Imagine a wine region being granted official “appellation” status for a single grape variety. Actually, you don’t need to imagine.
That is the story of Rías Baixas (ree-ahs-buy-shuss), generally considered the most important Denomination of Origin in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain. The DO was formally established in 1988, and owes much of its acclaim to the white Albariño (al-ba-ree-nyo) grape.
In Spain, Albariño is held in the same high esteem as Cabernet Sauvignon in California or Bordeaux.
The history of the DO dates to 1980, when an official denomination was created specifically for the Albariño variety. When Spain entered the European Union in 1986, however, the name was changed to Rías Baixas because EU wine laws did not recognize a DO named for a single grape variety. (Since 1988, the DO has complied with all Spanish and EU wine regulations.)
A beautiful green area, Rías Baixas has been likened to a vision of the Garden of Eden. The lush land is characterized by rías—deep, wide inlets of water that encroach many miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. The southern group of these rías is known as Rías Baixas (the lower estuaries).
Rías Baixas vineyards are all located within the province of Pontevedra in Galicia. There are 8,650 acres under vine, with more than 6,500 growers and almost 20,000 individual vineyard plots, ranging from 330 feet to 985 feet above sea level in altitude. Almost 100% of the wine produced in the region bears the DO designation.
The cool, damp climate is defined by its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. However, there are varying microclimates within the five different designated sub-zones of the region:
- Val do Salnés, the birthplace of the Albariño grape
- Condado do Tea, located in a fairly mountainous area along the Miño.
- O Rosal, known for its granite bedrock and alluvial topsoil and terraced vineyards.
- Ribeira do Ulla, the newest sub-zone.
- Soutomaior, the smallest of the sub-zones.