10 Things to Know about Rías Baixas (and one non-sequitur)

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Not Ireland (Photo Credit)

Every bottle of wine is an opportunity to learn something . . .

This is why I enjoy participating in #WineStudio, a live, 4-week long, wine tasting and education series that takes place each Tuesday evening from 9-10pm EST on Twitter. We discuss things like terroir winemaking, grape varieties, culture, pairings, and occasionally (OK, often), there’s a smattering of tomfoolery.  It’s hosted by Protocol Wine Studio, and usually focuses on a singular theme, but wines and/or wineries change each week.  If you haven’t already, please join in the conversation!

The theme for this month’s #WineStudio is Albariño from Rías Baixas.  And instead of our usual 4-week program, we’re having a 9-week program.  I usually wait and do one #WineStudio post, but if I tried to condense 9 weeks of wine into one post, it would be waaaaaaaay too long.

So, to whet your wine whistle (in anticipation of all the Albariño to come), here are 10 things to know about Rías Baixas:

  1. Rías Baixas is located in northwestern Spain, in a region called Galicia (aka Green Spain), which looks more like coastal Ireland than the typical mental picture of Spain (hot, dry and dusty).  See the pic above.
  2. Rías Baixas translates to Low Rivers.  It’s pronounced Rías Baishas.  Here’s a great video of Galicians pronouncing it.
  3. The climate in Rías Baixas is coastal, averaging 1800 mm (that’s just over 70 inches) of rainfall per year.  By comparison, the rainiest city in the United States (Mobile, Alabama) gets 67 inches of rain per year; Seattle checks in at a paltry 38 inches.
  4. In 1980, a specific Denominación de Origen, or DO, was created specifically for the Albariño grape.  However, when Spain entered the European Union in 1986, the name of the DO was changed to Rías Baixas because EU laws don’t recognize DO’s named for a single grape variety.
  5. Over 99% of the wine produced in Rías Baixas is white, and of that total, 90% is Albariño.
  6. Although its genesis is uncertain, prevailing thought says Albariño is a Riesling clone, brought to the area by German monks in the 12th (ish) century.  (Another theory is that Albariño is related to Petit Manseng.)
  7. Albariño is characterized by high acidity, intense aromatics, and low alcohol.  Sometimes, there’s a slight saline quality to the wines.
  8. Most Albariño is unoaked, but there are examples of oak-aged Albariños available.
  9. There are 12 grape varieties permitted in Rías Baixas.  In addition to Albariño, other grape varieties include Treixadura (traditionally blended with Albariño), Loureiro, Caiño Blanco, Torrontes and Godello.
  10. Across the Minho River in Portugal, Albariño is made as Vinho Verde (technically, Vinho Verde is both a wine and a region).  Vinho Verde translates literally to green wine (aka young wine).  Portuguese Alvarinho has lighter body, lower alcohol, and a slight effervescence.  It’s meant to be consumed very young.

From north to south, the DO Rías Baixas encompasses five distinct sub-regions.   These subregions all share a unique, coastal climate, but the soils are slightly different, allowing for a wide range of Albariño styles.

Rias Baixas
Map Courtesy of Rías Baixas Wines

According to Rías Baixas Wines,

the coastal soils in Rías Baixas are principally granitic, acidic and shallow. They are frequently located less than 300 meters away from the sea. The intense rainfall causes the soils to crumble, breaking the granite particles and turning them into sand, a phenomenon that is referred to locally as xiabre.

1. Ribeira do Ulla:  The newest Rías Baixas sub-region (registered in 2000).  Soils here are mostly alluvial.
2. Val do Salnés:  Known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape.  This is the original and oldest sub-region, and has the most acres under vine.  It’s also the coolest and wettest sub-region, and known for a crisp, aromatic style of wine.  Soils here are alluvial over granite.
3. Soutomaior:  The smallest of the sub-regions (registered in 1996).  The soils here are alluvial over granite.
4. Condado do Tea:  The furthest inland sub-region, named after the Tea River, a tributary of the Miño.  The climate here is warm and dry.  It’s known for earthier styles of wines — more powerful, but with less acidity.  Soils here are granite and slate, and appear on the surface with lighter granite subsoil.
5. O Rosal:  Lying along the Miño River, this sub-region forms the border with Portugal.  It’s known for a soft, stone-fruit style of wine.   Many O Rosal producers blend Albariño with other allowed grape varieties, such as Treixadura and Loureiro.  Soils here are alluvial over granite.

And since I promised you a non-sequitur . . . Fidel Castro’s parents migrated to Cuba from Galicia, Spain.

Saúde!

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