We travelled with Raúl to the magical autonomous community of Galicia, Spain to taste Albariño from the DO Rías Baixas region, the most dominant region in Albariño production. We focused on Rías Baixas but there are five “Denominacions de Orixe” (DO) of Albariño in Galicia: Monterrei, Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, and Valdeorras.
There are some misconceptions as to where Albariño, the white grape varietal, originally came from. It was believed to be brought from the rhine valley in Germany through the Camino de Santiago (Alba = white and riño = rhine). However, this is in fact a false assumption, as Albariño originates from northwest Spain and Portugal.
Albariño is not the only grape produced in Galicia but approximately 90% of the grapes grown in Rías Baixas are Albariño. Rías Baixas, or “lower estuaries”, derives its name from the series of 4 estuarine inlets that litter its Atlantic coastline.
There are 5 subregions of Rías Baixas: Ribeira de Ulla, Val do Salnés, Soutomaior, Condado do Tea, and O Rosal. The area is known for its rainy climate but mild, consistent temperatures. The year round rainfall has made it essential to grow vines in a pergola system, where two rows of vines are joined horizontally to create an organic, rooflike shape, which is both visually beautiful and highly functional. This system allows the vines to flourish, keeping them from absorbing too much water. Grass is planted beneath the roof between the vines to aid in water absorption and granite soil is used to keep the vines from retaining an excessive amount of water.
Raúl told us that there is a considerable difference in the wines produced in the subregions of Rías Baixas due to the varying climates. For example, the colder, coastal climate of Val do Salnés lends to a more neutral flavor with not much character or complexity. He told us the best, most exclusive regions are the southern regions of O Rosal and Condado Do Tea, where wines have a more intense, mature flavor with notes of lemon and citrus, due to the area’s warmer climate.
Raúl insists that, due to global warming, Galicia is the future of wine production in Spain, yielding the highest quality wines in the country. We are already seeing signs of the region’s increasing popularity and specifically the DO Ribeira Sacra is said to be considered the next Burgundy of Europe.
Galicia, like its wines, is full of flavor and character, with its history and culture steeped in ancient celtic tradition. One such tradition is that of the Meigas (witches) who are believed to have mystical powers, with the ability to cure illness and get rid of evil. While visiting Galicia, you might hear the expression ¨haberlas haylas¨ which refers to the legend of these witches/magicians. The expression is used to suggest something that, though invisible to the naked eye, we know exists.
The celtic tradition has seeped into Galicia’s gastronomy as well. In addition to the Albariño, Raúl urges us to try the Queimada, a punch-like drink made from distilled wine with spices or coffee, sugar and fruit, prepared traditionally in a hollowed out pumpkin. It is part of ancient celtic tradition to light the punch on fire while reciting a spell, allowing special powers to be transmitted to its drinkers.
Galicia is known worldwide for its fresh seafood and octopus is a particularly revered dish in Rías Baixas. The octopus is most often prepared in the traditional method known as “scaring the octopus”. The creature is dipped into boiling water three times quickly before finally being released into the pot and left to cook for 15 minutes. The dish pairs fantastically with a cold glass of Albariño from Rías Baixas!
Grab your bottle of Albariño and your witches hat and join us this Saturday to delve into the wondrous world of Galician wine, food, and culture!
For more information on our Tasting & Tapas: Spanish Saturdays with Raúl Orantes, click HERE!
Written by Meg Emmitt, Insider