Twenty years ago I started something: Albariño in the New World. Right here on a plot of tough soil in southern Napa Valley in 1997 I established a small plot of Albariño vines with budwood that originated from the Morgadio estate in Rias Baixas, Galicia. Those vines produced the first New World bottles of the variety with vintage 1999. I’ve made Albariño from this vineyard every year since (except for 2008, when I was working in Spain), first under the Havens Wine Cellars brand, then more recently with my friend Morgan Twain-Peterson under the Abrente label.
So, having now registered both Albariño and Godello with TTB, I guess I’m the premier Galician white wine guy in California. And I just had to continue that: in 2016 I have produced a very small cuvee of Albariño under my Cave Dog label.
The 2016 Albariño truly marks a return to this wine’s roots: at 12.8% alcohol, it is fresh, lively, and linear, with a complex fruitiness (guava, white peach) that keeps you reaching for another sip. Of course all the acidity is natural, and the stainless cooperage and blocking of malo-lactic has allowed transparency to the fruit’s core. As has been the case from the first vintage, there is a character in this wine that I call “saline,” and which others have called “mineral.” When the weather warms up in the Spring, I predict you will want to drink this more than once.
One of Albariño’s notable attributes is its affinity with a wide range of foods: not only the obvious (oysters and all shellfish), but also spicy dishes (Latin picante) and oriental saucing (Thai, Japanese, Indonesian). My chef wife loves it with her wild mushroom and goat cheese lasagna.
In 2008, I had the chance to work the vintage with Ricardo Palacios, in Bierzo, northwestern Spain. Through that experience I got a chance to drink a fascinating wine that was new to me, made from the Godello grape in nearby Valdeorras, Galicia. While there is a little Godello in Bierzo, most of it grows in Galicia, but also in nearby Northern Portugal. I visited Rafael Palacios, Ricardo’s uncle, who makes what many think is the best white wine in Spain, As Sortes. Rafael agreed to supply me with budwood from his Godello vineyards.
[Esoteric sidebar: In Portugal, this variety is now known as Gouveio. Formerly it was known as Verdelho in the Douro, though it is distinct from the grape of that name grown on Madera. So now it’s Gouveio in Portugal, Godello in Spain.]
In 2009, working with grower friend John Baillie in Sonoma Valley, just off Sonoma Mountain, I oversaw the grafting of the first vineyard of Godello in California. Morgan Twain-Peterson and I produced the first U.S. Godello from those vines in 2012, under our Abrente label.
So, having now registered both Albariño and Godello with TTB, I guess I’m the premier Galician white wine guy in California. And I just had to continue that: in 2016 I have produced a very small cuvee of Godello under my Cave Dog label.
The 2016 Godello is, I think, the best version yet of this variety from Baillie’s Birdland Vineyard. It features the yellow plum, honey note, and waxy texture native to the variety, a little richer than the Albariño, but still with a lively mouthfeel that keeps it fresh. Fermentation and aging on the lees in neutral white barrels has added complexity, though blocking the malo-lactic keeps the primary fruit front and center. Some people have suggested Godello as an alternative to Chardonnay, but I think that’s only a distant parallel; it is a unique variety, and has multiple expressions in Spain and Portugal. In Sonoma Valley it is challenging in the vineyard, but its character has now been consistent over the last five years, and I like it very well with fish, white pastas, and with my wife’s marvelous pan-roasted chicken.