Pretty simple, simply pretty (Rias Baixas, Spain – Day One)

Travelling around Europe these past six months I have encountered a select few regions that exemplify my general philosophy of elegance in simplicity, and that there are varieties that express their origin much better than others but should only be grown in certain places. I have mentioned a few of these in the past, but it is safe to say that I would add the albarino variety and Rias Baixas to these lists. Many people have compared albarino to riesling which is a pretty fair assessment, not only for the fact that the wines are generally made without oak in a fresh mineralic style, but also the tendency for mature albarino wines to acquire the same oily aromas and viscosity that riesling does. It is the first reason that I feel so strongly about these wines, as albarino can be amazingly uncomplicated and unpretentious yet filled with character and style, the purest expression you can imagine. These are wines that everyone can enjoy for various reasons, and also everyone can afford. With so little influence from the winemaker there is really nothing to hide; if you don’t have good grapes then you don’t have good wine. Pretty simple really but with the propensity to use so many techniques to influence wines in the winery I think this is lost somehow, and the wines are thought of merely as simple. Why should all white wine be made like white burgundy?
A beautiful albarino leaf

The first winery I visited was Valminor where I met with the Export Director Cristina Blanco and her colleague Erick Garcia who introduced me to the winery and to this part of Galicia. Rias Baixas is a truly unique region in the world as it is one of the only ones that is in five different areas that are not connected. They are more than just sub-zones, they are different political demarcations that are considered as one. The area that Valminor is located in is O Rosal, which is on the coast to the north of the river which separates Portugal from Galicia. The climate here is typically mild with very little fluctuations between day and night temperatures, and is well known for the micro-climates they have in each individual valley. This year has been pretty bad for them with a lot of rain and cool temperatures in summer but very dry and temperate conditions in winter. Thankfully the sun has arrived which will hopefully help ripen the fruit so they can salvage the vintage, as 2011 was a year categorised by extreme yields and less quality. Valminor is a pretty young winery only producing white wines, but the owners have also opened a winery in the Ribera del Duero to produce red wines. Whilst they have a heavy focus on albarino they are also interested in working with other traditional varieties typical to this part of Galicia, such as loureiro. The wines are generally produced pretty simply in stainless steel tanks with some lees contact and cool slow fermentations, but they also ferment some whites in oak vats to add a different element to the wines.

Very rich soils in one of the Valminor vineyards

Erick took me out to a few of the vineyards so that I could have a look at the viticultural practices and the terroir. In the first vineyard we visited they were employing the typical trellising system of pergolas about two metres high. The soils in this vineyard are very dark rich and moist, so very fertile. The soils characteristically have a very high pH which doesn’t impart a lot of acidity in the wines. The vines had recently had copper sulphate treatment because of all the recent rain and the risk of mildew in the fruit. The second vineyard was purchased a few years ago and is being slowly grafted across to white varieties that are more useful and commercial. The location of this vineyard is slightly higher and has steeper slopes, and the trellising system is a high cordon spur training. When I visited they were using a light herbicide to get rid of some of the heavy grasses that have sprung up since the rain. Back at the winery I was introduced to some of the current wines before we adjourned to a local restaurant where I was treated to some beautiful seafood, the highlights being the calamari and the scallops. Over lunch I had a constructive intellectual discussion with Cristina and Erick about marketing and communications, as this is something so important in developing identity around a region and brand. I won’t bore you with the details. Click here if you’d like to read my notes from the tasting.

Loureira is an important variety for Valminor

The second winery I visited was further up the river but still on the Portuguese border and has only been around for four years. This doesn’t mean that they are inexperienced as they are a newly formed cooperative in the Condado de Tea part of Rias Baixas. The Eidosela winery is newly constructed to handle fruit coming from 600 member growers across 400 hectares of vineyards, ably managed by a team consisting of a winemaker, viticulturalist and sales and marketing. They are quite cutting edge it terms of their branding and packaging, but at their heart they are traditional in the sense that they focus on albarino. I was welcomed by the Export Manager Miguel Posada who also runs his family business in wine under the Fortuna Wines name. Miguel introduced me to the winemaker who gave me a tour of the facilities which aren’t anything special apart from the fact they are performing the job of capturing the essence of the albarino variety in this part of the world, and they are managing hundreds of parcels of fruit to then be blended into different wines. All of the equipment is of course brand new and is of the latest technology. The philosophy is fairly simple; make the best wine possible to grow the brand and the region and make money for the members. They have set themselves up pretty well to do this and as time passes they will only know more from their vineyards and styles. They are already innovating by producing the first Rias Baixas sparkling wine made from 100% albarino in the traditional method. It’s not great, merely an albarino with bubbles in it, but there is potential in the future. Miguel was kind enough to pay for a hotel in which was much closer to my appointments the next day, and so I bid them farewell with some jamon and queso. Click here to read my notes from the tasting.

How else do you keep track of so many tanks?

Click here to see more photos from my first in Rias Baixas, Spain. My second day is spent further north visiting Pazo Senorans and Castro Martin.

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