Wines of Rias Baixas

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Rias Baixas is a wine region in the north-western corner of Spain in the autonomous region of Galicia, north of Portugal. The rias are inlets of the Atlantic that are a bit like shallow fjords. Rias Baixas, which should be pronounced as “ree-ass-by-shuss”, is best known for delicate, aromatic whites of the albariño grape (which in Portugal is called alvarinho). It is the wine region in Spain with the strongest Atlantic climate, and therefore wetter and cooler than the continental and mediterranean climates found elsewhere. Within Rias Baixas there are five subzones: Ribeiro do Ulla, Val do Salnés, Soutomaior, O Rosal, and Condado do Tea. The most characteristic is Val do Salnés, because it is the coolest and dampest and therefore the most elegant wines. Condado do Tea is the warmest subzone, so the wines are more powerful and less refined.

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All the subzones are so wet that the vines are grown as ‘pergolas’, which shields the grapes from the rain and allows the wind to dry the grapes. The pergolas are supported by granite poles, as granite is the building material that is most easily available in the region (and it doesn’t rot because of the damp).

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Because of its thick skin, the albariño grape is best able to resist mildew from the dampness. The thick skin and small grapes together with the manual harvest make wine from albariño more expensive.

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Typical landscape in Condado do Tea. Portugal is on the other side of the Miño (Minho) river. Alvarinho grows there as well.

The pergolas have another advantage, which is that the soil underneath the pergola can be used for other crops. Many of the plots are very small, because they were divided with inheritance, and often tended by part-time farmers. They sell their grapes to the wineries. It is a bit hard to see in the photo, but sometimes the vines are only on the edge of the plot with other crops in the center.

We visited three wineries in Rias Baixas, two in Val do Salnés and one in Condado do Tea.

Adega Eidos

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Adega Eidos is a mondern winery in the town of Sanxenxo in the subzone Val do Salnés. The vines in the photo are trained as spaldera instead of pergola, but most of their grapes come from traditional pergola vineyards. The grapes are harvested and selected manually. The harvest is usually at the end of September or the beginning of October.

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At Eidos all the wine making is done in stainless steel tanks. They produce three wines of 100% albariño, with cold fermentation and 12 hours of skin contact.

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Eidos 2015, 12.5% ABV, price at the winery 10 euros

  • 100% albariño from 50-year old vines, aged for 9 months
  • Color: straw yellow with a greenish edge
  • Nose: green apple, white flowers
  • Taste: balanced, fresh, nice acidity
  • Conclusion: good, ***1/2

Veigas 2015, 13% ABV, price at the winery 12 euros

  • 100% albariño from 70-year old vines, aged for 12 months of which 9 on the lees with regular stirring
  • Color: straw yellow
  • Nose: yellow apple, grapefruit, peach, less powerful than the Eidos
  • Taste: fuller and rounder than the Eidos from the lees
  • Conclusion: good, ***1/2

Contraaparade 2011, 13% ABV, price at the winery 17 euros

  • 100% albarino from 90-year old vines, aged for 3-4 years on the lees with regular stirring
  • Color: golden
  • Nose: ripe fruit, honey, mature, lees, sweet spices
  • Palate: complex, round, balanced
  • Conclusion: this is like vintage champagne without bubbles, very good, ****1/2

Palacio de Fefiñanes

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This winery was the first to make a 100% albariño in Rias Baixas in 1902, even before the DO existed. It is situated in a country mancion in the town of Cambados in the subzone Val do Salnés.

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Fefiñanes are one of the few wineries that are succesful in making a barrel-fermented albariño. For this they use French oak from Allier, as only a light touch of oak is needed.

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Other than that, they also use stainless steel to age the wines. Fefiñanes make three wines.

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Albariño de Fefiñanes 2015, price at the winery 12 euros

  • 100% albariño, ABV 12.5%
  • Color: bright straw yellow
  • Nose: citrus, green apple, a hint of the sea
  • Taste: balanced, fresh, complex, and elegant
  • Concluson: very good, ****

1583 Albariño de Fefiñanes 2015, price at the winery 17 euros; the wine has been named after the birth year of the original marques of the palacio, this wine has only been made since 2008

  • 100% albariño, barrel-fermented in French oak and aged in the same for about 5 months, of which only one month on the lees with regular stirring; barrels are renewed every 4 years, 12.5% ABV
  • Color: bright straw yellow
  • Nose: vanilla from the oak, pineapple, melon, keeps developing when it is longer in the glass
  • Taste: balanced, fresh, complex
  • Conclusion: very good to excellent, ****1/2

Albariño de Fefiñanes III año 2013, price at the winery 25 euros

  • 100% albariño, aged for 5 months on the lees with regular stirring and then a further 29 months without lees, 12.5% ABV
  • Color: straw yellow
  • Nose: very complex, aged, like vintage champagne without bubbles
  • Taste: round, balanced, fresh, complex
  • Conclusion: excellent, *****

Señorio de Rubiós

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The final winery we visited in Rias Baixas is located near the town of As Neves in the subzone Condado do Tea, near the Portuguese border. The harvest of albariño grapes was being brought in while we were there. The bodega is new; the first vintage was 2006. It likes to keep the traditional wines of the area alive, which means that it doesn’t only produce albariño but also other local grapes such as treixadura, godello, loureiro, torrontés (white), mencía, pedral, and sousón (red). All the wines are made in stainless steel without lees to express the character of the grape variety. Because of the climate, the red varieties are difficult to ripen and will in most vintages have low alcohol.

This bodega is the only that makes a varietal pedral (which is also known as verdejo colorado or alvarinho tinto, but not a color mutation of either verdejo or alvarinho). Sousón is known as Vinhão in Minho in Portugal and used there to make red vinho verde.

It was very interesting to taste varietal wines that we had never tasted before. We tasted five wines.

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Albariño 2015, price at the winery 8 euros

  • 100% albariño, 12.5% ABV
  • Color: bright straw yellow with a greenish edge
  • Nose: powerful, with ripe white fruit and minerals
  • Taste: round and fresh, complex because of a nice touch of bitter
  • Conclusion: very good, ****

Condado Blanco 2015, price at the winery 5 euros

  • 60% treixadura, 11% albariño, 25% loureiro, some godello and torrontés, ABV 12%
  • Color: straw yellow
  • Nose: restrained but complex, minerals
  • Taste: soft, balanced
  • Conclusion: good, ***

Mencía 2014, price at the winery 5 euros

  • 100% mencía, ABV 11.5%
  • Color: cherry with a purple edge
  • Nose: herbaceous
  • Taste: fresh, tannins still a bit young
  • Conclusion: good, ***

Manuel d’Amaro Pedral 2014, price at the winery 9.75 euros

  • 100% pedral, ABV 12%
  • Color: cherry with a purple rim
  • Nose: flowers, ripe dark fruits
  • Taste: high acidity, dry tannins
  • Conclusion: unfortunately 2014 was a difficult vintage, **

Sousón 2015, price at the winery 5 euros

  • 100% sousón, ABV 11.5%
  • Color: deeply colored cherry with a purple edge
  • Nose: ripe fruit
  • Taste: powerful, soft, ripe tannins, fruity
  • Conclusion: easy to drink and very good value for money, ***1/2

8 thoughts on “Wines of Rias Baixas

  1. Pingback: Tigres o Mejillones Rellenos (Stuffed Mussels Tapas) | Stefan's Gourmet Blog

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