When people think of Spanish wine 90 times out of 100 they would think of red wine. Nine times they may think of cava depending on where they are from, and maybe one time they would think of sherry. Chances are they wouldn’t think of white wine but there are two places in particular where white wine is pretty much all they make. The first is Rueda where wines made from the verdejo grape are one of the fasting growing in the country. The other place is Rias Baixas where they make wines mostly from albarino. In my opinion Rias Baixas white wines are the most Spanish that a wine can be. Firstly as a country that is mostly surrounded by water they eat a lot of seafood and other fresh and often salty dishes that are perfect matches with albarino thanks to its high acidity and zingy freshness. Secondly the country gets very hot as I have discovered myself, and as a chilled wine albarino is much more refreshing than a glass of Rioja tempranillo or oloroso sherry. As albarino wines are almost always made in a simple way they are also a reflection of the simple lifestyle that Spanish people lead, particularly in the current difficult economic situation. Then add to this the fact that albarino is very cheap to produce and can therefore be more affordable than many wines produced in Spain for the Spanish people. There aren’t really any complicated terms or levels of quality like crianza or reserve that mean almost nothing, it is simply good or it isn’t. Albarino can be enjoyed across the whole country with any myriad of different dishes and is so easy to drink. What I’m trying to say is that Spanish should be drinking more albarino, but only as long as there is enough for the rest of us too.
|Have you ever seen razor clams before?|
There is a higher concentration of wineries and vineyards in the northern parts of Rias Baixas where I visited two wineries today. The first winery I visited today was Pazo Senorans which was purchased by the current owners in 1989 but has been around a lot longer than that. Back in the days when Galicia was a rural, feudal and matriarchal society and was at the forefront of 19th century Spanish naturalism, the Pazo de Senorans mansion was built and then eventually converted into a winery. In fact they have found records that testify the Pazo actually dates back to the 16th century, and that there were a great number of people and events that passed through the walls. The mansion is mostly used to welcome visitors and host people as much of the winemaking is conducted in new facilities on the other side of the road. The mansion is surrounded by vines, and is a beautiful escape from busier parts of Galicia.
|I found these two climbing the stairs of the mansion|
I was welcomed to the winery by first two, then three and finally four women all intimately involved with the winery in different capacities. The first two were the winemaker and the young lady responsible for welcoming visitors to the winery who served as the translator. They showed me a part of the winery with large tanks but quickly understood that I had seen this hundreds of times before and that I was more interested in seeing the unique parts of the business. The first was to have a look in one of the vineyards on the other side of the road, which like about 90% of their vineyards is planted in the pergola system. Like every other producer I visited they had been recently spraying cooper sulphate but unfortunately some damage had already been done and there were obvious signs of mildew in the bunches. Between the vines and the historic house a wedding was being set up for that evening and there seemed to be a lot going into it. They began to offer weddings a few years ago as another revenue stream, and generally any profit goes straight back into the wine business. The wines are great examples of the simplicity and inherent elegance of albarino in Rias Baixas, and you can read my tasting notes here.
|The pergola trained albarino vines of Pazo Senorans|
The second winery I visited not far way was Bodegas Castro Martin, yet another that I had sold back at home. Around about the same time I was being born 30 years ago the founder of the winery was preparing for the first vintage after building the winery in 1981. This man was Domingo Martin-Morales the father of the current co-owner and winemaker Angela who sadly passed away several years ago. The Castro from the name is actually that of the gentleman responsible for running the estate whilst he was in South America but was then found to be shonky and subsequently fired. In a slight dig Domingo decided to keep the Castro. He designed the winery across three levels to produce wine using as much gravity as possible and minimise handling and oxygenation of the must. This showed amazing foresight and is still one of the only ones you can find in the region. The brand he created was Casal Caeiro which still exists today but it is mostly sold domestically, and most of that in Galicia. When Angela took over the winemaking and running of the winery in the mid-90s she took it to new levels, and by 2000 had started to get recognition from her peers. She was interested in selling the wines in the UK market and was contacted by an important buyer there. Within twelve months they married in secret, and after another year Andrew Martin decided to relocate to Galicia and join his wife Angela in the running of the business.
|20kg boxes at Castro Martin ready for the 2012 harvest|
Andrew and Angela both welcomed me to the winery and took me through the very simple processes. Fruit is harvest in 20kg baskets and transported to the winery where it has a whole bunch pressing at low temperatures to capture the aromatics but introduce enough phenolic compounds to give the wine texture. The individual parcels of exclusively albarino then have a very slow fermentation in stainless steel vats on the lees to add structure and flavour to the wines. After natural filtration and cold stabilisation the wines are bottled and that’s about all there is to it. The real work of course happens in the vineyards where they make careful selections from their own vineyards. With fruit provided by contract growers they check and pay for quality rather than quantity, and this is performed on delivery at the dock. One way they are improving quality is by using minimal intervention, and only doing what is needed when it is needed. This includes using any chemicals, but also leaf and shoot thinning to ensure healthy ripening. This is what I refer to as ‘necessary viticulture’ as opposed to organic and biodynamic where you have a lot less flexibility. They are attempting to be as ecological as financially and physically possible, but bio-organics aren’t easy in the wet and humid Val do Salnas sub-region. I shared a wonderful lunch with Angela and Andrew where I enjoyed local seafood and great conversation before heading towards Bierzo where I unfortunately didn’t have my visit. But that is another story. Click here to read my notes from the tasting of Castro Martin wines.
|Angela and Andrew outside Bodegas Castro Martin|
Click here to see more photos from my second day in Rias Baixas which was also my last in Spain. The following week I head to Bordeaux before my hiatus over August and part of September.