In 2016 I published a feature on Rías Baixas, tasting 12 wines. Titled “The Many Faces of Rías Baixas,” it sought to uncover the sometimes subtle differences between the wines of the region, though admitting they were a fairly homogenous group. Seven years on, there was another chance to explore the topic as I met five winemakers to discover a little more about their sub-regions, philosophies and wines.
Meaning ‘Lower Estuaries’ in Galician dialect, all of Rías Baixas can be considered cool and Atlantic influenced. Soils too are relatively similar, granite is the common bedrock, though small variations, including slate and quartz components can be found. The biggest influence however is proximity to the Atlantic ocean and, to an extent, latitude.
The coastal Val de Salnés accounts for around 60% of all Rías Baixas output and expresses its maritime influence powerfully. Contando de Tea, on the Portuguese border, accounts for 20%, and being warmer and more inland, wines tend to a little more richness. O Rosal is also on the border with Portugugal, but the 13% of production it contributes also benefits from a more coastal position.That’s 93% of the appellation covered, the remaining sub-zones of Ribiera do Ulla and Soutomaior contributing just 7% in total.
The diferences between the three major zones can be seen in average high temperature for June: coastal and more northerly Salnés recordings 22.5°C, O Rosal 23.4°C and Condado de Tea 24.4°C. Across the whole appellation, 95% of plantings are Albariño, with numerous local varieties, white and red, making up the remainder.
This is a region of small growers and relatively few wineries: around 20,000 individual plots are farmed by 5,000 growers, but there are fewer than 180 wineries in production. Yet the region has stamped its mark on Spanish white wine globally, the prime markets for export being the USA, followed by the UK.
(2023) From Candado de Tea, with 8g/l dosage this is technically Brut. It is made with a selection of fruit using the traditional method, and aged for a minimum of nine months in bottle. It's a hugely enjoyable fizz this, the mousse cushiony and rich, with aromas of biscuit, cream and exotic, ripe fruit. The palate has a sweet and, again, exotic fruit ripeness and sweetness, with balancing acidity pushing out the finish. Hard to say whether I'd have recognised Albariño as the variety, but a really delicious and satisfying sparkling wine.
(2023) From Rioja producer Marques de Vargas, vines are over 35 years old and come from vineyards in the southerly Condado de Tea region close to the Portuguese border. It's a particularly tangy and vibrant rendition,lots of citrus zest to the aromas, then a palate of punchy, sherbet-bright character, the acids singing in the finish with that typical saline tang, which rings clear like a bell. Just hints of sweeter, more peachy flavours coming through from this slightly warmer sub-zone.
(2023) From the superb Rioja house of Rioja Alta, an Albariño from their own vineyards in the O Rosal sub-zone, with around 20% from Salnes. It is a careful selection of the best fruit that is real punch and vibrancy, the nose exotic with floral, mango and lychee notes in a very perfumed style showing nectarine fruit too. In the mouth it has texture and that combination of quite luscious fruit verging on the tropical, with swaggering acidity to keep the whole picture balance with a salty hint of freshness in the finish.
(2023) One of the founding wineries of the Rias Baixas denomination based in the maritime Val do Salnés, and now in its 40th vintage. This is a very careful selection of the best fruit from granite and quartz soils, and vines with an average age of 50 years, aged up to eight months on the lees. Its a very sparky, zingy wine, aromas of zesty lemon and mineral salts shimmer with life. The palate follows, a dry, pithy grapefruit and lemon, again that saline character. Long, this is light and vibrant to the nth degree.
(2023) From a single vineyard of 40-year-old vines on granite soils in Salnés, free-run juice is fermented with indigenous yeast and aged on the lees for a full 36 months. This has a fabulous nose, blending exotic and luscious fruit with a more steely, lemon and salts firmness, but an oatmeally sense of richness too. The palate echoes the nose, weighty and rich, gently nutty, but with a beautiful limey fruit purity and acid finish.