Getting fresh with Rías Baixas at Wine Bloggers Conference
With Spanish wine, my mind generally leaps to full bodied reds that reflect the heat and terroir of this complex region. At the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, one of the wine discovery sessions showcased a relatively new DO that tested my tastebuds and assumptions. Far to the west within this great country, Rías Baixas in Galicia sits north of Portugal, soaking up the cool moistness of the Atlantic on its rugged, granite base. The name Rías Baixas is Galician for “Lower Rias” and refers to the five main rivers, whose water carve out the mineral-rich alluvial topsoil before mixing fresh with saline.
This minerality from the soil and climatic exposure invite an opportunity for the white Albariño grape to thrive in this region of Galicia. The cool maritime climate with over 2000mm per year and an average temperature of 55F on the coast ensures a vibrant natural acidity to the style. The Albariño grape harnesses the proximity to the sea breezes and humidity with the seven feet high “parras” pergola-styled trellising system. The DO permits some blending with the Albariño grape that represents 90% of all plantings in the DO. Other grape varieties include Caino Blanco, Loureiro, Torrentes, Godello.
Within the Rias Baixas DO there are five main sub-zones that create subtly different styles depending largely on their proximity to the ocean. All 9000 acres under vine sit to the south of Santiago de Compostela, with Ribeira do Ulla just to the south of the town, followed by Val do Salnés, Soutomaior, and finally on the border with Portugal inland Condado do Tea and O Rosal on the coast.
The tasting consisted of a series of wines from three of the five sub-zones and each wine delivered a different expression whether it was the microclimate, the blending, the soil or the winemaking techniques that played a part in its story. All wines were generally quite low in alcohol. The first was from the coastal Val do Salnés and bodegas Martin Codax and the 2016 was showing distinctive melon on the palate. There was lots of fresh acidity and citrus and minerality coming through. Many of the winemakers in the DO practice only limited malolactic fermentation to ensure this freshness is preserved. A little further south, the Valminor 2016 in the O Rosal sub-zone was showing more of a luscious stone fruit aroma, such as apricot but with the same minerality and acidity. The 2016 Bodegas As Laxas within the inland Condado do Tea was quite a different experience with a higher sugar level and lower acidity levels to reflect the less harsh climate. With green appeals fruit notes, it had an oily mouth feel and a slight bitterness on the finish. My favorite was actually an Albariño blend in the O Rosal subzone from Terras Gauda that had three months on the lees, giving it a slightly bigger weight in the mouth and softer acidity.
It was all very well tasting these extraordinary wines together and perhaps it didn’t help that I’d skipped lunch, but the fresh acidity was crying out for something to hang out with and soak up its vibrancy. Certainly you should pair oysters and other seafood dishes with these wines, but something like a blue cheese salad would also work equally well. Savor the sea with this wonderfully fresh invitation to the rugged climes of Galicia.
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