RIAS BAIXAS – ARGUABLY SPAIN’S BEST WHITE WINE PRODUCING REGION
Rias Baixas, tucked intop the northwestern corner of Spain, received Denominacion de origen status in 1987. Since then, this lush-green region very close tot eh Atlantic Ocean has been trying to establish a style all its own using mostly (95 percent- the albarino grape). Albarino is a unique small berried white Spanish grape with nice acid backbone, excellent fruitiness, light, and most appropriate to complement fish and shellfish specialties of the region.
Beside albarino, loureiro, coino, treixadura, torrontes and few red varieties are planted. Considering their small acreage, they play a minimal role.
Rias Baixas is composed of five sub-regions from Santiago de Compostela, the famous pilgrimage city, to south adjacent to the Portuguese border; Val do Ulla, Val do Salnes, Santo Mairo Condadi do Tea and Orosal.
Rias Baixas has been producing wine from the time immemorial. Unfortunately, the wine had only local appeal due to its fragrance, lightness and acid backbone, all of which are characteristics old Spanish wine drinkers reject.
In 1990’s stainless vessels, controlled fermentation equipment and commercial yeast use were introduced by winemakers intent to produce universally appealing, fragrant, light, and food-compatible white wines.
Previously, albarino was bottled and shipped to a few Spanish markets in November or December, like a kind of Spanish “nouveau wine”, barely two-three months after the harvest. Some wineries waited until September the following year and some even a few months longer. The late released wines showed more nuance and depth, but stills Spaniards were looking for more than fruit in their white wines.
Then winemakers started using barrel aging for short periods (a few months). The success was immediate, but not everywhere. Spaniards liked the style, whereas the limited export markets expressed their dismay. Winemakers then decided to use bottle aging for these markets; this proved to be very much what they wanted.
Some wines tasted excellent even after five or ten years of cellaring.
Here there is no lack of precipitation, and the climate tends to be decidedly cooler than the rest of Spain. The soil is calcareous, mixed with iron and pebbles, all of which contribute to a unique taste.
Riax Baixas wines are fragrant, low alcohol, light and succulent all characteristics young consumers prefer over heavy, barrel aged and highly alcoholic wines.
The fruity and floral aromas of young albarino wines complement perfectly, oysters-on-the-hald-shell, grilled seafood, chicken pies, grilled chicken breast, seafood pastas and clams.
Bottle aged drier wines go well with turbot and grilled fresh sardines caught in the estuaries of Galicia. Off-dry albarinos match shrimp and scallops perfectly.
The region is still not well known in North America and export-oriented wineries are offering attractive prices to gain market share.
Both Martin Codax and Bodega Terras Gauda are represented in Canada and available in Spanish restaurants. Private orders are welcome. Martin Codax’s albarinos offer excellent balance and fruit other Spanish wines cannot.
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Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu