Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Konnichiwa, Albarino-san!

During the winter, it can be difficult to find Albariño wines because many wine stores seem to feel it is more of a summer wine. Yet I strongly disagree with that reasoning as I believe Albariño is good year round. Sure, it is a perfect summer wine, yet its versatility in food pairing make it an excellent choice during any season. After tracking down a bottle of 2010 Burgan's Albariño, I brought it with me to Kyotoya, a Japanese restaurant in Stoneham, to assess its compatibility with that cuisine.

Albariño is an indigenous grape in Spain, and grows primarily in the Galicia region, in the northwest of Spain. It is the signature grape in the Denomination de Origin (D.O.) of Rías Baixas, which is also the only exclusively white wine D.O. in Spain. Though 12 grape varieties are permitted in Rias Baixas, Albariño is heavily dominant, representing 90% of all plantings. Interestingly, over half of the nearly 200 wineries in Rias Baixas have female winemakers. This has been a very recent change as back in 1990, there were few female winemakers. This surge of female winemakers has also accompanied a rise in higher quality and more complex Albariño wines.

The Burgan's Albariño is produced by the Bodegas Martín Códax, which was established in 1986 as a cooperative and now has about 285 members. The winery name is derived from the name of a famous 13th century Galician poet, more accurately known as a jogral, who composed a type of lyrical poetry called cantigas. A jogral is similar in a number respects to a troubador, though they are not nobles. The name Burgáns refers to the name of the slope where the winery is located.

The nose of the 2010 Burgan's Albariño is a compelling blend of citrus and other fruit smells and much of that fruit comes out in the flavors as well, including peach, lemon, apple and ripe pear. Accompanying these flavors, there is a subtle minerality and an almost sweetness to the ripe, full taste. The flavors linger in your mouth, providing a very pleasant finish. But how does it pair with Japanese cuisine? Actually, quite well.

Kyotoya is one of my favorite local restaurants and it creates some excellent and inexpensive Japanese cuisine. In addition, it is BYOB, so you can bring your own wine or beer and they do not even charge a corkage fee. Thus, Kyotoya provided a perfect opportunity to put the Albariño to the test with a variety of dishes.

We began the meal with some sushi, including tamago (egg omelet), maguro (yellowfin tuna) and salmon. With the raw fish, the fruit of the Albariño became more muted and the minerality surfaced. In addition, the wine helped to mellow some of the heat of the wasabi. A nice start to the meal and the Albariño was already showing some of its versatility.  Soon after, we were delivered some miso soup and salad, and the saltiness of the soup also mellowed the fruit flavors and sweetness, though without raising the minerality. The wine was now showing a different face, and that was very interesting.

Kyotoya has superb tempura, shrimp and vegetables, which is perfectly light and crispy. Frankly, it is one of the best tempura I have ever tasted.  The Albariño made a fine match, the flavors of both the food and wine complementing each other, though taking on a different flavor than when it has been paired with the sushi and miso. The clean flavors of the tempura worked well with the fruit of the Albariño, and the wine also worked as a palate cleanser.

The crisp gyoza, fried dumplings, did as well as the tempura with the Albariño, and the wine was not bothered by the slightly earthier filling inside the gyoza.

Beef and white wine? Not always a first choice but it can work sometimes. We tried an order of Beef Tataki, thinly sliced, rare beef in a ponzu sauce. Ponzu sauce is citrus based and those flavors matched well the citrus found in the Albariño, so the pairing actually worked. The wine was also rich enough to handle the silky, tender beef. I could easily see the Albariño with a beef carpaccio too.

The Tatsuta Age, ginger battered fried chicken, brought out another side of the Albariño, emphasizing almost a spicy undertone while once again muting some of the perceived sweetness. In some respects, the Albariño reminded me of Sybil, with all of the different personalities it was evidencing, each brought on by a different food pairing.

One of my favorites dishes at Kyotoya is the Unagi Sandwich, which has pieces of eel sandwiched between slices of sweet potato tempura and topped by a type of barbecue sauce. The sweetness of the sauce complemented the wine, while the wine also handled the tempura and strong eel taste. Another winning pairing.

Finally, we ended with Salmon Teriyaki, and once again the sweetness of the sauce was an excellent complement to the fruity Albariño, while the salmon flavors were not overpowered by the wine and seemed to extract a bit more minerality out of the wine. I knew seafood paired well with Albariño but it was nice to learn that Asian flavors also worked well too.

I believe my Japanese excursion provided more evidence of the versatility of Albariño in food pairing, as well as indicating its diverse personality, how it changes in taste and style dependent on the specific food with which it is accompanied. Sometimes it is more fruity while other times the minerality is more dominant. It can handle spicy flavors, seafood, fried foods and even beef. Don't think about Albariño as just a summer wine, but enjoy it year round and don't be afraid to experiment with food pairings.

(This was originally posted on the Albariño Explorers Blog, and they also paid for my dinner and wine, though I had the choice of which wine to select and which restaurant to visit. All of the opinions stated in this post are my own.)

1 comment:

RedMercury said...

mmm....nice pic)))