Monday, October 23, 2023

The Rías Baixas Roadshow 2023 - Part 1

Rías Baixas, Galician for "Lower Estuaries"

Recently I attended one stop on the Rías Baixas Roadshow 2023 that featured a masterclass presented by Advanced Sommelier, Erik Segelbaum and Master of Wine, Caroline Hermann. It also included a showroom tasting of the wines of Rías Baixas hosted by visiting wineries and representatives from the region. Whereas Albariño was the focus we learned several exciting new trends coming from Galicia. But first, a primer.

During the height of Greek civilization between 800-400 B.C., the Celts, who we now associate with Scotland and Ireland, ruled over most of Central and Western Europe. In fact, the Alps mountain range is named from the Celtic Alpes, which itself is derived from a pre-Indo-European base alb (hill). Over time the Celts were pushed to the extremes of Europe - including Galacia where the Romans referred to them as Celtiberians - regardless whether they were ethnic Celts or a mix with Iberian tribes. One of these tribes was known as the Gallaeci and they left behind cultural remnants like language, pagan festivals and bagpipes that endure today. The first winemakers were Roman, who conquered the Celts and firmly established viticulture and global trading. Winemaking practices in the region evolved further in the 12th Century with the arrival of Cistercian monks from France.

Spanish wine regions are usually noted for their dry desert-like conditions and bold red wines. The major exception to this rule is the Galicia region of north-western Spain, located along the Atlantic coastline and bordering Portugal to its south. This is a wet and green region, plenty of vegetation that feeds off the 71 inches of rain per year.   In this  moisture rich environment red wines are a rarity and the white Albariño grape dominates. In fact it consists of 95% of all grape plantings and is the primary reason that the DO Rías Baixas denomination was created in 1980.

DO Rías Baixas encompasses five distinct sub-regions which form around the lower estuaries. Ribeira do Ulla is the newest (formed in 2000) and is the most northern region. Val do Salnés is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape. This is the original and oldest sub-region and it's fingers reach out into the Atlantic.  Soutomaior is the smallest of the sub-regions and was registered in 1996. Soils are light and sandy over granite bedrock. Condado do Tea (The County of Tea) is named after the river Tea, a tributary of the Miño River which separates the border with Portugal. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic.

Because of the high rainfall and humidity grape vines are widely spaced and trained on stone pergolas and a wire trellis called a “parra".  These parras can reach up to seven feet tall, allowing breezes to prevent mildew and to promote even ripening. During harvest, workers must stand on grape bins in order to collect the grape bunches.

Despite the high rainfall amounts,  Rías Baixas vineyards are blessed with ample sunshine - averaging over 2,200 hours of sunshine per year. This sunshine in conjunction with the cooler climate provides an environment for high natural grape acidity. Albariño wines are also known for their floral and mineral character, most likely impacted soil composition within Rías Baixas. The bedrock is primarily hard granite with a top layer of  mineral-rich alluvial (a combination of clay, silt, sand and gravel) formed from deposits eroded from flowing water.

DO Rías Baixas Wine Types:
  • Rías Baixas - 100% sourced from DO Rías Baixas.
  • Rías Baixas Albariño -100% Albariño, grapes can be sourced from any sub-zone.
  • Rías Baixas Val do Salnés - 100% Val do Salnés, 70% Albariño.
  • Rías Baixas Condada do Tea - 100% Condada do Tea, 70% Albariño & Treixadura.
  • Rías Baixas Rosal - minimum blend 70% Albariño & Loureiro.
  • Rías Baixas Barrica – wines aged in oak (red or white), minimum 11.5% abv.
  • Rías Baixas Tinto – red wine, less than 1% of all production. 
  • Rías Baixas Espumoso – traditional method sparkling, minimum nine months on less.
According to the Roadshow, "the accepted theory regarding the origin of Albariño, which is now backed by genetic research, is that the renowned grape is native to Rías Baixas. This evidence is further supported by Albariño’s ability to naturally thrive in the region’s cool, wet growing conditions. Given Albariño’s distinct characteristics, it is perfectly suited to the region's climate and terroir, producing wines that are truly unique. The influence from the Atlantic Ocean air, long sunshine hours, cool nights, heavy rainfall and mineral-rich granite and schist soils create an environment that yields the purest expression of Albariño which cannot be found anywhere else in the world".

Check back for Part 2 when we discuss these Albariño expressions.

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