Rias Baixas / Albariño

Today’s post is a shout-out to an interesting, historied and quality European white wine region, as well as the grape which dominates production within it. Rias Baixas (pronounced ray-ash-buy-shas, which is very fun to attempt in a Sean Connery impression btw), is in the northwest corner of Spain, in the autonomously governed community of Galicia. Certainly well known in Spain and much of Europe, it is relatively under the radar to most of North America, unless you study wine or sell old world wines. This region is just north of Portugal on the only truly western coast of Spain, as the rest of the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula is encompassed by Portugal. (There is a stretch of south-western facing Spanish coastline between Portugal and Gibraltar). The region is heavily influenced by the ocean in its cuisine, culture, and of course terroir, and the Galician name Rias Biaxas translates to ‘slow inlets’ in reference to the series of estuaries which form the coastline.

The wine from Rias Biaxas is over 90% produced from a single variety called albariño. It is a white (yellow-green skinned) grape which produces well in fairly dry, cool but not cold conditions. The juice created has high to medium-high acidity, and enough sugar to make a standard 11.5 to 12.5% alcohol by volume wine, with little to no residual sugar, resulting in dry, crisp white wines. Traditional oenological practices of the region dictate some fine-lees contact to bring out a level of creaminess and balance the acidity. Some producers use barrel-aging, but it is the exception, not the rule. The grape is believed to have originated in Northern Portugal where it is still extensively cultivated, and is very similarly called alvarinho. An interesting labeling anomaly of Rias Biaxas, is that the wines have traditionally had the grape variety displayed on the bottle, which is common place in the present, particularly in new world wines, but not in the old world wine producing past.

The flavors and aromas of albariño from Rias Biaxas are usually in similar ranges to either riesling or sauvignon blanc. There is often a noticeable minerality, and sometimes the essence of salinity, from the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. They are usually bone-dry, as previously mentioned, and often display stone fruit qualities, some apple notes, and most notably, citrus fruits. Depending on sub-region and vintage, melon and/or tropical fruit aromas, like pineapple, are common.

With the minerality and dry crisp flavors, they pair extremely well with shellfish, which is course abundantly available in the coastal region.