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