On April 4th, wine pros and Hispanophiles convened at Legacy Records in Manhattan’s hospitality hotspot Hudson Yards for a seminar on the wines of Rías Baixas. Led by acclaimed sommeliers Yannick Benjamin and Michael Meagher MS, the event featured unique wines native to Galicia’s most well-known wine-producing region, highlighting both their unmistakable sense of place and their versatility as pairings with a wide range of cuisines.
Perched on the Atlantic just north of Portugal, the coastal region of Rías Baixas (“lower fjords”) is noted for its lush maritime greenery, craggy inlets, abundant seafood, and ancient, autochthonous varietals. While the D.O.’s less widely planted grapes like Treixadura, Loureira, and Godello may yet still be awaiting their moment at center stage, Albariño on the other hand has exploded in popularity, demonstrating its status as a world-class wine in its appearances from Michelin-starred dining rooms to backyard patios to the kitchen tables of some of the world’s top food and wine influencers.
Recent DNA-typing has shown Albariño to have originated just across the border in Portugal, where it is known as Alvarinho and constitutes an important blending component of Vinho Verde; in Spain, however, the grape most famously produces a single-varietal wine. Perfectly suited to the cool, wet climate of Rías Baixas—granite-based soils rich in mineral content impart an unmistakably crisp, mouth-filling acidity— Albariño has thrived for centuries. The grape now makes up 96% of all plantings in Rías Baixas.
Traditional vineyard practices have deepened this match of grape to terroir. Perhaps most notable of these is the en parra vine-training system in which a wire canopy attached to ten-foot granite posts elevates vine canopies high above potentially troublesome ground moisture, encouraging increased air flow and helping to mitigate the destructive effects of rot, mold, and mildew. While Green Spain may be decidedly both wet and sunny, the presence of the Atlantic is a crucial moderating factor—not to mention the source of the region’s pristine shellfish, one of Albariño’s singular pairings.
Questions of viticulture and microclimate aside, Rías Baixas Albariño can range from ethereally light and crisp, to ripe and slightly creamy with more notable mid-palate weight. The D.O. also produces some notable sparkling and lees-aged examples. Lime, peach, nectarine, petrichor, kiwi, grapefruit, and Thai basil are common tasting notes across the board, helping to position the wine as an inviting aperitif—but one that can pair across nearly every course of the ensuing meal. Refreshing acidity and explosive aromatics render the wine a natural match to anything from prawns to pork, spiny lobster to empanadas, while also offering a versatile match with secondary dish components from perfect-pair-averse spices like cumin and turmeric, to tricky-to-pair-at-best vegetables like jalapeno and endive.
While winemaking in Rías Baixas may date back thousands of years, the past few decades have seen the region rapidly establish itself as a world class white wine denomination—and to those who have experienced the uniqueness of the wines and their terroir, there is little doubt that “Rías Baixas Albariño” as a category will only continue to grow in stature.
Visit the Rías Baixas website to learn more about wine, food, and history of the region.