Rías Baixas (ree-ahs-buy-shuss) is the most important Denomination of Origin (DO) 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, which has been elevated by many in Spain and abroad to near-cult status.
The history of the DO dates back to 1980, when an official denomination was created specifically for the Albariño grape variety. When Spain entered the European Union in 1986, however, the denomination was changed to Rías Baixas because EU wine laws did not recognize a DO named for a single grape variety.
The Rías Baixas DO is regulated by the Consejo Regulador (local governing body), which ensures adherence to permitted grape varieties, viticultural practices, winemaking and aging procedures.
Rίas 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 in altitude.
The cool, damp climate is dominated 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, Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Ribeira do Ulla and Soutomaior.
While 12 grape varieties are permitted in the DO, the white Albariño grape represents 90% of all plantings. Other important grapes include Treixadura, traditionally blended with Albariño, and Loureiro, a high-quality local variety associated primarily with O Rosal. Caiño Blanco, Torrontes and Godello are planted to a lesser extent around the region.
While most wines do not see oak, there is a move toward barrel fermentation using French, American and native Galician oak. More and more vintners also are putting their wines through full or partial malolactic fermentation. In addition to imparting a creamier, fuller character, this helps the wines to age gracefully.