Albariño. Are you familiar with it? The white winegrape is grown extensively in the Rías Baixas region in northwest Spain; in fact the variety represents nearly all of the plantings in this cool, coastal region. Albariño produces a crisp, dry white wine with a range of flavors that include citrus, melon and stone fruit to delicately floral with an interesting minerality. Sounds perfect for summer sipping, doesn’t it?
We recently participated in an online tasting of Albariño that included ten wines from Rías Baixas. Yes, we received ten wines as tasting samples! The tasting was hosted by Snooth and moderated by Mark Angelillo who was joined by Advanced Sommelier Jill Zimorski. Jill, who has traveled to Rías Baixas, provided background on the area, on winemaking techniques and shared her impressions of each wine with us.
Meet Rías Baixas
- Rías Baixas (this is the pronunciation) is located on the Atlantic Coast in the Galicia region of northwest Spain. Rías Baixas means Lower Rías and is the Galician name for a series of estuaries along the coast.
- The region is cool and rainy, but with enough sunshine to fully-ripen Albariño. The rolling hills are very green; much different that most of the rest of Spain. Some inland areas of Rías Baixas, however, get very warm in summer.
- What is today designated as Rías Baixas DO (Denominación de Origen) was originally established as an appellation specifically for Albariño in 1980. In order to come into compliance with European Union requirements, which do not allow for appellations named for a specific variety, the region became Rías Baixas in 1988.
- 96% of wine grapes planted in the region are Albariño. 12 wine grape varieties are allowed in the appellation, only 1% of wine production is red wine and a small amount of sparkling wine (Rías Baixas Espumoso) is made as well.
- Five sub-regions are designated in Rías Baixas: Ribeira do Ulla, Val do Salnés, Soutomaior, Condado do Tea and O Rosal. All are located on the coast or along a river. As you would expect soil types vary by region, but in general, soils are granitic with mineral-laden alluvial top soils. Inland regions warmer than those located on the coast.
- Albariño (pronounced alba-reen-yo) is a thick-skinned white grape. That thick skin allows it to withstand the rainy, cool climate in Rías Baixas.
- Many Albariño vineyards in Rías Baixas are trained in a pergola style with with trellised vines up to seven feet off the ground creating a canopy of leaves with grapes hanging below. This type of trellising promotes air circulation around the grape bunches which is important in a wet climate.
- Albariño produces wines with bright, citrusy acidity and a range of aromas and flavors including stone fruit, melon, tropical fruit and flowers. These wines are dry.
- A noteworthy fact I learned from Jill about Albariño is that it ages in the bottle very well, gaining complexity with age.
- Albariño in Rías Baixas is made using a variety of winemaking techniques including cold maceration, native yeast fermentation, fermentation and aging in stainless steel, aging on the lees and oak aging. Oak aging is not very common, but adds complexity. None of the wines in this group was aged in oak.
Let’s Taste Albariño
We tasted Albariño from three of the five sub-regions of Rías Baixas and our tasting notes are organized by region.
VAL DO SAINÉS. This coastal region is the original sub-zone in Rías Baixas and is the wettest and coolest area.
2015 Condes de Albarei — light yellow in the glass with prominent citrus and stone fruit aromas and flavors. Stony minerality joins the flavors on the finish with is crisp and dry. Easy to drink and easy to like. 12.5% abv. SRP $15
Fermentation using native yeast (those present on the grapes at harvest as opposed to commercial yeast which is added to begin fermentation) took place in stainless steel.
2015 Bodegas Vionta Albariño — medium yellow in the glass with oat hay and stone fruit aromas. The flavors echo the aromas with the addition of citrusy acidity, a bit of weight in the mouth and a lingering oat hay flavor. 12.5% abv. SRP $15.99
60% of this wine spends 4-6 months aging on the lees (dead yeast cells left after alcoholic fermentation is complete) to add complexity.
2015 Martín Códax Albariño — light yellow in the glass with generous citrusy and ripe melon aromas. Ripe stone fruit flavors and grilled citrus flavors mingle nicely. The wine is a bit round in the mouth but retains bright acidity. The finish is relatively long. 12% abv. SRP $16.99
40% of the wine went through malolactic fermentation and spent four months aging on the lees.
