Albarino and the nuances of Rias Baixas

What an amazing weekend I had. As I am writing these lines, I am coming back from the Wine Bloggers Conference, where I had the chance to meet some of the best, la crema de la crema from the wine blogging industry. Even though, I did not know anybody, I felt warmly welcomed in this wine fraternity.

Saturday was an amazing day. I had a chance to participate in a Rias Baixas seminar led by Lyn Farmer. Rias Baixas wines are not new to me. When I was living in Madrid, my roomate Pedro’s family had family living in Vigo, that how I first came to be in contact with the wines of Rias Baixas and got to know Albarino.  

Lyn Farmer is a wonderful, witty and with a terrific sense of huour guy. He is James Beard award winning wine and food writer, who do a lot of cool things including blogging and giving courses for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust ( WSET). He also directs tastings for VinItaly, the Italian Trade Commision and Sopexa. 

Through a tasting of 10 wines, I got to learn the styles of Albarino in Rias Baixas. There are 5 subzones in Rias Baixas: Ribeira do Ulla, Val do Salnes, Soutomaior, Condado do Tea and O Rosal. Galicia, the green Spain is the home of these subzones. Here the climate is very similar to the Loire Valley and New Zealand. It is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. This is a fairly cool area that gets heavy rain through the year. However, what saves them is the 2,200 hours of sunlight that is received during the ripening season of Albarino.  The soils are heavily granite based with a combination of clay, silt and gravel that is on the top soil.

Here are some of the key interesting things that i learnt from the presentation.

  • 99% of all wine produced in Rias Baixas is white-90% is made from Albarino
  • More than half of the winemakers in Rias Baixas are women which explains the delicate nuances of Rias Baixas wines
  • Galicia is famous for its seafood, including percebes and Oysters. No wonder Albarino has an affinity with seafood. Like Lyn said, what grows together go well as well. 
  • Albarino wines have a diverse palette of aromas. These include honeysuckle, citrus fruit, melon, peach and lots of flowers!!!
  • The Pergola system in Albarino or in Spanish Parra allows the breeze to flow to permit circulation and prevent mildew
  • Rias Baixas is Galician for ” Lower Rias” and refers to the four estuaries-Ria de Muros y Noia, the Ria de Arousa, the Ria de Pontevedra and the Ria de Vigo
  • The DO is fairly recent going back to the mid 1980’s but winemaking has been ocurring since the 13th century.

Winemaking Trends & Techniques.

Some of the most important winemaking trends ocurring in Rias Baixas, include:

  • Pre-Fermentation maceration.
  • Wild Yeast
  • Barrel fermentation and ageing
  • Malolactic fermentation
  • Extented contact with the lees.

The Barrel technique is gaining momentum in Galicia and adds more structure and complexity. However, is a bit of an adquired taste that needs time to be appreciated. Barrel ageing is only used in special vintages where the fruit is very ripe.

Lees contact is also on vogue in Rias Baixas. The lees is what gives the creamy aspect to the Albarinos and also contribute for flavor development as well.

 The wines 

DO Rias Baixas allows the production of seven styles of wines:

Rias Baixas Albarino– 100% Albarino made from any region

Rias Baixas Salnes– 100% Salnes

Rias Baixas Condado– 100% Condado

Rias Baixas Rosal– 100% Rosal

Rias Baixas Barrica-wines aged in oak, either red or white.

Rias Baixas Tinto. -red wine that counts for less than 1% of the production.

Rias Baixas.

The wines presented at the Seminar:

We started off tasting the Martin Codax Albarino 2016.  This is a cooperative that was founded in 1986 and count with 50 local grapegrowers.  The wines of Codax are sold in over 40 countries in the world including Canada.  

This Albarino for 3 weeks was fermented in stainless steel and 15% of the wine saw malolactic fermentation. A lovely nose that brings to mind melon, granny smith apple with notes of dry thyme and pencil lead. Crisp and medium body, it had a good amplitude and nice creaminess sensation in the palate.

Next was the Valminor Albarino. This is the brainchild proyect of Carlos Gomez who established the winery. One of the cutting edge bodegas in the region. This wine a shorter alcoholic fermentation than the Codax and a cold maceration for 6-8 hours.  A very different wine with notes of white peach and yellow apple character. Less creamy with a marked saline and floral character. 

The next wine was from Bodegas As Laxas. This is the winery of Simon Ferro, who was one of the founding fathers of the Regulation Council of 1986. The Albarino fruit is very old ( 30+ ) and the vineyards are planted on south facing terraces between 500 and 650 feet. This wine was displaying a more floral side of Albarino. It was rich, almost with an oily texture. It had also a very long complex finale.

Further on with the Condes de Albarei. From the Salnes Valley, this is a wine made by a small group of vinegrowers. Albarei was the first wine to have won a gold medal at the Challenge International du Vin in Bordeaux. Today, they are a benchmark in the appellation.

