The Albariño grape is a spanish white variety with a strong floral and terpene character, ideal for producing not only young fresh and aromatic whites, but also (barrel) aged wines. Initially the DO. Rías Baixes was only seen as a region of great hope for Spanish whites, but it has managed to turn this hope into reality.
The history of wine making in this region has been closely linked to the Camino de Santiago (way of St.James) and the Albariño grape variety. There has been some controversy regarding the origin of the Albariño grape; Some suggest that it originates from Galicia; others believe that it was introduced to the region in the 12th century by Cistercian monks from the Rhine during their passing through the Camino de Santiago; there is even suggestion that the grape was brought to Galicia on the occasian of the wedding of Raymond of Burgundy and Queen Urraca. Other theories suggest that it could be a relative of the German Riesling grape, or that it passed through Portugal, where it arrived from Greece on English ships. Regardless of the grapes origin, the truth is that viticulture has been practiced in the region for over 1,000 years.
DO Rías Baixas and Galicia in general is a region with a wild and exuberant nature, where its Celtic heritage is evident in its language, Galician, and Christian and pre-Christian elements are mixed like nowhere else in Spain. The transition from the regions outdated agriculture techniques to its current cutting edge modern wineries was so quick that it is almost impossible to pinpoint when the transition happened. However it was 30 years ago when winegrowers began to seriously consider the regions potential, representing a break from the regions traditional wine habits. Before the region was known for their relatively relaxed approach to winemaking. Production was relatively uncontrolled, winemakers were stingy in all aspects bar production, producing cloudy and unfinished wines, sold in bulk or unlabelled, and drank from a Cunca or Tazina (similar to a mug). However, luckily, this way of winemaking is a thing of the past for Galician wines thanks to a group of honest winemakers with an eye for quality and on the future. This lead to the creation of the brand new DO Rias Baixas in 1988, initially proposed as the DO Albariño in 1980, since the variety was and is the cornerstone of this area.
DO Rías Baixas is located in the northwest corner of Spain and is currently divided into five distinct sub-zones: Val do Salnés, which is the main production area, accounting for over 50% of the plantation area and 70% of the regions winemakers, Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Soutomaior and Ribeira do Ulla.
Val do Salnés is located on the lower reaches of the river Umia and centred on the town of Cambados. The landscape is of low undulating hills and the vineyards are planted both on the slopes facing different orientations as well as on the flat valley floors.
O Rosal is located further south, along the Portuguese frontier in the basin of the river Miño and extends inwards towards the town of Tui. The vineyards here are planted on terraces on the banks of the Miño.
Condado do Tea, in the west, extends westwards from Tui along the Miño valley up to the neighbouring Ribeiro (DO). The landscape is more abrupt and consists of several small river valleys.
The Soutomaior sub-zone was incorporated into the Denominación de Origen in 1996 and is located just south of the city of Pontevedra.
The Ribera de Ulla sub-zone, to the north of Pontevedra was incorporated recently in 2000.
Climate, Soils and Varieties
The region is home to an Atlantic climate, characterised by wet winters and a strong sea mist, although the weather does vary significantly between the different sub areas. Ribera do Ulla and Val do Salnés are the coldest sub-zones given their proximity to the coast, while the warmest area is the County do Tea followed by O Rosal, where temperatures reach highs of 40ºC, although these regions too experience cold winters with frequent frosts and above 2,000 mm rainfall.
The soils also vary within the region. For example, Val do Salmés, O Rosal and Ribera de Ulla are all home to alluvial soils, while Condado do Tea has granite and slate soils, and the soils in Soutomaoi are are light and sandy, and covered with granite.
Twelve different grape varieties are cultivated in the DO Rías Baixas, both red and white varieties, but by far the most important variety of the DO is the Albariño, accounting for over 95% of total production. Other recommended white varieties grown in the region include Treixadura, usually mixed with Albariño in the Condado do Tea, the high quality White Loureira variety associated with the O Roal sub-zone, and the Godello grape whose popularity is booming after its success in other parts of Galicia. Red varieties in the region include Sousón, Mencía and Caíño Tinto, whose presence is very minor and they do not exceed 1% of total planting.
The region currently boasts over 4,000 hectares of vineyards, which are cultivated by over 6,500 grape growers across 24,000 plots. This means on average that each winegrower is on average responsable for just ½ hectare spread over 2 or 4 plots. The Rías Baixes is known for this small scale of production. This is usually due down to inheritance where the testador divides their estate equally among their heirs, resulting in smaller pieces of land as time goes on. However, at present there are also larger plantations, planted almost always at high altitudes, using varieties that respond to the particular climatic conditions of the area. Many of these larger scale plantations are cultivated manually and mechanically. Owing to the comparatively cool, moist climate of Galicia, vines are usually trained over granite posts and wires using the pergola system, allowing air to circulate freely thus reducing the risk of rot.
Wines and wineries from DO Rías Baixas
99% percent of the wines from Rías Baixas are white wines. However, given the climatic and geographical differences as well as the type of local grapes used from the different sub zones, all of the wines to come from DO Rías Baixas offer their own personal characteristics. Saying this, the vast majority are made with at least 70% Albariño.
