Some of the Pacific Northwest’s most decorated and highly educated winemakers knew Albariño would thrive in our region.
That makes it a bit curious as to why more haven’t followed the lead of brands such as Abacela, Barnard Griffin, Clearwater Canyon Cellars, Coyote Canyon Winery, Maryhill Winery, Palencia Wine Co. and Thurston Wolfe.
Of course, the story starts in the vineyard, and during this comparative tasting one site produced four of the top examples of Albariño — Crawford Vineyard in Washington state’s Yakima Valley.
Wade Wolfe, who has been making wine in Washington since 1978, has won three Platinum Awards for his Albariño — each grown for him by Charlie Crawford in the Yakima Valley not far from Prosser. Wolfe earned a Ph.D in plant genetics from University of California, Davis.
“Of the Iberian white varieties I was familiar with, I thought it had the best potential for us here in Washington, so about 12 years ago I recommended to the Crawfords that they ought to try it,” Wolfe said. “They like to experiment and work with smaller wineries like ours.”
In Southern Oregon, Abacela founder Earl Jones took a measured yet pioneering approach to Albariño at his Fault Line Vineyards near Roseburg. The dermatologist and immunology researcher responsible for blazing the trail in the United States for the Spanish red grape Tempranillo also is viewed as the Northwest’s leading ambassador for Albariño. In 2000, he first planted Albariño — five years after he began sinking sticks of Tempranillo and several other varieties at Abacela. There are now 12 acres devoted to Albariño, and the Jones family’s longtime winemaker, Andrew Wenzl, produces nearly 2,000 cases of Albariño each vintage.
It’s believed that in 2006, Mike Andrews became the first in the Washington state wine industry to grow Albariño, starting with 1 acre. Since 2008, his Coyote Canyon Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills have yielded five Platinum Awards for his Coyote Canyon Winery, and he’s got another qualifier via our comparative tasting. Next year, Andrews Family Vineyard plans to grow its acreage of Albariño from 2.3 to 12.3.
The top-scoring wine in this summer’s tasting came from Michael Florentino Cellars in Woodinville, Wash. Winemaker/owner Brad Sherman is among the 13 winemakers in three states to buy Albariño grapes from the Crawfords.
“We make Spanish wines, and Albariño is one of my favorites, so it was a no-brainer when I found some after years of searching,” Sherman said. “Our first was in 2015, and Crawford is the only vineyard we have worked with for Albariño. It is a little cooler and is a perfect site for Albariño. They do a great job, and we love supporting smaller vineyards.”
In a tasting dominated by wines made from grapes grown last year, it was somewhat remarkable that a bottling of the 2020 vintage emerged as the top-scoring submission. Jerod Whelchel, who shares the winemaking with Sherman, said the fruit from Crawford lends itself to aging.
“We have found that a partial malolactic fermentation — about 25% — tames this acidity just enough while keeping it bright and adds body/complexity that further adds to longevity,” Whelchel says. “Our use of acacia barrels also contributes a sort of fresh brightness that seems to last.”
Success with Albariño prompts investment in Evergreen Vineyard
Evergreen Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes region factored into two of the top Albariños from the 2021 vintage — Crayelle Cellars by Craig Mitrakul in Wenatchee and Victor Palencia in Kennewick. Until 2012, the only white wine Mitrakul and his wife made for their Crayelle brand was a dry Riesling.
“Although Danielle and I both loved Albariño, we were worried customers might not appreciate it since it was a bit obscure,” Craig says. “Luckily, customer response was great from the beginning. I think since customers had no preconceived ideas about the varietal, they tasted it with an open mind. Albariño is our most popular wine. We do sell out pretty quickly every year.”
In 2016, Palencia won best of show at the Cascadia International Wine Competition with a 2015 Albariño and has since grown its bottlings to 1,000 cases. This summer, the Palencia Wine Co. 2021 Albariño made its way into a Puget Sound Business Journal feature that asked a few experts in the Washington wine industry what they are drinking.
Success stories along the way helped inspire Ryan Flanagan, director of vineyard operations for Wahluke Wine Co., to expand the representation of Albariño at Evergreen, a historic contributor to Ste. Michelle’s famed Eroica Riesling project.
Evergreen now ranks as one of the Northwest’s largest plantings of Albariño.
“Our first planting was made in 2009 — a 1.2-acre plot that Craig and Victor have been sourcing from,” Flanagan noted. “We planted an additional 20 acres in 2020.”
Wade Wolfe bullish on Albariño from Crawford Vineyard
That one site would excel with both Riesling and Albariño doesn’t surprise Wolfe, who relies on Crawford Vineyard for his popular PGV — a blend of Pinot Gris and Viognier.
“On the aroma, it is close to Viognier in terms of fruit characteristics, but it is different from Viognier because of the acid, so I guess I’d compare Albariño to a combination of Riesling and Viognier,” Wolfe says. “It’s got the acidity of a Riesling, but it ends up more full-bodied like Viognier.”
Coco Umiker at Clearwater Canyon Canyon in Lewiston, Idaho, quickly made Albariño a part of her white program when she moved into her new estate winemaking facility. Soon after, an Albariño from Crawford Vineyard earned her a Double Platinum — the 2020 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year’s first Platinum for a white wine.
“It is no surprise that so many of the top Albariño entries are sourced from Crawford Vineyard,” Umiker said. “The Crawfords utilize a derivation of the Geneva Double Curtain, a rare trellis system, to provide the ideal conditions for growing exceptional Albariño. I’m happy people are discovering how delicious Crawford Vineyard fruit is — but I’m now worried about the high demand for their grapes!”
Indeed, Wolfe upped his Albariño contract with the Crawfords for the 2022 vintage.
“We started out producing 130 cases, and this year we released 205 cases,” Wolfe said. “Our plan is to get up to 350 cases from this year’s harvest. We contemplated going up to 600, but I was a bit concerned that we would be doing too much.”
In 1979, the Crawfords entered the industry as growers for Ste. Michelle, which Wolfe was working for at the time. Of their 80 acres of wine grapes, the Crawfords now have 8 acres devoted to Albariño.
“We do have a 43-year-old block of Chardonnay that I would like to pull out,” Charlie Crawford noted. “If so, we would probably plant Albariño since it is adjacent to existing Albariño.”
The versatility of Albariño at the dining table — thanks its brightness and lower alcohol — has helped boost its popularity in the fish-loving Northwest.
“Seafood!” exclaims Wolfe. “Lobster, scallops, oysters. And I’m a big mussels fan, so I like Albariño with that, too.”
It also pairs crab cakes, pasta in a white sauce, casseroles and Asian, Latin and Indian cuisine found throughout the Pacific Northwest.
This judging was staged during August at the Clover Island Inn in historic downtown Kennewick, Wash. The panel featured Gordy Venneri, co-winemaker for Neher Family Wines in Milton-Freewater, Ore.; April Reddout of Reddout Wine Consulting in Kennewick and a columnist for Great Northwest Wine; and Ken Robertson, associate editor/columnist for Great Northwest Wine.
Reviews of Unanimously Outstanding! wines
Michael Florentino Cellars 2020 Albariño, Yakima Valley • $20; Unanimously Outstanding! Double gold medal — 98 points
Crayelle Cellars 2021 Albariño, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley • $25; Unanimously Outstanding! Double gold medal — 97 points
Coyote Canyon Winery 2021 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Albariño, Horse Heaven Hills • $24; Unanimously Outstanding! Double gold medal — 96 points
Barnard Griffin Winery 2021 Albariño, Columbia Valley • $25; Unanimously Outstanding! Double gold medal — 95 points