Rías Baixas is a DO (Denominación de Origen) in the autonomía of Galicia. It sits on the western coast of Spain just north of Portugal between the Atlantic and the Cordillera Cantábrica mountains. Rías Baixas translates as “low estuaries,” a reference to the numerous beautiful flooded coastal valleys.
Galicia began its love affair with the Albariño grape in the 12th century AD, when French monks invited by King Alfonso VII began planting Riesling-style grapes in Armenteira and other Cistercian monasteries.
In 1988 the area was awarded full DO status after a period of intense replanting which continued until the late 1990s.
The culture of Galicia was heavily influenced by the Celts, the earliest settlers in the region. Archaeological evidence of the Celtic Gauls (from which the name Galicia is derived) dates back to the 6th century BC. This pre-Christian heritage still permeates much of the visible culture today. Ancient stone granaries are found everywhere, known locally as hórreos. These storage units vary in size and are supported by mushroom-shaped, stubby legs to keep critters out of the food source.
In terms of cuisine, the coastal influence is felt in Galicia more than any other region in Spain. Nearly everything the ocean has to offer is utilized in both new and time-tested preparations. Particularly popular dishes are octopus, hake, sardines, and cod. A local specialty is the percebes or goose foot barnacles, which resemble an asparagus stalk containing a delicious and well-protected sliver of meat.
For the purpose of wine production, Rías Baixas can be divided into five subzones: Condado de Tea, O Rosal, Val do Salnés, Soutomaior and Ribeira do Ulla. While they vary slightly in their wine regulations, they all make crisp, flavorful whites based on the Albariño grape. A wine labeled “Rías Baixas Albariño” will be 100% Albariño, and one labeled with one of the sub-zones will be at least 70% Albariño.
Many of the best producers bottle Albariño varietally, with no blending grapes. Malolactic fermentation and barrica aging are sometimes employed, which are indicated on bottle. Whether oaked or not, classic Albariño wines tend to show stone fruit and citrus flowers, with an undercurrent of minerality. Red wines are produced from grapes such as Caiño, Espadeiro and Mencía, but nearly 90% of the vineyard acreage in Rías Baixas is devoted to Albariño.
Rías Baixas and the rest of Galicia fall under the umbrella of “Green Spain.” This region receives more rainfall than anywhere else in the country, nearly 78 inches per year – more than twice that of New York City. The soils are mostly alluvial and granite.