Dave Newton Johnson, owner of Newton Johnson Vineyards in the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, reckons there’s quite a bit going for Albariño. It is currently fashionable in international wine circles making for some of the most expensive Spanish and Portuguese white wines and it likes a cooler climate and granitic soils, precisely the conditions found on his property.
Newton Johnson began a search for material first in Spain only to discover everything had been sold to the large US producer E & J Gallo, then Australia (but was deterred when DNA tests in 2009 showed that what was planted was actually Savagnin Blanc) and finally California.
0.5ha of Shiraz has been grafted over and an experimental eight-litre batch was made for the first time this year. Yesterday a small group tasted it next to six examples from Rias Baixas, the leading wine zone in Galicia, northwest Spain and ranging in price from under €7 to over €30 a bottle.
The variety recalls 1) Riesling on account of its aromatics and high acidity and 2) Viognier on account of its peach-like character and thick texture. In addition, a particularly saline finish seems to be distinctive. The Spanish stuff was all very characterful and the good news is that the Newton Johnson wasn’t far behind. Watch this space.