Location: Northwest Spain, Galicia
Grape(s): White- Albariño, Trejadura, Loureira
Red- Caiño, Loureiro
Soil(s): Microgranite, Mica (tiny organic sea shells)
Many people overlook this beautiful if not secluded part of Spain. Galicia is considered part of 4 northern autonomias (think Spanish states) that make up “Green Spain”. The reason is fairly clear. When crossing through the tunnels that separate Galicia from neighboring Castilla Y Leon, the landscape turned from brown to green in the course of 50 kilometers. This region is lush. Gerardo Mendez of Do Ferreiro shared with us the story of a Japanese painter who said after a visit, “In his lifetime, a painter can only hope to recreate on canvas all the shades of green that can be seen in Galicia.” That being said, this is the view from A Bouza, an agrotourism hotspot located in the tiny (I mean tiny!) village of Poio in the the appellation of Rias Baixas. Anyone who spends time in this green and gray paradise would have a fantastic experience staying in this six room small hotel. The view is of the Ria de Pontevedra, an estuary that empties into the North Atlantic. The small island is home to a military base, the town on the other side of the bay is Pontevedra. Christopher Columbus hails from the small village of Poio, it was a little ironic, if not fitting, to spend the 4th of July there…
Rias Baixas translated from the local Spanish dialect Gallego means “low rivers”. Prior to our visit it was never clear to me what that actually meant for the wines themselves. We now know that it is a great explanation of the geographical make up of the region and the reason behind its division into 5 distinct subzones. The “rias” are actually groups of both rivers and estuaries that feed into the Atlantic Ocean on the western side of the province of Galicia. Here, the fog off of the ocean has an immense effect on the resulting wines. One of the first things Gerardo Mendez explained to us was that the fog itself blocks the fumes of the passing commercial sea traffic and shields the grapes of Val do Salnes from pollution. This ocean fog gives the grapes a distinct aroma and slight flavor of sea salt. It also moderates the temperature of the region keeping acids relatively high.
As admitted by Gerardo himself, the climate of Rias Baixas is almost totally bad for grape production. In July at the height of summer, the temperature was around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Personally, I was super stoked for the ability to wear a sweater in summertime (it was a record 108 degrees in St. Louis just a few days prior) but it is definitely not a warm place. The cold and rainy region is prone to poor fruit set, mildew, fungus, and during the extremely wet spring months. In 2012, Val do Salnes lost 50% of its fruit in the spring due to very heavy rains. The parts of the region near the coast and along the estuaries are about the only place where the humidity can be better combated by stronger winds. While there is ample moisture, the soil is quite compact and does not allow for good water drainage. Rias Baixas enjoys a long growing season with harvest usually coming in mid October, this allows the vines to develop more phenolic compounds. All of these factors contribute to the aromatic ripeness of Albariño to be balanced by high acidity and medium body. The finished wines come in at a very restrained 12-13.5% alcohol by volume.
Rias Baixas has 5 distinct subzones. In the north there is Ribeira do Ulla; a cold mountainous region that does not produce much wine at all. Gerardo hinted that it may have been included as a subzone because of political reasons. To the southwest, cradled by the estuaries of the Ria Santiago to the north and the Ria Pontevedra to the south. The northern latitude allows for long days and the vines in Val do Salnes, almost completely planted facing south and west receive sunlight from 9am until 10:30pm. A little further inland is Soutomaior, located along the Rio Abrigo. Much of the production of the region is centered here as the valley it is somewhat sheltered from cold northerly winds by a range of mountains, but the fog that rolls in along the river does not allow the temperature to drop far enough to harm the grapes. To the south along the Portuguese border and along the Miño river are O Rosal and Contado do Tea. O in Gallego takes the place of “el”, and the subregion is aptly named after the Rosal River. O Rosal is at the confluence of the Miño River and the Atlantic and its neighbor Contado do Tea is directly to the east. The Tea River starts in the mountains next to the DO Ribeiro and flows into the Miño. Here, the Portuguese influence is prevalent in the use of the Loureira and Treijadura grapes in the blend of the wines. These grapes can constitute up to 30% of the blend. Loureira is used in O Rosal and Treijadura in Contado do Tea.
An icon of Galician winemaking, Gerardo Mendez has been heading up production at Do Ferreiro since 1973. He is a purist and perfectionist, even apologizing for the smoky aromas of the 2006 Cepas Veillas (there were severe forest fires in the region that year and it translated to the wine). The grape here is Albariño, the flag bearer and star of the region. The vines behind him are upwards of 250 years old! The 2000 Do Ferreiro Cepas Veillas is one of my favorite white wines period. When looking for an iconic representation of Albariño, one does not have to look further than Do Ferreiro, it is simply the best. The Cepas Vellas will be in stock later this year.
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