Writing about wine is more than smelling and tasting, in some cases it is a lot more.
Recently I had the opportunity to taste an Albarino, a grape I was not familiar with and a wine (Martin Codax Albarino) I had not had before. The wine was excellent and the tasting and following drinking set me off to explore the Albarino Grape.
I was fortunate enough, after writing about the Albarino tasting, to receive an information kit (Press Kit) from Courtney Schiessel, of Cornerstone PR in New York. Courtney presented a comprehensive overview of the region of Spain from which Albarino Grapes are grown. The region Rias Baixas is the home to Albarino and 11 other varieties. However, of the 12 varieties grown (almost all white in the Domain), 90% of the grapes are Albarino.
This region, in Northwest Spain, is a land of many smaller vineyards. There are over 6500 growers in the region, but only 8650 acres of grape producing land. Consequently, most of the growers are farming less than one half acre each. And remarkably, over 50% of the winemakers in the region are female. This high percentage of female winemakers must place it in a very unique position in the world of wine makers and producers.
The Rias Baixas Region became an official DO (Denomination of Origin) in 1988. And, as stated before, only 12 varieties are allowed to be grown in the DO. In the region, while most of the grower holdings are small, there are 181 wineries in the area.
Because it is a Western Europe climate, on the Atlantic Coast of Spain, it gets rain, anywhere from 45 -65 inches annually. But it also receives an ample amount of sunshine, over 2200 hours per growing season. This climate, combined with areas of excellent soil for growing, has made the region ideal for the Albarino Grape.
The region has five unique subzones:
· Condado do Tea
· Val do Salnés
Ribeira do Ulla
Each of the unique sub-zones adds a complexity to the grapes and wines coming from the region.
Of the 181 wineries in the DO, over 50 export their products into the United States. And, to show the growing popularity of the Albarino wines, this number has increased by over 50% in the past 5 years!
Another indicator of the increased popularity of Albarino is to look at the volume of production. In 2007, the area produced 17.2 million liters of wine. By the end of 2011, the volume had increased to 38 million liters. That increase of over 100% ranks the area near the top of growth (percentage increase) for wine production among the world’s wine producing areas.
The DO of the region permits 7 types of wine to fall under official DO control.
· Rías Baixas Albariño - must be 100% Albariño but grapes may be sourced from any or all of the sub-zones
· Rías Baixas Salnés
· Rías Baixas Condado
· Rías Baixas Rosal
· Rías Baixas Barrica – wines aged in oak, can be red or white
· Rías Baixas Tinto – red wine, less than 1% of all production
· Rías Baixas
Historically, most of the wines have not been oak fermented. This trend is changing, with a number of the winemakers now looking to French or American Oak for the fermentation.
The picking of the grapes is still traditional, with the fruits being handpicked. The average yield is between there and five tons of fruit per acre planted.
Regulation of the vineyards, the production and the bottling of the wines is under the control of the Consejo Regulador. This oversight insures a consistency of the product and maintains the standards the DO.
What all this means is that when you come across a grape or wine you are not familiar with, it’s worthwhile to delve more into the background of the wines and production in the area. As I discovered here, there is much more than just enjoying the wine. Add together the region, the size of the vineyards and the preponderance of female winemakers and you get a wonderfukl picture of another facet of the worlds of wine.
Have a winederful day!
And thanks to Courtney for helping educate me about the Albarino Grapes and more importantly, about the Rias Baixas Region of Spain!