In early May I had the pleasure to tour Rias Baixas, Spain, as the guest of the local Consejo (@Rias_Baixas, @RiasBaixasWines and www.doriasbaixas.com) and Cornerstone Communications (www.cornerstonepr.com, #RiasBaixasWine), a wine-focused public relations company. I’ve chosen to catalog this trip as a travel itinerary and whenever a specific wine or winery is mentioned this means that I had an individual sit-down meeting with the principals of that business.
I also include my tasting notes at the end of the column in shorthand that goes like this: appearance (if relevant), then aroma/taste/acidity & finish. If I can find a domestic retail price then I list it (if there is more than one I err on the higher side), with “N/A” meaning that the wine is not generally available in the U.S. (they are also available on Twitter @wineontheroad). The 2014 vintage has not yet been generally released in the U.S. and so many of those bottles do show “N/A” at this time.
I’ll soon be heading back to Spain, this time Catalonia and Barcelona, and if you want to follow along with my experiences as they happen I suggest using Twitter (@wineontheroad).
BUT FIRST A BIT ABOUT GALICIA
Rias Baixas is a part of the ancient province of Galicia, which is located in the northwest corner of Spain, directly above Portugal (and separated from that country by the Mina River). There are several small cities in the region, of which La Coruna is the largest at approx. 250,000 souls. One striking element of La Coruna is that there are beaches on each side of the city. Other cities include Santiago de Compostela (terminus of the famous pilgrimage trail), Pontevedre (where we spent most of our lodging time), and Vigo.
By the way, the sea plays a major role in the history and culture of Galicia, and while more than half of the population has emigrated in search of jobs and security over the past half century, all natives have a special affinity for the ocean. The seafood is also amongst the best in all of Europe, as are the native roasted pork, special varieties of potatoes, and the local, herb-laced firewater (which is called Aguardiente).
In terms of wine, Albariño is the major local grape, comprising perhaps 80 percent of all plantings. There are 4,000 ha of vines in the region divided among 6,500 grape growers into 20,000 individual plots. This means that the average individual vineyard is a fifth of a hectare in size (there are a few very large vineyards that make the median size much smaller), which leads most growers to treat wine grapes as a secondary income and also puts a lid on overall quality (because it is not their primary focus throughout the year). But as can be seen from my notes, this situation is changing for the better and Rias Baixas wines are fast becoming a necessary element of restaurant wine lists and home cellars alike.
AND NOW FOR THE TOUR
1800: Arrive Santiago de Compostela, check into the Parador Hotel de Los Reyes Catolicos.
2000: Dinner at Maria Castaño, a restaurant recommended by the hotel.
Mon 5/4 – Santiago de Compostela
1200: Met up with the rest of the group.
1730: Tour of Santiago.
2100: Dinner at Abastos 2.0, an excellent tapas place.
Tue 5/5 – Val do Salnes
1015: Martin Codax – founded 1985 and named after a famous local 13th century troubadour, this co-op has 285 shareholders and works with 600 total growers (including long-term contracts) who farm 3,500 small plots. Grapes are bought by quality, between five ando ten percent are rejected but growers can’t sell outside of the co-op. This is the first time we’ve seen granite trellis posts (much more available and less expensive than wood) and pergola trellising (to hoist the grapes above the wet ground). Here we also taste tank samples of Albariño wines (prior to blending) from the three major subzones of the DO:
Salnes – mineral, salt/lime, flint
Condado – vegetal, lime/ash, yelapple
Rosal – tree fruit, ginger/honey, lemon zest
1215: Pazo de Senorans – shepherded around by the grande dame of the Rias Baixas Albariño DOC, this place is also a significant distillery with a special eau de vie project. Harvest takes place during the day and selections are made in the vineyard (which also moderates this grape’s natural high acidity). Lunch in the restored house.
1700: Pazo Baion – Five km from the sea with a 22 ha contiguous vineyard producing a single estate Albariño (vineyards of this size are very unusual in Rias Baixas). The vineyard comes in three sections and the sun shines all day when it’s not raining. Was once the lair of a drug lord but was recently renovated by a group that pledges five percent of all profits to fight drug abuse.
1930: we head to our new hotel in Pontevedre, again a Parador (a nice, local chain).
