Martín Códax Albariño Rías Baixas 2006
I've tasted without reviewing two Spanish Albariños over the past few weeks; they had the
promise, but I could turn neither wine into words. Un-reviewed Albariño “A” had refreshing
acidity and zest but couldn't push past the gulping level. Albariño “B” had more stuff to it,
but brought in too much cloying sweet, and the acidity failed to persevere. The Martín
Códax is the baby bear of the bunch, just right: refreshing and stimulatingly complex. As a
$14 wine, it costs two or three dollars more than either of its anonymous rivals, but you are
getting twice as much wine for that small premium. Albariño is the characteristic white grape
of wet-climate Rías Baixas in Galicia, in Spain's northwest.
The wine is a clear, light lemon color with a pronounced, somewhat playful nose. My main aromatic notes show tree fruits: ripe apple, white pear, apricot, and peach. Behind these forward notes are strains of tropical fruit, though these express themselves as more of a floral ripeness than a fruit pucker: mango and green melon, the fragrance of a ripe but not yet cut pineapple. Citrus rind—orange, grapefruit, or lemon—bursting with those fresh citrus oils, adds a note you don't really expect, but that's Albariño, a grape that awaits international notice.
The Martín Códax is technically dry (in that it contains less than 4 grams per liter of residual sugar) but not bone dry; a wine like this needs a little sweet to tame its juicy acidity. The first mouth impression is one of light minerality and a faint effervescence. Flavors are a warm lemon, grapefruit, melon, a light banana, echoes of the apple, pear, peach and apricot from the nose, and more of those citrus rinds, which bring both warmth and a pleasant bitterness. The real mouthfeel, however, comes from the wine's powdery, salt spray minerality.
This wine has an interesting dramatic arc, from first taste to mid-palate to its durable finish. The acidity works at all stages, of course, but more as ringmaster than leading act. The finish has that kind of bitter citrus oil you enjoy from the twist they put into your dry martini (if the bartender has kept all the garnishes nicely fresh); the acidity keeps the citrus oil to its script. Though, as stated, there is enough sweet in this wine to remind the acidity at all times that it is an adult and not a child, there isn't a single drop more; the finish is nicely dry, and tooth-coating powdery at that.
An Albariño of this sort is considered the perfect foil for shellfish and seafood; this is not surprising, since in reality this wine is seafood. While the left half of this particular bottle will be dedicated to a mushroom risotto tonight, I can see this Martín Códax Albariño meshing perfectly with shellfish; you use the shells themselves for the broth, and though you strain you still enjoy a crunchy bit of shell every now and then. You can almost bite into these bits in this wine.
The two un-reviewed Albariños did serve a purpose by the way, even if they did not inspire
me. In each case, one of the company tasted Albariño for the first time and became an instant
convert to the grape.
Among white grapes, “international” varieties include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and often Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc and Sémillon. We might as well revise the books and add Albariño now.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
Spain's Albariño grape.