Tour de Spain: Rias Baixas
My Tour de Spain continues on the Northwestern coast in the region of Rias Baixas (pronounced Ree-ahs By-shus). Sidenote: I once ordered a glass of Rias Baixas at a restaurant and the server incorrectly corrected me and said it was "Ree-ahs BAY-shus". So there, dude.
Since it's a coastal region, it's cooler and wetter with a greener and more lush landscape compared to other areas of Spain, making it a lovely home for some of Spain's best white wines. There is a downside to the climate of Rias Baixas, however. The dampness of the region can plague the grapes with underripeness, rot, or diluted flavors from time to time and because the region relies so heavily on a single grape variety, vintage variation can occur. Training the vines to grow away from the ground lessens the chance of rot and climate change has actually improved the chances of consistent quality, but vintage is still important for Rias Baixas wines. As far as I can tell, the best recent vintages are 2012 (I'd recommend this vintage for richer or fuller bodied styles that are capable of aging, more on that below) and 2014, while 2015 is hit or miss.
Albariño is the dominant grape variety used to make wines in Rias Baixas and the majority of wines will not be blended with any other variety, although a blend of local white varieties and at least 70% Albariño are permitted. It's an aromatic grape with high levels of acidity and good examples will have intense notes of stone fruits such as peach and apricot, citrus fruits, and often tropical fruits like pineapple. Many will show a stony, mineral character which comes from the mineral-rich granite soils found throughout much of the region.
As far as white grapes go, Albariño is versatile and can be made in a number of styles: many are crisp and refreshing and meant to be enjoyed while young, some are matured in oak and will have richer flavors, while others are fermented with their skins which gives the wine tannin and a fuller body.
I tried the Finca Arantei Albariño Single Vineyard 2014 made with 100% Albariño. The notes were spot on for what I expect from a Rias Baixas: the nose showed very aromatic peach, apricot, lemon, a floral character, and a briny minerality. It's a flavorful wine with concentrated notes of lemon, lime, grapefruit, apricot, and peach. The wine is dry, high in acidity, and it has a nice round texture. I really enjoyed this one!
The producer uses grapes from old vines in one vineyard area of their property to make this wine. Old vines have low yields of fruit, so all the goodness goes into fewer grapes which makes for an intense and concentrated wine. This wine is also a perfect example of Albariño being capable of exhibiting a variety of styles - after fermentation the winemaker aged this Albariño on its lees (the dead yeast cells) for 3 months, giving the wine a soft texture and complex flavors.
Finca Arantei Albariño Single Vineyard 2014: Delicious and a great intro to Rias Baixas. Try it! $17