Today across the region, various styles and forms of winemaking production are carried out, demonstrating the versitility of the Albariño grape. Although often associated with young wines, the Albariño can also produce wines that are aged in the bottle, aged on its lees, fermented in the barrel, aged in oak barrels, late harvest whites, or even used in the production of sparkling wine.
The aromatic range of albariños is one of its more defined and personal characteristics. They are intensely fruity when young, but are extended to complex nuances, more ripe apple, banana and herbaceous when aged in the bottle, even years can develop light hydrocarbons notes that confer great personality. Work on lees provides creaminess on the palate, as well as more complex aromas and a greater willingness to mature in the bottle better. The aroma is intense, very ripe peach and apple, with hints of vanilla baked pastries and thin, with broad palate, buttery, fruity, with lactic notes and hints of grillé bread.
With wines that ferment of are aged in the barrel, many winemakers decide to use large barrels, with a capacity of at least 500litres. This helps to achieve a better balance wood-varietal and thus respect the elegance and personality of the grape. The difficulty of producing a delicate white with fermentation and / or aging in oak barrels, is to balance between the fruit and the presence of wood, which fortunately for many of these wines is already a virtue.
The ripening intensifies and concentrates the aromas of the wine, and offers a friendly and fresh palate at the same time because it retains its natural acidity. A genuine Albariño in its concept is very ripe, floral, frivolous volumes of botrytis fruit; creamy and with a formidable structure. However, in all cases, the intense fruitiness Albariño must always be balanced by a good acidity to ensure that the wine is not too sweet. When the harvest is good and the winemaking process is carried out succesfully, wines are very frank and tasteful, and maintain a high degree of delicacy in all its elaborations.
The region is home to reowned tiny, small and medium sized cooperatives and adegas (winery in Galician). A cooperative formed in 1985, Martin Codax is one of the area’s larger operators with approximately 530 acres of vineyards. The growers in the coop work well together and maintain a high level of quality. They make several bottlings, all from 100% Albariño. Martin Codax became a public limited company in 1998, and has pioneered many things, among them the development of barrel aged albariños and late harvest albariños, which have become some of the best exponents from of the region.
Mar de Frades: Apart from its balanced wines, this winery is distinguished by the blue heat-sensitive label on its bottles on which a blue galleon appears when the wine reaches the ideal temperature for consumption.
Palace Fefiñanes: Housed in a 17th Century estate in the center of Cambados, Palace Fefiñanes is a historic winery that is known for wines that are long aged on their lees and aged in oak. Their work is a testiment to what can be achieved by good albariño need to rest a reasonable time before going on stage.
Pazo de Barrantes: Located in the Val de Salné in an impressive manor house, this winery has been in family hands of the Count of Creixell since 1511. Both their young and long aged wines are among the elite wines of the DO Rias Baixas.
Pazo de Señorans, also in a stately seventeenth century nestled in Vilanoviña and with an original 10 hectare vineyard, from his first wine in 1989 has managed to establish itself as one of the indisputable references in the area for its quality and above all, their consistency.
Bodegas Gerardo Mendez: artists and craftsman of the albariño grape, this vineyard produces excellent wines, using an almost military control to get the best from the Albariño. This winery holds on to tradition, but definitely has its eyes on the future.
Bodegas Valdamor in Xil: in the "valle de amor". Although this winery is home to some of the most advanced technology in the industry, it does not give up the tradition of careful and accurate vinification, both in their young albariños as well as their oak aged wines.
Bodegas Zarate: is a family property located in Meaño, and one of the historic wineries Salnés Valley, nestled in a Manor House which was built in the sixteenth century and completely rebuilt in the 18th. The project is based on natural care for ancient vineyards of the property, and then to express the characteristics of each plot in varietals and limited production wines.
Fillaboa, now belongs to Masaveu group, and always their labels Fillaboa have emerged as one of the best wines in the Condado de Tea, from the young to the selected harvest, through the fermented tino and wine farm Monte Alto.
Nora vineyard, winery is not as such, but a miniholding of people and companies carrying out an ambitious project that aims wine emphasize the virtues of each of the zones, their varieties and their homelands.
Adegas Morgadío, where the history of this winery begins with capital of Morgadío a luxury albariño, standard bearer of the name, which has achieved an extraordinary penetration into international markets.
Quinta Couselo, family winery, which produces young and fruity with good body, such as your Quinta de Couselo combining albariño with loureira, treixadura and caíño, or Turonia, a single varietal albariño christened medieval name of the current Baixo Miño.
Lagar de Fornelos, which now belongs to the group of La Rioja Alta, between its modern facilities stainless steel and thermal equipment cherishes the original winery, which is its hallmark, immortalized in relief on the bottle of Albariño Lagar de Cervera.
Bodegas Terras Gauda in O Rosal, near the mouth of the Minho river, commitment assembly albariño with Loureiro, caíño and treixadura both its wine flagship Terras Gauda and its fermented and aged in oak barrels, the Terras Gauda Black label, plus a variety of caíño, La Mar and not taken advantage of the DO Rias Baixas.