This wine was fermented with wild yeasts for a short but sweet 10 days alcoholic fermentation at controlled temperatures. The use of indigenous yeast gives this a very nice core of spices such as mustard seed with intruiguing floral notes ( acacia and jazmin comes to mind). It also has a delicious saltiness that envelops your mouth. One of my favorites at the seminar.

Beyond Albarino the other grapes used in the appellation include Loureiro, Treixadura, Godello and Caino Blanco. We saw an example of assemblage in the Santiago Ruiz 2016. 

The estate is based on the municipality of Tomino in a charming 17th century building. The wine spent 21 days in alcoholic fermentation and went through a soft maceration during pressing. A very different wine bringing to mind white cranberries and ground cherries. Crisp and refreshing with plenty of floral flavors and a nice bitterness at the end. Also a favorite of mine

Next in line was the Fillaboa Albarino. Low temperature fermentation and lees aging. A very distinctive nose bringing to mind chamomile, gunflint and ripe Ontario peaches. Linear and chalky with notes of wild fennel.

To continue, we tasted the Terras Gauda O Rosal 2016. Terras Guada is part of a boutique winery group founded in 1989. They are specialists in working the indigenous varieties of Albarino. In a lavor of love, they rescued the ancient variety Caino Blanco.

The Rosal is a blend of 70% albarino, 18% Caino Blanco and 12% Loureiro. The wines do a cold maceration in tank and spent 3 months on its lees. A very special wine with lots of depth. Honeysuckle, dry oregano and japanese pear comes to my mind. Creamy and very fresh. 

From Pablo Padin, i enjoyed tasting the Segrel Ambar 2015. A careful selection of Albarino from the Salnes Valley. A very floral wine bringing to mind wild white roses, anis and wild fennel. Exhuberant and very aromatic bringing to mind a Riesling. 

Pazo de Senorans was next. This is a wine that is quite available on the Canadian market.  A family business that specializes in Albarino. The winemaking is simple. Alcoholic fermentation at controlled temperatures with short pellicular maceration before pressing, 5 months aging on lees. An amazing wine displaying vervena, wild green mint and a great minetality. Linear with a lot of poise. 

Lagar da Condesa was the latest wine of the seminar and if you can guess, the one with the barrel aging. The winery is located in Arcos da Condesa and is built on granite with a very modern technology. Rich and opulent with notes of wax, honey, dry apricots and brown butter. Concentrated but very elegant.

So, what to eat with Albarino. These are wines that demand seafood for sure. The creamier wines will go well with fish. I am thinking salmon since i live in Quebec but also some salads with goat cheese for instance.

The information for this post came from the Rias Baixas consejo regulador and the presentation by Lyn Farmer for the wine bloggers conference 2017. Rias Baixas was one of the sponsors of the WBC 2017

Araex, Superheroes of Spanish wines.

When I received the press tasting invitation, I had no clue who was Araex wine group. Even when I was living in Spain, I never heard about the company. By doing a bit of digging, I discovered, they are driving force of some of my favorite Spanish wines.

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In a sort of way, Araex remind me of one my favorite comical superhero teams, the justice league. In 1993, Javier Galaretta brought together a band of talented from Rioja Alavesa to spread the good word of Rioja domestically and abroad. Later, other winegrowers joined forming one of the most important independent wine associations in Spain. Araex exports in 70 countries and sells more than 11 million bottles in the international market.

Araex is the poster child for the Spanish wine industry. In 2001, they were named best export company by the Ministry of Agriculture in Spain and in the same year, another sister company was created to accommodate more members: Spanish fine wines. In 2013, they did it again by creating The Grand Wines Premium to accommodate new product lines and innovation.

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Sebastien Richard, export manager of Araex

If every wine domaine would follow the mision and values of Araex, Spain would be ahead of Italy and France in the fine premium market. The country has everything going for themselves: good prices, excellent terroir and climate. This was a good part of the discussion that I had with Sébastien Richard, the export manager of Araex in his recent passage in Montreal. The invitation was a courtesy of their Quebec importer LBV International

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I tasted a fantastic quartet of Spanish whites that demonstrate the potential that the country has in the category. A Val de Vid Verdejo 2016 ( SAQ # 12260281, $14.80 ) from Rueda: pure, delicious green apple and orchard fruit. On the mouth, straigthfoward, fresh. Nothing complicated about this wine with a ridicolous price. Please, bring me a bowl of steaming clams to have with it!!!. 

Rias Baixas is one hottest places to make whites in Spain. This Pazo de Senorans Valdosares 2016 ( SAQ #  00898411, $23.45) excites me with its vibrant tropical fruit notes. Round and crisp with a good lenght. Harmonious with subtle mineral nuances. I will have anytime a seafood risotto with this wine. A different character, the Val de Vid Verdejo 2016 was richer and riper with a creamier and floral side. A fleshier and longer wine, this could be the wine that I have been loking for to have with grilled halibut and braised cippolini onions.

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The Pazo de Senorans Seleccion de Anada 2009 ( Private Importation, $74.00. Case of 6) was something very special. I have never had an Albarino aged in wood. Its something out of the twilight zone. Marked by apricot jam, membrillo and barlett pear, it is super dry and structured. Very tight with a ravishing acidity, it took for a ride in the palate with its pockets of bursting fruit. I can have this wine anytime with poultry cream based dishes.