2100: Dinner at Eirau de Lena w/Mar de Frades and Ramon Bilbao winemaker (for Rias Baixas) who makes a special Albariño wine with four grams of residual sugar per liter.
Wed 5/6 – O Rosal
0900: tasting at Rias Baixas Consejo Regulador – 15 wines at 9am!
1015: visit to Pontevedra market – fish, chorizo, and flowers abound.
1130: Terras Gauda – in addition to great wines, they run a poster competition every two years and proudly display the winners and runners-up in the tasting room. They produce wines from an unusual variety (Caino Blanco) which they rescued from oblivion and is pretty much grown only in the Rosal Valley (also a bit in Portugal). It is a difficult grape because it is late ripening, and 90 percent of it is grown at Terras Gauda.
1345: Santiago Ruiz – including lunch. 49 years old this year, sold to LAN (in Rioja) 10-15 years ago.
1700: Adegas Valminor – the owner is the wife of the Terras Gauda winemaker. She also rescued an indigenous, this time red, variety, and has planted seven hectares. Another unusual wine here is a 100-percent Loureiro.
2100: dinner at Cinco Puertas restaurant with Bodegas Castro Martin, a midsize winery represented by Frederick Wildman. The wife’s father built the first large winery in Rias Baixas, everyone thought he was mad but he was really an innovator.
Thu 5/7 – Condado de Tea
1015: La Val – most wines here are 100 percent Albariño but they do make a three-grape traditional blend, as well (Albariño, Loureiro, Texadoras). One of the most southernmost wine growing areas in Rias Baixas and leads the harvest almost every year. Alluvial soil (no granite) with lots of round river rocks.
1200: Pazo San Mauro – including lunch. Christina (the winemaker) is the wife of Emilio (from Terras Guada). This property was bought in 2003 and then extensively renovated. The owning family is from Rioja but wanted to expand to other areas with estate-owned fruit from autochthonous varieties. Very close to river dividing Spain from Portugal.
1600: Senorio de Rubios – In a land filled with white wine, here red varieties are prevalent. We visited a small vineyard plot on the way, much more traditional than the large vineyards we’ve spent a lot of time seeing.
2100: dinner at La Ultramar by Pepe Vieira with Paco y Lola – another winery coop with 400+ members and very prevalent in the U.S. market. The restaurant was terrific and very modern in style, but the food is generally traditional with modern twists.
0730: To Vigo Airport for flights home.
Organized tours such as this one of Rias Baixas, Spain, allow me the opportunity to learn more about wine and to transmit that knowledge to you. Thanks to the official Consorzo of Rias Baixas and Cornerstone PR for this particular trip, and to my traveling companions Kristan Schiller of Fodors, Cathy Huyghe of Forbes.com, May Matta-Aliah of In the Grape, and Sheri de Borchgrave of Cottages & Gardens. I hope we can travel together again soon. As previously mentioned, I’ll be in Catalonia and Barcelona at the beginning of June and will report on that region at that point.
BEN WILL BE IN CATALONIA, SPAIN INCLUDING BARCELONA JUNE 3 – 9
Ben has been invited to tour the food and wine of Catalonia (including Barcelona) at the beginning of June. Follow along with him on Twitter (@WineOnTheRoad), Facebook (Wine On The Road), LinkedIn (Benjamin Weinberg) and Foursquare (Ben Weinberg).
BEN’S ARTICLE ON WINERY BEEKEEPING IN EDIBLE MARIN AND WINE COUNTRY MAGAZINE’S SPRING EDITION
Ben has an article about wineries that keep and employ bees on their properties in the spring edition of Edible Marin and Wine Country Magazine (www.ediblemarinandwinecountry.com). The summer edition will include stories on the recent Napa earthquake and also the Rutherford Dust Society. Check it out!
BEN’S WINE COUNTRY PICTURES ARE FOR SALE
Have you ever read one of Ben’s columns and wondered how it would look to have one of his incredibly vivid, high resolution pictures of wine country framed on your wall? We’re now offering various size prints of his quirky photography at Pixels.com, where you can also add his images to smartphone cases, greeting cards, and many other items. Pictures can be ordered loose or matted and framed in various sizes. Click Here to take a peek.
