Does It Age Well, Alvarinho?



Alvarinho, or Albariño if you’re on the Spanish side of the border, has received a lot of attention the last years – and well-earned it is. The unoaked style of Alvarinho has been the preference so far among its fans, claiming its superiority to pair with food. I don’t agree. Not for one second.

Perhaps the Spanish Denominación de Origen of Rías Baixas has a slight head-start compared to the Alvarinho producers in the northern parts of Portugal when it comes to Alvarinho and oak ageing. A softer attitude as well. But Alvarinho and oak fermentation, oak ageing and battonage also has its spokesmen in the Vinho Verde region. One of them is Anselmo Mendes.

Anselmo & Fernanda Mendes

As always when we’re not familiar enough with a grape we tend to more easily accept preconceptions. And when we get to taste an Alvarinho aged in oak we’re quick to state our opinion; it’s too oaky, the grape character is lost etc. The problem is as with most wines we don’t have that much experience of; that we taste the most recent release and delivers a judgement based on the impressions of a young wine. Would you do the same for a young red Bordeaux or a white Burgundy? Of course not. Everyone knows these wines integrates its components with age.

Sure, you might not like Alvarinho with age, with or without oak ageing. That’s a different thing. The problem is that few has tasted any because they tend to drink Alvarinho too young. And at retailer shelves you wont find any with age. The grape has a relatively high acidity level which only that keeps the wines fresh for several years. Even more simple and younger non-oaked Alvarinhos benefits from some ageing before drunk, to allow the acidity to integrate with the wine and to develop a secondary bouquet and taste.

One way to reduce the sharpest edges of the acidity and to add elegance and body, is to allow your Alvarinho to age on its lees and stir gently during the ageing. If such a wine is tasted young it will of course just strengthen the conviction of a sceptic who blocks himself from seeing the bigger picture. I’m pretty sure no-one would question the greatness of an oak fermented, oak aged and stirring of the lees for six months-Alvarinho if the 2002 Muros de Melgaço Alvarinho from Anselmo Mendes were poured….

Muros de Melgaço Alvarinho

Anselmo Mendes – 2002 Muros de Melgaço Alvarinho

From south-facing vineyards in Melgaço, Anselmo Mendes gets his Alvarinho used in the Muros de Melgaço. The acidity is notably higher here and hence the grapes are destemmed. Fermented in French oak and aged for six months in the very same while stirring the yeast lees.

The color has a slightly golden tone with a greenish rim. Amazing bouquet of white peaches, dried flowers, a slight herbal touch and wet rocks. With a higher temperature an elegant honey nuance and almost an aged Riesling similarity. On the palate the first impression that hits you is the purity and the amount of fruitiness. High, balancing acidity, complex and a good mouth-feel. A delicate peach peel bitterness, grass and flowers. Long, almost juicy wet rocks finale. A reference wine and a real treat to taste. And yes, well stored bottles probably has two or three more years ahead.

Why not start ageing your Alvarinhos? This one for sure and why not other wines from Mr. Mendes? The unoaked Contacto for example. A wine that has seen a short skin maceration and then ageing on its lees in stainless steel for 4 months, will easily develop positively for 5-10 years. Buy six bottles and open one every year starting when the wine is five years old.

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