The Albariño Explorer's Club, Rías Baixas, and Szechuan Food: A Love Story

Over the past several years, aromatic white grape varieties have seen an explosion in popularity in the United States. And few of them have experienced as vertiginous a rise as Albariño, the fresh, wildly food-friendly white whose greatest expression is unarguably Rías Baixas, in northwest Spain.
This is a part of the country that, geographically at least, is as different from the sun-baked southern climes as you’ll find. According to the excellent new resource albarinoexplorersclub.com, this part of the country is “known as ‘Green Spain,’ [and]... resembles Ireland with lush terrain, cool, damp climate yet ample sunshine, and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.” It’s also known for “seafood, women winemakers and Albariño.”
The third item in this great Galician triumvirate is what has really piqued the interest of American wine-lovers in recent years; not only does great Albariño represent some of the best wine value on retail shelves--you can find any number of excellent ones for less than $15--but it’s also one of the most food-friendly wines around, the peach and apple notes providing aromatic lift in the glass, the fresh acidity making it an easy match for a dizzying range of food.
And not just the kind of seafood you’ll find in Galicia--though, of course, you can’t go wrong with glistening-fresh shrimp and a glass of Albariño. Recently, I was asked by a colleague at albarinoexplorersclub.com if I would try pairing Albariño with foods that most consumers don’t necessarily think would work well with it, and then blog about the experience. I accepted, and then proceeded to do what any self-respecting wine professional would: I tried to find the least wine-friendly foods I could, and see how Albariño handled them.
For this experiment, then, I decided on the searingly spicy Szechuan menu at one of my favorite restaurants in Philadelphia--Han Dynasty, a restaurant known not just for the aggressiveness of the spice-heat it employs, but also for the range of it: Tongue-searing chilies, throat-burning peppercorns, glowing-red oils that could cure even the most intransigent sinus blockages.
German Riesling and beer work well with this food--I knew that from experience. But Albariño? This, it seemed, would be an unfair fight, the odds tilting inexorably in the hot foods’ favor.
I was wrong. Of the three Albariños I drank alongside this meal, each of them worked perfectly with at least one course, and in general, each individual course benefitted from two or even all three of the wines. The wines were more than capable of not only working alongside the food, but of making it better than it would have been on its own.
Click here for my blog on the experiment, as well as the conclusions I was able to draw from it. And keep checking back there; new bloggers will be featured in the coming weeks. And for more information on Rías Baixas in general and Albariño in particular, click here--both are fantastic resources for a fascinating part of the wine world, and the great grape variety that continues to burnish its reputation on both sides of the Atlantic.

[Note: Photo courtesy of Wines from Spain.]