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Moving on the with the reds of the portfolio, I had a magnificent Ribera Del Duero. Valtravieso Esencia 1 2015 ( SAQ # 12886849, $19.50) has a magnificent complex nose bringing to mind spices, dry black fruit with subtle roasted herb nuances. The structure and flavor profile brings to me mind a left bank Bordeaux from St-Estephe. Fleshy, nervy with a tarry tannic expression. Hard to believe that under $20, we can find Ribera del Dueros at this quality.  Wood is very well integrated. On a chilly day, I will have this wine with an oxtail stew.

The Valtravieso Crianza 2015 ( Private Importation, $24.95, Case of 12) shows the greatness that Ribera del Duero can obtain. Pronounced aromatic complexity. Leather, smoke with cinnamon, licorice and mineral dust. Great palate. Powerful, yet fine tannins and very balanced. This wine echoes a Valbuena Vega Sicilia. Buy this wine by the case and aged it for a least 15 years. Should be great with braised beef ribs.

Moving on with the Riojas we had the wines of Baigorri. I had a crianza 2014 ( Private Import, $27.61. Case of 12). Too powerful for my taste, it had a very pronounced wood nose with extracted jammy black fruit. However, on the palate, it had a good acidity and the finale show a bit of drying tannins. Maybe, it needs some time in the cellar to come all together. For sure, it will please the fans of modern Riojas. A wine of this caliber, needs sanguine meat cuts grilled on a charcoal BBQ.

We finish off with the Baigorri Reserva 2009 ( Private Import. $34.75, Case of 6). Very deep and profound with  hardcore notes of wild black fruits, spices, and new wood. Showing a bit of evolution, it was mindblowing with flavors bringing to mind summer truffle, blackcurrants, dried leaves and tamari sauce. Hard tannins but a  great balance. Would have this wine anytime with pulled beef sandwiches.

 

 

Sip on this-Albariño and Oysters.

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I recently was invited by a friend of mine to an Oyster party. This is the kind of venue, where a group of people ( 20 in this case ), get together for a debauchery on this mollusc. Since I rarely eat oysters, it was a magnificent opportunity to taste them and to stuff myself on them. Yes…, i am not shy to say that.

Me, when it come to oysters, the spanish wine that comes to mind is Albariño. This white grape comes from Galicia, in northwestern Spain. It accounts for 90% of the grape production in the area. One theory regardings its origin, states that Albariño is related Riesling, introduced by German pilgrims on the path to Santiago de Compostela, a holy city in Galicia. Another  expanation to its origin is that it was the Cistercian monks from Burgundy, who established vineyards wherever they built their churches, introduced it in the 12th or 13th century. 

While you may, once in a while ,  drink an albariño from Portugal called Alvarinho in poftuguese, the true home of the grape is Galicia in the Rias Biaxas appellation of northwest Spain.  This terroir benefits from its proximity to the Mino River and more so, the Atlantic to the west which keeps the temperature cooler in the summer and milder in the winter than inland regions.  While there are five subregions, the Condado do Tea and Val do Salnes tend to produce the best Albarino.

Albarino grape (and wine), for me, is at its very best in the unadulterated form:  unoaked and single variety.  That offers the best of its true expression:  clean, acid driven with lively citrus notes and refreshing minerality.

I am a strong believer of wine and regional food. The heart of Albarino production lies on the northeast Iberian coast, the same region from which the majority fresh seafood such as crab, octopus and scallops is resourced.  The spiny acidity, citrus profile and low alcohol content of Albarino is an ideal match for the sweetness of the seafood whether served whole, as a tapas, or accented with regional spice such as Spanish paprika (pimenton), or lemon, lemongrass or lemon verbena.   With fresh seafood so abundant, it’s easy to dive into a tangy, citrusy dish of cerviche, fish crudo, or fresh lemon accented fish carpaccio of salmon or tuna. It is to die with our Canadian oysters.

Fried foods love clean and refreshing wines to cut through the crust and Albarino is a wonderful pairing wines, especially if you’re looking for dry citrus notes.  Asian dishes such as sushi and richer dishes such as seafood stew, casseroles of chicken, sausage and pork are fun pairings. 

Here is the tasting notes from the albariño that i had at the Oyster festival. It comes from  Adegas/Bodegas Valminor, a modest family winery in the Rias Baixas. They collaborate with 200 winegrowers in the Rias Baixas appellation and they have the latest technology in winemaking equipment. This wine has an excellent price for the quality that delivers and i highly reccomend it for the holidays that are coming

Valminor Albarino 2012 Code SAQ :  11667759. $17.65

Beautiful golden colour. In the nose, intense ripe citric fruit profile wrapped up in a thin foil of minerality. In the mouth, medium body. Very fresh with a tangy acidity. Savoury with a long persistance recalling the  briny flavours of the sea. Perfect match with oysters. 93/100