle case in bond
Albariño is certainly a popular grape variety, though the majority of production accounts for fairly simple day-to-day drinking wines. However, this variety is possibly one of the more characterful, indigenous, white varieties grown in Spain, and, in skilled hands and where yield is restrained, it can deliver outstanding wines with fine concentration and great character. Some of the top examples from the likes of Rafael Palacios, Zarate and Fefiñanes are capable of developing in bottle over the mid-term, gaining complexity as they mature.
Albariño is the name of this dominant Galician white grape variety which produces fresh-styled, citrusy, unoaked whites with a fine acidity. The name ‘Alba-rino’ is thought to suggest the ‘white of the Rhine’ and ampelographers believe it may have been brought to Iberia in the 12th century. Some commentators have highlighted stylistic similarities with Riesling, suggesting some shared ancestry, others seem more convinced that it is a close relative of the French grape variety, Petit Manseng.
Fefiñanes’ ‘III Año’ is an extraordinary example, which is released three years after the vintage, whereas the majority of Albariño are released and consumed straight-away. The key point is that this example is aged for seven months on its fine lees in barrel – this is the fine yeasty deposit that forms as the wine settles in barrel. The lees are agitated in barrel by hand with a utensil that resembles a golf club in order to bring out a broader mouthfeel, an enhanced texture and to add a certain complexity to the wine; it is a winemaking practice which is routinely employed with varieties like Chardonnay. Only a limited quantity of the III Año is produced, just over 7,000 bottles in fact, made from a selection of the best fruit their old vines have to offer. The vineyards are situated near the river Ria on soils that comprise a granite base, with sand, lime and clay.
The producer in question, Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes, is situated in Cambados, the capital of the Salnés Valley. Their winery itself is fascinating as it is custom-built to be accommodated in the ancient granite cloisters of a 17th century Renaissance palace in the heart of the town. This was the first estate to ever bottle Albariño, way back in 1928. Production across their various different wines equates to 140,000 bottles with the fruit drawn from quality conscious local growers.
So, in short, this is a highly individual wine, made in a different manner to more common, commercial examples of this variety, and it is one that requires just a little patience to hit its stride. As Luis Guittérez of The Wine Advocate commented; ‘their wines are good when released, but I like them even better on their second, third and even fourth year’.
The 2020 impressed me and is a great follow up to the sell-out 2019.
2020 Albariño III Año, Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes
£195 per 6 bottle case in bond
Comparatively pale in hue, the aromas here capture that zestiness which is common to the best Albariño, with notes of greengage and citrus peel. Almost silky in texture, this is a sublime example, with such juicy tangy citrus fruits – even hints of something more exotic like guava or passion-fruit, orangey too. The lees bring complexity for sure, and enhance the mouthfeel, as the wine leads to a markedly saline finish. What sets this apart from the pack is the purity of the fruit; you get the sense this was harvested at the moment of perfect ripeness, capturing both freshness and exuberant fruit. A really beautiful vintage that will surely reward up to four or five years in the cellar. Drink 2023-2029 (SL)
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