Rías Baixas means “lower fjords” or estuaries, and water is the prevailing feature of the landscape, whether it’s the rías themselves or the rivers Sil or Miñho. And with lots of rain, mist, and sticky mornings in this part of Green Spain, the vines have to be trained high on pergolas to avoid rot. The pickers there should be very grateful; they’re shielded from the sun and spared the backbreaking, stooping work of picking among most of the bush vine–trained areas of Spain. There are hills rolling inland that rise up to heights of 900 feet, but red grapes are virtually unheard of here. The brightest and sunniest of summers is only about two and a half months long, and even white grapes can struggle for ripeness in cooler, wetter years.
The growers of Rías Baixas have wisely embraced Albariño as their grape. It’s not that they don’t grow other grapes; they do. Although they share in common with the neighboring Vinho Verde region of Portugal the grapes Albariño, Treixadura, Caiño, and Loureira, Rías Baixas wine producers have realized that focusing upon one charming grape, Albariño, simplifies the job of marketing the region’s wines.
The strategy has worked in the American and world markets. Albariño wine has grown in popularity so much so that it may be very close to its limit of reasonable production, and its ever-improving quality must mightily vex its Portuguese neighbors. The subzones along the Portuguese border, O Rosal and Condado do Tea, express generous peach, apricot, and melon aromas and flavors. Those in the northerly and more exposed portions of Rías Baixas tend to be leaner and more likely to age reasonably well and to show more green apple and lemon notes.
For those in the know, some of the other grapes provide delicious drinking as well. When several of these grapes are blended together, only the name of the subzone will appear, rather than the name of the Albariño (or any other) grape. A bottle marked O Rosal is from the O Rosal subregion of Rías Baixas and has a minimum of 70% of Albariño and Loureira grapes. A bottling with the Val do Salnés subregional designation requires that the wine has a minimum of 70% Albariño; the same minimum is required of any wine from the Soutomaior or Ribera del Ulla subregions. The subregion Condado do Tea demands a minimum of 70% Albariño and Treixadura grapes. Each region has slightly different proportions of each grape, but for many tasters, Albariño can become a more complex actor when supported by these other grapes.
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