I have tasted many examples of Albariño, the majority of which are made in an uncomplicated style; fresh, citrussy and unoaked. Whilst often pleasant and refreshing, they rarely demonstrate the potential that this grape is capable of in the right hands. Enter Zárate, one of the oldest producers in Rías Baixas, the home of Albariño on Spain’s Galician coast. Zárate’s wines are characterised by a saline freshness and textural complexity which render them infinitely more fascinating than most, and certainly they have the capacity to age.
Ernesto Zárate founded this estate in 1920, and was pivotal in promoting the potential quality of Albariño at a time when it was under threat of being replanted with non-indigenous, high-yielding, rot-resistant varietals. One hundred years later, and it is Ernesto’s grandson, Eulogio Pomares, who is at the helm, steering Zárate to ever loftier heights. Since he took over management in 2000, Eulogio has pushed the estate forward, focusing on improving the quality of the soils in the vineyards, farming organically (no mean feat in a region that experiences high rainfall and rot risk) – he ‘feeds’ the soils with shells from the surrounding area, which contain the magnesium and calcium that the vines need, instead of using mineral fertilisers, and he uses seaweed as compost. Low intervention winemaking practices ensure that the finished wines show their individual terroirs and the inherent character of Albariño.
The name ‘Alba-riño’ 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; indeed, Eulogio spent years in Bordeaux and Germany specifically to study the relationship and similarities between Albariño and Riesling.
The Zárate estate is small, comprising just 7.5 hectares of vineyard. Only a small number of wines are made, and in tiny quantities. The three wines here are all 100% Albariño, but each offers a unique and different expression of this fascinating varietal. Please see below for details as well as my tasting notes, as no critic has yet tasted these vintages. To lend a little bit of colour beyond my personal comments, Luis Gutierrez at The Wine Advocate regularly writes glowing reviews for the Zárate wines alongisde lofty point scores. The 2019 Tras de Viña was awarded 95 points, whilst the 2020 Balado and El Palomar received 95 and 97 points respectively, with Luis describing the El Palomar as 'phenomenal'.
2021 Albariño, El Palomar, Zárate
£220 per 6 bottle case in bond
From 100-year-old vines planted on granitic soils, yields here are very low, as with all the Zárate Albariños. El Palomar is the only wine in the stable to be fermented and aged in large French oak. El Palomar spends a total of 9 months on the lees, no bâtonnage. Around 2,900 bottles produced annually.
An intense bouquet of orchard fruit – ripe red apples, pear and white peach dominate, allied to aromatic notes of honeysuckle and chamomile. Equally expressive on the palate, with notes of baked apple and subtle hints of sweet spices, there is a gentle creaminess to the texture – nothing heavy, in fact the wine is carried by a mineral energy that is electrifying. Lip-smackingly delicious, but reassuringly serious, this is a stunning El Palomar, and one that will no doubt improve with age. Drink 2024-2032 (LH)
Volumes are fairly limited so please do let us know of your interest. We expect wines to be available for delivery at the end of April.