Rías Baixas DO
Wet, windy and green may be the most important words to describe Rías Baixas.
However, there is much more on offer than first meets the eye.
Located in Galicia Rías Baixas is the home of the wonderful Spanish white grape variety Albariño. The northwesterly position in Spain means the North Atlantic Ocean has a significant climate and weather role. Rainfall is common and it is one of wettest regions in Spain. This means that grape growing can be extremely difficult with very high disease pressure. However, the area benefits from a high number of sunshine hours which makes grape growing possible.
The appellation was awarded DO status in 1988 and is further divided into five lesser-known sub-regions. These are the Val do Salnés, O Rosal, Condado do Tea, Soutomaior and Ribera de Ulla. Albariño is planted in each with Val do Salnés regarded as the most premium area. Water plays an important role in each of the 5 subregions as each is located either next to the Atlantic Ocean or one of three rivers (the Miño the Ulla and the Tea).
The importance of Albariño
Albariño can be grown in these wet and windy conditions because of the thick skins, which help reduce the risk of disease. The thick skins also help provide the grapes notable flavours of citrus moving through lemon, lime and often grapefruit. Other common flavours are apple blossom, peach, nectarine and melon. The more complex wines can have subtle notes of almonds and an almost salty or flinty character and these are the wines to look out for. This highly aromatic wine contains two key compounds; thiols and terpenes. Terpenes generally correspond to floral aromas and thiols to fruity aromas like grapefruit.
Aged examples are less commonly seen by can develop nutty, waxy and hay-like aromas and can be extremely pleasant. There is an increasing movement in Rías Baixas to produce these more complex, aged examples.
The most common wines from Rías Baixas is the Rías Baixas Albariño which is produced from only that grape variety but with grapes grown in any of the five sub-regions.
This is a region dominated by white wine production, less than 1% of planting is red grape varieties. There are only two tiny titles which red can be made under. These are Rías Baixas Barrica which covers both white and red wines that have spent time in barrels and Rías Baixas Tinto which is red wine only. Finally, there is the Rías Baixas Espumoso which covers a small amount of sparkling wine production.
Apart from Albariño which represents over 95% of plantings, there is also Loureiro, Godello, Torrontes and Treixadura grown.
More detail on the sub-regions.
Val do Salnés.
This is the most respected area for Albarińo and is regarded as the original home for the white variety. The western edge is on the Atlantic coast and contains the largest number of wineries in the whole of Rías Baixas. However, it is still one of the wettest.
The western edge is located on the Atlantic Ocean and the Miño river creates the southern border. This means it is very wet and windy.
Condado do Tea
Tea refers to the tributary from the larger Mińo River and provides the name for the area. Due to the further inland position, the temperatures are slightly warmer and the wind is reduced. The Mińo river creates a southern border and across the river is Portugal.
This is by far the smallest sub-region with light, sandy soils.
Ribera de Ulla.
This is the youngest sub-region in Rías Baixas. It is a relatively large inland region surrounding the Ulla River.