2016 Pazo de Señorans Albariño — light yellow in the glass with generous melon and citrus blossom aromas are followed by equally generous flavors of ripe melons and bananas lending tropical fruit flavors. Bright acidity on the finish with a hint of citrus pith makes for a clean and complex finish. 13.5% abv. SRP $ 25
This wine did not go through malolactic fermentation but spent five months aging on the lees.
CONTADO DO TEA. This mountainous region is named for the Tea River which runs through the region before joining the Miño River forming the southern boundary of this warm inland region that borders Portugal.
2015 Pazo San Mauro Albariño — medium yellow in the glass with oat hay aromas, distinct citrusy flavors, bright acidity and a lingering minerality which is joined by salty backnotes. 12.5% abv. SRP $17,
This historic property, dating back to 1591, lies on hillsides along the Miño River from which the terraced vineyards rise. Modern winemaking began in 1988 when Pazo San Mauro was established. In 2003 the winery was purchased by Marqués de Vargas Family Wines & Estates from Rioja who have undertaken a restoration of the buildings and modernization of winemaking.
2016 Señorío de Rubiós Robaliño Albariño — generous aromas of melon, ripe pear and honeysuckle are followed by flavors of tropical fruit and white flowers which finishes with bright, citrusy acidity. This wine has the perfect balance of floral and tropical fruit flavors and aromas with a long finish. 12.5% abv. SRP $18.
If you try only one Albariño from this group choose this one. It is the most expressive of the group.
O ROSAL. This region also lies along the Miño River and stretches from the Contado do Tea DO toward the Atlantic Ocean. Terraced vineyards in this region reach down to the Miño River.
2015 Adegas Valmiñor Albariño— medium yellow in the glass with dusty earth and hints of melon aromas. Flavors are straight forward with predominantly stony minerality, citrus zest and bright, clean acidity bordering on tart. 12.5% abv. SRP $18.99
Stainless steel fermentation and no malolactic fermentation or lees aging results in a fresh, bright Albariño.
2015 Terras Gauda Abadía de San Campio Albariño — medium yellow in the glass with delicate aromas of melon, citrus and white flowers. The flavors follow the aromas providing a pleasing balance of flavors and finishing with bright acidity. 12.5% abv. SRP $19.99
Native yeast fermentation proceeded in stainless steel without malolactic fermentation or lees aging.
2015 Altos de Torona Albariño — medium yellow in the glass with stone fruit aromas that give a hint of the flavors that follow. White peach, hints of oat hay and spice finish with a bit of roundness in the mouth, lingering white flower flavors and juicy acidity. Very complex. 13% abv.
This wine was fermented in stainless steel followed by aging on the lees.
2015 Santiago Ruiz — pale yellow in the glass with oat hay and dusty earth aromas. The flavors are quite different than the aromas and include ripe citrus, hints of white flowers and pie spice with a citrus pith finish. 13% abv. SRP $20
This is the only wine in the group that is not 100% Albariño. It is composed of 69% Albarino, 9% Treixadura, 5% Godello and 4% Caiño Blanco. Winemaking included stainless steel fermentation and lees aging.
So, there you have it. I hope these wines have spoken for themselves and convinced you they do make perfect summer sipping wines. The combination of bright acidity with flavors of citrus, stone fruit and minerals blend for a pleasing, fresh flavor profile that doesn’t have too much of anything — but importantly enough of everything. And they won’t break the bank. Distribution of Albariño from Rías Baixas is fairly broad so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one or several of these wines.
Consider pairing them with appetizers, seafood (we paired them with crab tacos which was insanely delicious), chicken, salads or creamy pasta dishes. Don’t forget creamy cheeses, which would also make a delicious pairing.
Thank you to the folks at Snooth for including us in this delightful tasting of Albariño. Be sure to visit the Rías Baixas website, it is full of information on the variety, the region and the wines from this beautiful area of Spain.