WINE ON THE ROAD’S LUXURIOUS, BEHIND-THE-SCENES WINE TOURS
With Wine On The Road (www.wineontheroad.com), my wine-focused touring company, you can enjoy the ultimate wine country excursion with special access to top winemakers and their incomparable wines. Wine On The Road offers intimate wine country tours that combine award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor. We lodge at excellent and luxurious wine country estates (in the past we’ve occupied ancient yet completely restored castles as well as five-star resorts, all with modern amenities). We eat at amazing local restaurants and visit wineries that embody the best, most authentic expressions of local wine grapes.
You can learn more about these trips, book private groups in wine country world-wide and request more information on any of these extraordinary travel experiences by visiting www.wineontheroad.com, emailing me at email@example.com, or calling me at 303-522-6738.
Burgans Albariño 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Ltyel/mint, ash/apricot, ginger/himod
Burgans Albariño 2013 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $13
Ltyel/apricot, watermelon/lemonade, ginger/hilong
Martin Codax Albariño 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Ltyel/pineapple, eucalyptus/orange zest, vanilla/hilong
Martin Codax Albariño 2013 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $16
Ltyel/bluegrass, lemon peel/whpeach, lime/himod
Pazo Senorans Albariño 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Paleyel/prickly pear, yelsquash/yelpear, banana/medmod
Pazo Senorans Albariño 2013 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $25
Pale/apricot, lemon curd/limeade, white rasp/hilong
Pazo Baion Albariño 2013 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Pale/green apple, lime/green pear, herbal/himod
Condes de Albarei Albariño 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $18
Pale/lime, star fruit/apricot, mustard/himod
Ramon Bilbao Albariño 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $16
Marigold/pinea, starfr/ginger, lime peel/hilong
Bodegas Aquitania Bernon Albariño 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $14
Pale/srcherry, yelpear/lime zest, hay/hilong
Pablo Garcia Cebeiro Pablo de Galegos Private Selection 2013 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Gold/egg yolk, yelpeach/red apple, ginger/himod
Adegas Gran Vinum Esencia Divina 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Chalkyel/lemon zest, yelpeach/grpfrt, starfrt/hiking
Adegas Morgadio Morgadio 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Pale/sweet tart/lemonade, swcherry/himod
Santiago Ruiz O Rosal 2013 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $18
Yelgold/apricot, ginger/mandorange, flint/hilong
Terras Gauda La Mar 2012 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $35
Gold/whpepp, grpapaya/tang, ash/hilong
Terras Gauda Albariño Anadia de San Campo 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Gold/sunfl, pinkgrpfrt/grmelon, flint/himod
Terras Gauda O Rosal 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Gold/lemonade, melon/tangerine, grpfrt/hilong
Valminor Ebano M-100 2009 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Gold/yelpear, vanilla/yelapple, dried apricot/himod
Valminor Ebano Davila Rosal 2013 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Gold/peach, honey/red apple, ash/hilong
Valminor Ebano Albariño Valminor 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Sunflower/cream, lemon curd/squash, hay/medmod
Valminor Ebano Albariño Valminor 2013 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Sunflower/cream, lemon curd/squash, hay/medmod
Bodegas Castro Martin Albariño Sobre Lias 2009 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Sun/pinea, Mandarin orange/yel grpfrt, mango/hilong
H2O Albariño 2013 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Hay/orange peel & pith/honeydew melon pink grpfrt
Bodegas La Val Albariño Finca Arantei 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $20
Hay/mushroom, lemon curd/starfrt, white flower/himod
Bodegas La Val Albariño La Val 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $15
Pale/kiwi, apricot/lime peel, ash/hilong
Bodegas La Val Mas Que 2 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Pale/starfrt, bitter orange/lemon peel, cardamom/himod
Marques de Vargas Sanamaro 2012 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Gold/yelapple, pineapple/whcherry, whpepp/hilong
Pazo San Mauro Albariño 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $19
Rose, whpeach/limeade, ginger/himod
Senorio de Rubios Albariño 2014 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Pale/eucalyptus, lime pith/apricot, flint/himod
Senorio de Rubios Manuel D’Amaro Pedral 2011 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Blkred/cereal, blkch/pomegr, dkchoc/himod
Senorio de Rubios Souson 2013 (Rias Baixas, Spain) $N/A
Blkpurple/cuke, blkolive/sourch, granite/himod