Rias Baixas' White Wine Styles
- By Jacky Blisson MW
- 11 Dec 2020
- 5 MIN
- Level 201
Rías Baixas is situated on the cool, rainy southwestern coast of Galicia. Named for the four estuaries around which the vineyards are planted, Rías Baixas is known for its vivid, aromatic Albariño-based white wines.
The Six Categories Of Rías Baixas White
Rías Baixas DO wines are broken into eight different categories based on grape, vineyard sub-zone, and/or winemaking style. Two of these eight categories are dedicated to red and sparkling wine production. The remaining six of these categories dedicated to white wine production, primarily from the Albariño grape (which accounts for 96% of Rías Baixas plantings) will be discussed here.
This category is reserved for white wine blends sourced from anywhere within the Rías Baixas DO boundaries. Recommended secondary blending partners for Albariño include Treixadura and Loureiro, popular white grapes in Portugal’s Vinho Verde region, as well as local variety Caiño Blanco. Torrontes, and Godello are also authorized in Rías Baixas blends, but are less widely planted.
These blends tend to be very light in body, with a minimum requirement of 11% alcohol. They are generally unoaked, with blocked malolactic fermentation, to produce a crisp, easy drinking, dry style of semi-aromatic white wine.
Rías Baixas Albariño
As the name indicates, this wine style is made from 100% Albariño sourced from across the Rías Baixas appellation. In general terms, the Rías Baixas production area is cool but sunny, producing a very fresh, yet highly aromatic style of Albariño.
Winemaking techniques can vary for Rías Baixas Albariño-labelled wines, but common practices include stainless steel vinification, blocked malolactic fermentation, and brief (six to eight month) ageing in the same vessels. The wines are generally fragrant, with stone and citrus fruit aromas, lively acidity, saline mineral hints, and subtle phenolic bitterness on the dry finish.
Rías Baixas Val do Salnés
This northerly, coastal vineyard area is the historic heart of Rías Baixas. It is the coldest and wettest of the appellation’s sub-zones. The soils are rocky and alluvial in nature, over a base of pink granite. Just under two-thirds of Rías Baixas wine production hails from Val do Salnés. In order to qualify as Val do Salnés at least 70% of blends must be composed of recommended grapes: Albariño, Loureiro, Treixadura, and/ or Caiño Blanca.
Cool, coastal Val do Salnés wines are known for their racy acidity, tart fruit flavours, and a certain briny character. Abundant sunshine also allows for riper, tropical notes to emerge. According to the Rías Baixas regulatory council, they possess a “crisp, aromatic melony character”.
Rías Baixas O Rosal
O Rosal is a small sub-zone in southern Rías Baixas which follows the northern bank of the Miño River inland from the Atlantic coast. This is a slightly warmer area than Val do Salnés. Grapes are often harvested up to a week earlier here.
The soils are alluvial, over areas of granite and slate. A combined minimum of 70% Albariño and Loureiro is required for O Rosal wines. Loureiro is prized for its delicate floral aromas. Wines from O Rosal tend to have bolder stone fruit flavours, and a softer, rounder mouthfeel.
Rías Baixas Condado do Tea
Condado do Tea is a mountainous sub-zone that extends inland from O Rosal, with granite and slate soils closer to the surface. Slate radiates heat into the vineyards aiding with ripening. Condado do Tea is less influenced by coastal weather patterns and is thus warmer and drier than both O Rosal and Val do Salnés.
Albariño and Treixadura must make up at least 70% of blends in Condado do Tea. Treixadura, also known locally as Trajadura, is known for its firm, steely structure. The wines of Condado do Tea are earthier, with a less overtly fruit character.
Rías Baixas Barrica
While Rías Baixas wines are often vinified in inert vessels to showcase their fresh, fruity character, wineries are increasingly extending maturation periods and stirring lees to increase textural appeal.
Barrel fermenting and oak ageing is relatively rare and tends to be reserved for fuller-bodied wines from warmer growing areas and/or vintages. Barrica wines must be aged for at least three months in oak barrels or casks. These wines tend to be firmer in structure, with creamy mid-palate richness, and good moderate-term ageing potential.