Rias Baixas

Members’ trip: Rias Baixas

Earlier this summer five winners from our Rias Baixas food-pairing competition headed off to Galicia to immerse themselves in the region’s food and wine. We found out what they learned and what they loved.

Rias Baixas is one of the world’s most beautiful and distinctive wine regions. With its giant sea lochs (Rias) it looks more like Norway or Scotland than Spain. And sometimes it can have a climate to match. There’s a reason that this Atlantic coast is known as ‘green Spain’ – mist and drizzle can be very much part of the scenery!

But our winners didn’t let the damp weather get them down, and they were bursting to tell us all about their discoveries when they got back.

Viorel, Harry, Isobel, Pippa, minder Alison and Alessia at their first visit

Isobel Salamon, Eden Lock Hotel

The trip was brilliant. This part of Spain has always been a bit of weak area for me and I learned a hell of a lot.

I’m a sucker for a vertical tasting – so trying Marqués de Vizhoja’s ‘Señor da Folla Verde’ from 2020, 2017 and then the 2011 side by side was a mind spin. With age the bottles’ flavours evolved from wild mint, light lemon curd and smokey liquorice, into these big opulent notes of Guylian seashells, buttery polenta and creme caramel. It was a true delight and will definitely go down as a life highlight.

As for things I learned, well, the land here is green for a reason. It was wet while we were there – they need those pergolas! But the winemaking region is really trying to grow. They are playing around with so many different concepts and getting to see how these ideas translate into a glass was fascinating. I’m now hoping to see more non-traditional Albariños in the UK soon: sparkling, orange and even sweet wines. 

The trip definitely changed my view on the variety. I’ve always enjoyed it as a light, easy drinking crowd pleaser. But it’s really versatile too. Seeing the various experimental Albariño styles and flavour profile gained through the different ageing vesses has opened my eyes to a world of new delicious notes to play off. Creme caramel and old Albariño anyone?

Star wine/food match.

The best wine goes to Attis Wines’ Sitta Ancestros. The 60 months it spends in old oak have brought it to life. I can still taste those thick praline and white chocolatey notes and really would like a glass right now!

The food was a highlight throughout the trip
This, at Granbazan was particularly good…
And always great with the wine. Pix Isobel Salamon

Viorel Filip, Benares

Throughout the trip, everything was fantastic. Meeting so many new people, forging long-lasting memories, hearing so many stories, and experiencing genuine and honest hospitality was such a rewarding experience. It is my belief that every wine professional should have the opportunity to visit and experience Rias Baixas for themselves. It was the trip of a lifetime!

It was interesting to me that this trip was not just about Albariño, as one might think. From whites and rosés to reds and sparkling wines, and from classic dry and refreshing to lusciously sweet, this region has a vast array of wines.

The Rias Baixas is a place of history and tradition, but also modernity. Winemakers are constantly trying new ways to innovate to inspire future generations of wine lovers, while respecting Rias Baixas’ authenticity and history.

I’ve always thought that Albariño and Rias Baixas wines are magnificent but underappreciated, and soon it will rise and shine. As a result of meeting all these passionate producers, I am pretty sure this moment will come sooner than expected.

Star wine/food match

I am a huge fan of Champagne – a firm believer that there is no higher quality sparkling wine on earth. But after tasting the sparkling Albariño from Martin Codax, I can safely say that Champagne has a real competitor. It could become the leading super-star of Rias Baixas – the combination of sparkling Albariño and seafood is a match made in heaven.

Tiny vineyards, granite posts, high-trained vines. Classic Rias Baixas
Young Albarino grapes – pix Viorel Filip

Alessia Ferrarello, Sat Bains

I have always been a big supporter of the Albariño grape and this region – not only for their gastronomical potential, but also because I personally love Albariño and I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to share my passion with many people from all over the world. The trip has just reinforced my love for both.

The beauty of all the small vineyards immersed in the plush green of the region, trained with the traditional ’emparrado’ system, sustained by the local granite poles will surely stick in my memory and will always come to mind when thinking of Rías Baixas. 

It was fascinating to listen to the producers talking about the difficulties of working with such an unpredictable climate. Everything is planned around the hazards that humidity can bring, and of course everything must be done by hand, not only following the DO regulations, but also, simply, because there is no other possible way when working with high trained canopy. Seeing it with your own eyes, and standing under the ‘parra’ really give you an idea of how labour intensive any operation in the vineyard must be.  

Star wine/food match

I generally have a penchant for ‘maritime’ wines, and Albariño must be the perfect example of it – especially the ones from Val do Salnés. My favourite overall was the salty, vertical, electric Granbazán Etiqueta Verde paired with the local, absolutely delicious, zamburiñas. What more can you ask for?

The ’emparrada’ vineyards mean everything must be done by hand in Rias Baixas

Harry Cooper, FENN Restaurant

Prior to this competition my understanding of Rias Baixas was fairly simple: Albariño grape, producing dry wines with high acidity, designed to be drunk young. How that has changed since!

We visited six producers, and each represented a different style, area or approach to production.

Martin Codax introduced me to Albariño manipulated with lees and oak, and I have since added their 2019 Lias (which goes through malolactic fermentation and is aged on fine lees for seven months) to my list at FENN where it’s been well received by both the team and customers.

The wines from Marques de Vizhoja in Condado de Tea, on the border with Portugal were probably most suited to my palate, especially their 2011 Senor de Folla Verde. A blend of 70% Albariño, 15% Loureiro and 15% Treixadura it was my favourite of the trip.

As well as learning how versatile Albariño is – I’m hoping producers will be allowed to include orange/rosé wines in the DO some time soon – I also discovered that the vineyards are mostly small holdings and farmed by local families and that great aged white wines are not limited to Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling. A ten year old Albariño can develop into something seductive.

Star wine/food match

Granbazan (whose 2020 Etiqueta Ambar I have been serving at FENN for months) served us a wonderful lunch. Their octopus “a Feira” was served as a starter, with mashed potatoes and was sensational. It paired perfectly with their Albariño Limousin 2019, where 30% of the bottle is fermented in oak from Burgundy for six months, with a further 18 months spent in stainless steel after blending.

The Albariño was typically crisp, but the time in toasty oak added several new dimensions of flavour. With the octopus, like a well conducted orchestra, it produced a beautiful symphony – a special memory for me.      

The pergola vineyards help keep vines away from damp earth
Inox, barrels, granite and amphorae at Attis (Pix: Harry Cooper)

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