Rías Baixas (ree-ahs-buy-shuss) is a Denomination of Origin (D.O.) located in Galicia, northwestern Spain, just above the border with Portugal against the Atlantic Ocean coast. The name is translated as ‘low estuaries’ referring to the omnipresent estuaries extending from the Atlantic Ocean inland and shaped the region.
The D.O. was officially established in 1988 and is especially well known for producing unique white wines made from Albariño (al-ba-ree-nyo) grape.
Back in the 80’s the D.O. was called Albariño and was specific to the varietal. When Spain joined the E.U. this appellation had to be replaced by Rías Baixas because the European Union didn’t allow an appellation for a single grape variety. Today the D.O. is strictly regulated by the Consejo Regulator (local governing body). The appellation is subdivided into five sub-zones; Val do Salnés, O Rosal, Condado do Tea, Soutomaior and Ribera de Ulla, each one with its own specificity with regards to climate and soil.
The climate is Atlantic; winters are humid and temperatures are relatively mild, hardly dropping under 0° Centigrade, while summer temperatures seldom exceed 30 °Centigrade. Strong winds are frequent along the western side, frosts, hailstones and summer heat can be a cause of concern. The coastal areas are the coolest with Ribera do Ulla and Val do Salnés due to their proximity to the coast while Condado do Tea is the warmest.
Rίas Baixas vineyards cover 8 650 acres with over 6 500 growers and almost 20 000 individual vineyards located from 100 to 300 meters above sea level.
Galicia is famed for its fresh and abundant seafood being caught in the rías (the deep wide inlets of water or estuaries). Shellfish like mussels, clams, oysters, shrimp, crab, and lobster abound along with fresh fish like hake, tuna, monkfish, turbot, sea bass, sole, and sardines. The region is also known for their scallops and it is one of the most important symbols of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. They are most commonly baked and eaten in their shells. Another regional delicacy is the barnacle called percebes, an unusually tall and black barnacle that is collected at great risk by the divers on the Costa da Morte (the coast of death). Percebes are expensive but a favorite. (Rias Baixas Wines) Albariño is the ideal wine to complement Galician dishes.
Albariño covers 90 % of all plantings in Rίas Baixas, it is also commonly found in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal where it is called Albariño. It is said that Cistercian monks brought Albariño to the region in the 12th century. It was also thought to be a clone of Riesling, although the earliest records of Riesling date from the 15th century. It is also said that it is a relative of the French varietal called Petit Menseng. Albariño produces distinctive wines; with relatively high acidity level and lower alcohol content, often compared to Riesling. It is also characterized by its rich notes of apricot and peach, comparable to Viognier or Petit Manseng. When grown in granitic soils it shows high mineral notes with structure, grown in sandy soils it is rounder and softer.
A small, green, thick-skinned variety, the grape resists fungal disease in the particularly damp climate of Rίas Baixas. Albariño is a low yielding variety that is expensive to cultivate.