The Rare Reds Of Rias Baixas

  • By Somm360
  • 21 May 2021
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
Made possible by
Red grapes of Rias Baixas - Credit : Srubios

Although the native Albariño is undoubtedly (at 96 – 98% of production) the most-planted grape in Rías Baixas, there is a small but growing interest in the region’s light red wines produced from Caiño Tinto (the family of Caiños numbers six or seven known varieties), Castañal, Espadeiro, Loureira Tinta, Sousón, Mencía, and Brancellao y Dozal, all grapes that tend to channel their geological settings.

These wines tend to be extremely fresh with unique aromatics of the cold and wet ocean winds and forest landscape. The granite (and to a lesser extent, schist) soils give the wines a structure and framing that is reminiscent of white wine, often with just as much acidity as the Albariños here. Due to the climate and the hugely influential topsoil/bedrock, fruit tends to take on a lesser role, with minerals and a certain metallic edge taking centre stage.

Most red wines here are blends of the following grapes, with some producers bottling single varietal wines:

Sousón : Mostly in the Condado de Tea subregion along the Miño River, by far the most-planted red grape, dark-skinned, produces highly acidic, often-rustic wines with aromatic notes of green fruits, blackberries, and blackcurrants.

Caíño Tinta : Mostly in the Val do Salnés subregion, produces lively wines with exuberant hues, intensely fruity/floral aromatics, crisp acidity, a relatively high sugar content, and occasionally a distinctive balsamic note.

Loureiro Tinto : Rustic wines with serious tannins, acidity, and mineral characteristics.

Mencía : Aromatics of raspberry, strawberry, and licorice, with a peppery palate combining often slightly bitter tannins and a minerality similar to crushed gravel.

Castañal : Exclusively in the subregion of O Rosal, not dissimilar to Cabernet Franc, with ripe cherries, blackberries, and a touch of herbaceousness.

Espadeiro and Brancellao y Dozal : Less acidic grapes, perhaps the most elegant and perfumed of the permitted varieties, with the latter exhibiting sublimely floral characteristics.

In decades past, the growing of red varieties was a deeply-rooted tradition in the area, but the commercial success of the region’s star white variety led to many red vineyards being uprooted. It is only in recent years that winemakers have rediscovered these red grapes, and through  informed assemblage, judicious use of oak, higher-altitude vineyards, higher-density plantings (9,000 vines/ha as opposed to 1,000 on the traditional pergola system), and lower yields are producing thrilling wines that now attracting the attention of the wine cognoscenti worldwide.

Red grapes of Rias Baixas - Credit : Srubios