Albarino varietal offers a unique flavor aroma, is growing in popularity

Geoff Mace, with Calerrain Wines, holds a bottle of his Albarino varietal. He just released his sixth vintage — and it’s gaining in popularity. Photo courtesy Cindy Adams

By Cindy Adams

Cindy Adams

One of the most popular — and fun — activities in Santa Clara Valley is spending an afternoon wine tasting. Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy boast close to 30 wineries and tasting rooms. They bring out not only locals but also an ever growing number of enthusiasts from outside the area.

South County’s beautiful wineries and tasting rooms serve and sell a large variety of award-winning wines, including the well-known Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. But our local wineries are sometimes full of surprises — wines that you may not be familiar with but that will become favorites once you’ve tasted them.

One of these delicious surprises is Albarino, a bright, crisp, acidic white wine. It’s lovely with a seafood salad at lunch, light snacks in the late afternoon, or fresh fish for dinner.

Traditionally grown in the Rias Baixcas region of Spain, this grape flourishes in a coastal climate, with cooling breezes during the day and moist fog at night. So, it’s not surprising that Albarino is a perfect match with seafood. The nose is very aromatic with tropical and floral notes. In the mouth, the flavors of white peach, apricot and citrus, along with a crisp acidity, combine to be refreshing on the palate without being sweet.

This grape has taken some time to gain popularity in this area. In fact, in 2002 only two acres of Albarino grapes were planted in all of California. However, as wine drinkers are now becoming more adventurous and knowledgeable, many of the lesser-known varietals are becoming more popular. Now there are more than 400 acres of Albarino planted in the state. That number continues to grow.

Most of these vineyards are located on the San Luis Obispo coast, between Monterey and Santa Barbara, as this area is known to have one of the coolest growing seasons in California.

In addition to the climate, the soil is also a major factor in where wine grapes grow best. The word for this is “terrior,” which is French meaning the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown and which gives a wine its unique flavor and aroma. In the case of Albarino, it grows best in calcareous soil, which is quite chalky and rocky. This unique soil produces grapes with a bright acidity, without being heavy or harsh, making it a delicious accompaniment to summer fruits such as peaches, apricots and cantaloupe.

You don’t have to look far to find lovely Albarino wine. It’s right here in South Valley! Geoff Mace, winemaker at Calerrain Wines in Gilroy, has just released his sixth vintage of this delightful wine. Calerrain’s 2022 San Antonio Valley Albarino possesses the crisp mouth-feel and bright notes that say “summer” with every sip.

These grapes are grown on the Pierce Ranch Vineyard in San Antonio Valley, near San Luis Obispo. The soil is calcareous, chalky and white, and believed to have been an old seabed many years ago. That and the cool fog that drifts in from the Pacific Ocean make this vineyard a perfect area for this grape. Previous vintages have all been aged in stainless steel barrels, but Geoff wanted a bit more softness to the mouth-feel, so he used a combination of stainless steel and one neutral oak barrel for aging in the current (2022).

You can sample this lovely summer wine, and several more, at Calerrain Winery every weekend. Mace graduated from Fresno State with a degree in enology. He and his wife, Chantelle, founded Calerrain in 2018 at the old “Stomping Grounds,” a co-op of small wineries, which served as a “launching pad” for those just getting established.

After a year they were able to build their lovely tasting area behind their home on Jean Ellen Court, located right off Day Road. Here you can taste wine under the shade of beautiful, shady trees or large umbrellas, or in their cozy, air conditioned, tasting area.

Children and leashed pets are welcome and there is a large grassy area to enjoy corn-hole or Jenga. In addition to their Albarino, you can taste varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Malbec. Calerrain is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., and reservations are recommended. Cheers!

Cindy Adams is a Morgan Hill resident who has worked for several wineries in the region and loves good wine.