Twenty-two 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. I took over these Albarino vines for Cave Dog with the 2016 vintage.
The 2018 growing season in Northern California was quite a contrast to the previous year: after a warm, dry Spring, moderate temperatures prevailed virtually the entire Summer and into Fall. With higher crop levels for most all vineyards, this led to delayed ripening (3 weeks later than the warm 2017). The resulting wines are some of the finest and most precise I recall in many years here.
In this year’s Albariño that translates to a bright, clean wine that has more cut and linear structure, though the alcohol is exactly the same as the previous vintage. While this clarity is undeniable, the exuberant fruit peeks out already, almost a sweet perception in the finish, despite the wine being completely dry (<.2 gr/L).
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 Asian 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 Perez at Descendientes de J. 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 (and I got to sample it in some random vines there), 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: starting in 2016 I have produced a very small cuvee of Godello under my Cave Dog label.
The 2018 Godello continues the direction I set on beginning in 2016, harvesting with decreasing sugars for lower alcohol, brighter fruit, and more specifically varietal textures. 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 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 offers challenges in the vineyard, but its character has now been consistent over the last seven years, and working with owner Bill Lightner we have learned how to coax out its best. I like this wine very well with fish, white pastas, and with my wife’s marvelous pan-roasted chicken.