Northern Spain is where you’ll find some of the loveliest summer white wines. Up in the north-west corner of the country is an area called Rías Baixas, which is part of Galicia. It is named because of the presence of inlets (rías) along the coast that feed into the Atlantic Ocean.
Rías Baixas sits along the Atlantic coast, it has colder and wetter weather than you generally expect in Spain. While the temperatures can reach 85-100F in the summer, they can dip down to freezing in the winter. There are five sub-regions of Rías Baixas: Val do Salnés, O Rosal, Condado do Tea, Soutomaior and Ribera de Ulla. You don’t need to memorize these.
The wines of Rías Baixas only received their DO (Denominación de Origen) status in 1988. According to a conversation I had with Marcos Lojo, owner and winemaker of Chan de Rosas Albariño, the wines from the region were really only made for local – even just family – consumption before then. After they achieved DO status, the market opened up tremendously, and the quality all through the region has greatly improved.
Aside from the wet and colder climate, there’s a lot about the region that’s very different from what you generally expect in Spain. For example, it has a Celtic culture. It has been said that the Celtic triangle is formed by Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany and Galicia. Within these areas you will find shared customs, music (think bagpipes) and architectural styles. Strains of Irish culture weave through this region in Spain.
Unlike the Irish, the people of Galicia took to fishing as an industry early on. In fact, winemaking and fishing are two of the most important industries in Galicia. There are approximately 20,000 different vineyards in the area. Up to 90% of the wine produced here is from Albariño, a white grape that thrives in the moist, coastal climate.
The grape is thought to be related to Riesling and to have been imported from Germany, but like so many other things historical this has been disputed. Albariño is noted for its aromas of apricot, peach and sometimes talc. The wine produced from this grape is light and crisp, with alcohol levels of around 12.5%. When not properly made, the grape’s anatomy (thick skins and lots of seeds) can cause residual bitterness.
Needless to say, the wine screams to be paired with seafood dishes. The most mineral of them ask for oysters. The more full flavored prefer fleshier fish, like halibut. Keep the preparation simple please.
There are a wide variety of Albariños on the market. Some to look for are:
- Zarate Albariño ($26) lean and elegant with searing acidity and lovely lemony fruit,
- Albariño d Fefinane ($28) with floral and peach aromas as well as a strong, almost austere minerality
- Martin Códax ($16) is a great party wine with notes of candied Meyer lemon
- Chan de Rosas Cuvee Especial ($22) is a creamy version of Albariño. Marcos uses 10% new French oak and 20% malolactic fermentation to cream a round mid palate.
- Albariño Abadí de San Campio ($20) is a crisp, clean wine that shows lots of citrus and a little bit of anise.
- Terras Gauda O Rosal ($24) this is a blend of 70% Albariño with 15% Laureiro and 15% Caiño Blanco (both are indigenous to the area). It’s soft on the palate with notes of peach, mint and orange blossom.