The grapes of time: Albariño

11 November 2021

The relationship between wine and time has always fascinated me. The transformation that wine undergoes in its relationship with oxygen, sometimes tragic, sometimes miraculous, is a journey that still holds some mystery. To this day, winemakers still speculate about the longevity of wine, but no one dares to say for certain how long their creation will live.

There are indicators that allow you to foresee this ageing, such as the pH or the total acidity of the wine, but they do not always allow us to glimpse a date. There is something beyond the control of scientists, as they are not able to give fair predictions. Perhaps this is why it is so beautiful. The fact that when you uncork the cork you always have that uncertainty as to whether you were right to hold it in the cellar is wonderful, especially if you discover that your patience has been rewarded and that you can share it with your friends and family.

Some wines, either because of their acidity or their tannins, should be kept for many years, for example Barolo reds, some Burgundy chardonnays, Bordeaux reds or some Rieslings from the Moselle.

However, we do not need to travel so far to find these wines. In Spain we also have interesting areas that offer us the possibility of making the wine part of our cellar for many years and allowing us to enjoy it fully once it has been uncorked years later. Rioja, for example, is capable of offering us an enriching experience in red wines designed to stand the test of time, such as the Reserva and the Gran Reserva. In the same way we can find other great examples in areas such as Ribera del Duero. But not everything is limited to red wines, the world of white wine offers interesting ageing possibilities, as is the case with Albariño, our protagonist today and perhaps the white grape with the greatest potential for ageing of all those we have in our vineyards.

White ageing

In order to see this expressive capacity over time in Spanish wines, we must go to the area that has come the furthest so far, Rías Baixas. There they have the great albariño, a short-cycle grape, which ripens early and maintains a lot of acidity. This grape has the freshness it needs to be able to show its ageing potential. It is important to highlight that the combination of climate, variety and human being is the most decisive factor in allowing us to work with wines that fight against the elements, and in Galicia they have all these factors in their favour, especially the factors that are less alterable by human beings, such as climate and grape.

Notas de cata

Aware of this, for many years at Guía Peñín we have been preaching about the need to promote this ageing process in Galician whites, a message that has been gradually echoed by producers, as we have been able to explain in each new issue of the Guía Peñín de los Vinos de España. Indeed, albariño with time is capable of showing us another perspective of wine. The turning point in terms of production came with the work of the Pazo de Señorans winery with its Vintage Selection in 1999. Since then, with a slow but steady drip, the wineries have been working with care to expose their Albariño wines to the passage of time. Although not all of them dare to age their wines for such a long time, the truth is that the tasting team has assessed 308 wines in the DO Rías Baixas, 32% of which belonged to vintages from 2018 onwards. Logically, the remaining 68% still belong to younger wines (2020 and 2019 vintages, in this last tasting of the Peñín Guide). This percentage of older wines was 11% in 2012, so we can clearly see how it is evolving.

For this Albariño to have ageing capacity, it is not enough to just make it and that's all there is to it. Many winemakers elaborate for this specific purpose, either by ageing the wine on its own lees for a long period of time or by ageing it in barrels. These processes enhance the ageing process, which is why it is more common to see a mention of ageing on the labelling of these wines.

It should be clarified that between the two types of ageing, lees and barrel, the most gentle for the subtlety of Albariño today is the ageing on lees. Cask ageing has not been very widespread or well defined in the area, mainly because it quickly masks the characteristics of the grape and the terroir. As we always say, there are exceptions and winemakers who know how to apply the right amount of time in oak to take advantage of the good things it gives you, such as giving the wine more weight and also preparing it to better resist the passage of time.


The most surprising thing in Rías Baixas is the capacity of some young wines, not made with ageing on lees or barrels, to improve with time. This is a phenomenon that does not affect all of them equally, and it would be interesting to test it in the houses with the best reputation for winemaking. The exercise we propose is as follows: buy a case of your favourite young wine of the year and taste it over time, every six months or eight months, for example. It is important that the selected bottle has a cork closure, as a screw cap would prevent us from seeing the evolution brought about by the micro-oxygenation that occurs through the cork. If the magic happens, we will see a wine whose nuances change from the more floral and fruity nuances in favour of tertiary traits such as petrol or even phosphorus aromas, aromas associated with the great white wines of the world. In any case, the best examples of aged Albariño are found in those wines that have been aged on their lees. Many of these wines, and here they are almost the majority, evolve very positively, which leads us to invite you to do your own tests at home, since in the restaurant it is likely to be much more expensive.

We still have a lot to learn about wine and time, but little by little we are getting closer to a better understanding of their influence, which should bring us some great examples. Remember, be patient and you will be able to enjoy a great wine as it ages in the bottle.

    Written by Javier Luengo, director editorial de Peñín