The weather warms. You dust off your gas grill. It’s time to start thinking about wines for summer. Albariño wines from Rías Baixas are a perfect choice.
Wine writer Hugh Johnson calls Rías Baixas Galicia’s best DO. Recently, the DO launched a U.S. marketing campaign. Chances are you’ll see some Rías Baixas wines at your local wine shop, with notes about their refreshing taste and good value.
Let’s take a closer look at Rías Baixas and its wines.
The Sub-Regions of Rías Baixas
Galicia, the region containing Rías Baixas, is situated in Spain’s northwest corner. The Rías Baixas wine region is near Spain’s border with Portugal, on the low estuaries that give the area its name. (“Rías Baixas” translates to “low estuaries.”) The influence of the Atlantic Ocean gives the area a warm climate. Summers are dry, but winters are rainy. As a result, most grapevines are trained high so the grapes don’t rot prior to harvest.
The DO is divided into five sub-regions, each with its own character:
- Val do Salnés includes the towns of Cambados and O Grove. Cambados is known as the capital of albariño.
- The Condado do Tea sub-region lies along the Miño River and the Portuguese border. This mountainous western sub-region includes the towns of Salceda and Salvaterra do Miño. Treixadura grapes are also grown here.
- O Rosal, also on the Portuguese border, also runs along the Miño River. O Rosal has the warmest climate in the Rías Baixas DO. Both albariño and loureira grapes are grown in this sub-region.
- Soutomaior is a small sub-region on the Verdugo River. It surrounds the town of Soutomaior. All wines produced here are 100% albariño.
- Ribeira do Ulla, the newest sub-region, lies in the northern part of the DO along the Ulla River, as its name suggests. Here you’ll find a few wineries that produce red wines.
All About Albariño
For many wine lovers, the words “Rías Baixas” and “albariño” mean nearly the same thing. Almost 95 percent of the vineyards in this Denominación de Origen are planted in albariño grapes. Albariño wines are known for their fruitiness, herbal notes and persistence. They are typically straw-colored, yellow-gold or yellow with greenish tints.
In most Rías Baixas wineries, production techniques include cold maceration (soaking the grapes in cold water so they don’t start to ferment). Oak barrels are rarely used.
Many wine experts recommend drinking albariño wines as young as possible. A few Rías Baixas wines can be stored for a year or so. Albariño wines pair wonderfully with seafood and shellfish, both mainstays of Galician cuisine.
A Sampling of Wineries
It’s not surprising that Rías Baixas created an official wine route, as there are over 180 wineries in this DO. The wine route includes four separate itineraries that showcase not only the area’s wineries but also its lush scenery.
Here are a few suggestions to help you plan your winery visits.
Adegas D’Altamira is a family-owned winery. Three generations have worked the vineyards above the Atlantic, and the result is award-winning wines – the Brandal and Adegas D’Altamira Selección albariños. Contact the winery in advance to arrange guided tours and wine tasting courses.
Martín Códax is perhaps one of the area’s best known wineries. The winery is known for its sponsorship of everything from golf tournaments to poetry contests. In spite of all the hype, Martín Códax produces consistent wines which win awards every year. You can visit the winery outside Vilariño if you make arrangements in advance. (Don’t miss the satellite images of the winery and surrounding area on the “how to find us” section of the Martín Códax website.)
Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes is a winery with a long name, a gorgeous palace home and an innovative streak. Fefiñanes produces both classic and cask-fermented albariño wines. The palace is a standard stop on many Galician wine tours.
If you plan to visit any of the wineries in this area, it’s best to contact them before you arrive.