2014 has been a stellar year for wine and an equally promising year for another of the East End’s signature crops, those tiny scallops freshly harvested from Peconic Bay. The generous harvest of both grapes and scallops in 2014 gladdens my heart and makes my mouth even happier.
The bay scallop season, which began just before Election Day, used to begin in late September, forcing some vineyards to turn to mechanical harvesting when the pickers abandoned vineyards to become baymen. (Less sticky? More lucrative?)
Then the brown tide killed most of the scallops, the scallop season was postponed to November and grape pickers returned.
I like to keep bay scallops pristine when I cook them: no breading, no garlic, no sauce excepting for the butter they are seared in (and maybe a deglazing of the wine I’m drinking).
I’ve always advocated Long Island sauvignon blanc with bay scallops. Its bright herbaceousness cuts through the richness of the scallops (and their butter). But this year I’m pairing them with another seafood-friendly favorite, albariño, the signature grape of Rias Baixas (northern Spain), now being grown by a handful of Long Island growers.
The inspirational advocate of Long Island albariño is Miguel Martin, general manager and winemaker at Palmer Vineyards in Aquebogue. Martin says, “This variety has a lot of potential in our maritime climate … albariño loves to be grown near the water. I have been making albariño since 2010 and had nothing but great experience. The 2013 [Palmer Vineyards] Albariño is full of aromatics. The nose jumps out of the glass, with freshly sliced apples, along with honey [and] crushed oyster shells. On the palate, the minerality and acidity is palpable.”
Martin, who grew up in Spain and has experience in Australia and California, too, planted an acre of albariño at Palmer in 2007, reasoning, “We share so many similarities to Galicia and it’s normal that this grape does well in our region.”
Most importantly, albariño shows remarkable resistance to the mildews that damage grapes in maritime climates.
No one is sure where albariño originated, but its name derives from the Latin “alva,” meaning “white,” and “rhenos,” the river “Rhine.” Some say the grape is a clone of riesling, brought by Romans who settled in this region from their vineyards on the Rhine (now Germany) before 500 A.D. In fact, until recently, Spanish albariño was characteristically sold in long, tapered bottles to reinforce this identity.
Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, planted an acre of albariño in 2011 and finds many aromatic similarities between riesling and albariño, such as “apricots, peaches and other TDN-derived mono terpenes” (a quality often described as ‘petrol’).
Still, the genetic evidence is not clear and some think albariño is a clone of petit manseng, brought to Spain by Cistercian monks from Burgundy in the 12th century. As much as the vintners of Rias Baixas worked to market their wines as riesling-related 20 years ago, today, in branding their region, they prefer to regard it as an indigenous or mystery grape variety, all their own, and they no longer bottle it in hock glass, which is usually used for German or Alsatian wines.
Olsen-Harbich, himself an avid student of varietal authenticity, told me as an aside that recent DNA analysis has proven that, due to a nursery mix-up in the 1980s, Australia’s “albariño” is actually “sauvignin,” another variety altogether.
No matter what its DNA, other Long Island growers are as excited about albariño as Martin and Olsen-Harbich, who says, “Overall I love the variety for the North Fork. It seems to really love it here.” He uses it as “a really beautiful blender for our white blend program of Taste White.”
At Jamesport Vineyards, owner Ron Goerler planted three acres of albariño three years ago. Calling it by its Portuguese name, alvarhino, he finds it gobbles potassium in the field, but looks forward to his first harvest next year. In 2013, when other varieties were beset with fungus, his alvarhino “were perfect.”
Cornell Cooperative Extension grape specialist Alice Wise has been growing albariño since 2007 in her experimental vineyard, finding it an early-ripening, disease-resistant grape with plenty of sugar and acidity. She also loves its “bright and interesting” flavors.
In my own comparative tasting of Palmer Vineyards’ 2013 Albariño alongside several Rias Baixas albariños, the Palmer showed more tropical fruit and floral qualities (reminiscent of guava and honeysuckle), with far less of the Spanish wines’ sap-driven herbal aromas. Pale in color, it has great purity and surprising depth on the palate.
Just right for those bay scallops.
Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.