Alvarinho, pronounced “All va ri’nnjo”, is the green grape of Portugal’s north, as well as Spain’s north-western regions, producing a very fresh wine to be enjoyed as they are or paired with various seafood dishes.
Alvarinho is a high acidity variety that favours dry soils. Typical flavours are tropical fruit, pears, peach, and citrus. Being a fairly high yielding variety, it requires good trimming in the vineyard. If not, it will easily result in overproduction leading to wines with lower levels of alcohol, e.g. as low as 8,5% alc/vol.
From a wine making point of view, Alvarinho is a versatile variety. The DOC to look for in Portugal is called Vinho Verde. You find Alvarinho’s heart land in Vinho Verde’s northern sub-regions Monção and Melgaço, . Here you can expect a wine that is fresh with notes of citrus, white flowers, and tropical fruit. In Melgaço you can also find a sparkling version, Alvarinho Sparkling QM – Quintas de Melgaço.
When grown in Spain, where it is called Albariño, you can expect to find ripe citrus as well as stone fruit flavors, such as peach and apricot. The best varietal wines are to be found in the Rías Baixas DOC.
The Alvarinho grape easily accepts maturation in oak and you will find this style of wine both in Portugal and Spain. Alvarinho wines can be consumed early but can also be kept in your cellar for several years.
Thanks to the high acidity level, Alvarinho is a wonderful pairing with various kinds
of seafood such as oysters, fresh shrimps, and prawns, but also with for example steamed clams as well as a seafood risotto.
Serve an unoaked Alvarinho at 8°C/46°F – 10°C/50°F. If the wine has matured in oak, best temperatures are a couple of degrees higher, e.g. 10°C/50°F – 11°C/52°F.
Where is it grown?
The largest plantings are in Spain with 3.507 ha/8,886 ac. Ninety-nine percent of these are in Galicia, with a focus on the Rias Baíxas wine region. Plantings in Spain have however gone down with fifteen percent (equivalent to 642 ha/1,586 ac) between 2000 and 2010. The grape is the thirty-first most planted grape in Spain.
In Portugal, the trend is the opposite. Alvarinho is growing and has more than doubled in the same time period.
In Vinho Verde there are plantings of 1.783 ha/4,406 ac. This constitutes close to ninety percent of the total Portuguese plantings of 1.989 ha/4,915 ac. This makes Alvarinho the twenty-first most planted grape in Portugal.
Other plantings are in north-east or in the central parts of Portugal, where the dry and warm climate favours grapes with a natural high acidity.
Small plantings can also be found in Argentina, USA, and Uruguay. If you find an Australian wine labelled Albariño it is however quite likely to have been made from the French grape Savagnin.
In Spanish the name means “the white wine from Rhine” (Alba-Riño) which is based on a story that it was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by monks in the twelfth century. There is however no genetic evidence for this story. It is rather thought that the grape has originated in northern Portugal. Genetically it has been shown to have similarities with Loureiro, a white variety which also is widely planted in the Vinho Verde sub-region Melgaço.