The Spanish Commercial office in association with DO Rias Baixas recently held a ‘Rias Baixas Wine & Gastronomy Masterclass‘ here in Dublin. It was held at the Fumbally Stables. A quirky and very suitable venue – used to be stables, then distillery, then bakery, then photography studio …. A venue with character and history. Indeed, that also neatly sums up the wines that were on show. Great character and fabulous history.
While the event was titled a ‘Rias Baixas Wine Tasting‘ it was in fact a showpiece for its principle white grape only -the Albarino. Nothing wrong with that as over the past number of years not only has the grape been accepted as capable of producing truly fine wine but that Ireland is among the world’s leading destinations for its varietals.
The US is #1 with the UK #2. Then comes Puerto Rico followed by Ireland with a healthy $450,000 of last years’ $9.2 million exports from the region!! We love it.
That’s difficult to answer. After all we also love NZ Sauvignon Blanc, Macon Lugny and Pinot Grigio. Within this group of likely lads and lassies Albarino from Galicia is the most expensive, very few know anything about the wines of Rias Baixas (let alone where it is!) and why not an equally impressive Assyrtiko from Santorini?
We were told at the class that ‘Albarino’ is an easy word to read and to remember. mmm. Not so sure about that! We were also told that we have an affinity with the Celtic and, indeed, Gaelic culture of the region. Fine but that’s after the event. We don’t see many takers for the great drinks of Brittany based on the same principles. So. Why? I reckon it’s because the Spanish Commercial office here in Dublin have done a bloody good job of bringing it to our attention. That doesn’t happen by accident. That takes resources, planning and skill. This was then followed up by the wine trade in Ireland, which, if you don’t know already is … World Class!
Rias Baixas is a series of inlets facing the Atlantic ocean on the NW corner of Spain. It sits on top of Portugal! 99% of production is white wine with the Albarino taking a whacking 90% of all planted varieties. Have a look HERE for the others and, indeed, for a handy list of the eight wine styles allowed. The wine styles ( besides the reds (1% of production) and the sparklers ( I’m not much of a fan) are based on the denominated sub regions each of which imparts specific regionality into the flavours achieved. The above graphic shows that O Rosal and Condado do Tea are to the south making them warmer to the regions further north which include Soutomaior, Val do Saines and Ribeira do Ulla.
Soils are poor in organic material and are dominated by granite and schist with alluvial deposits in places. These will also influence the various styles available. As Phylloxera has not gained a foothold in Galicia many vines are on their own roots. Until recently this has allowed for a great uniformity with regards to plant material across the region. Today, however, there is a lot of research being conducted in relation to developing rootsocks with a view to enhancing and preserving the uniqueness of the Albarino styles from Rias Baixas. This will be needed as Phylloxera will work its way in but also as other regions in the world begin to bring us their version of the grape.
The masterclass conducted by Lynne Coyle MW (O’Briens Wines) and Lynda Coogan of ‘Wine Tasting Ireland‘ and organised by DO Rias Baixas and the Commercial Office of the Embassy of Spain showed 20 wines. Six were in the class, a further 4 were sampled with a super selection of Spanish bites and the final 10 were tasted at our leisure.
What’s Special about the taste of Rias Baixas Albarino? Look for bright off gold colour, a fine expressive bouquet of ripe tropicality laced with light saline and mineral tones, a precise fruit filled palate where acidity and minerality brace together to hold rich fruits tingling to a long finish. The cooler areas of the sub regions will extenuate this braceness while the warmer ones bring a rounder and softer style.
Rias Baixas is considered very Green in its agricultural practices with many of its vineyards declared as practicing Sustainable viticulture. That said the vagaries of an Atlantic climate rule out organic viticulture. Cool facts to notice are the use of upright granite posts in the vineyards to hold up the ‘parras’ to prevent mildew and other disease; more than 50% of winemakers in the region are women and that, even though it’s a relatively small region, 109 of the 170 wineries export to over 70 countries worldwide. Brilliant.