Located in the northwestern corner of Spain, the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) Rias Baixas is home to the Albariño grape. It consists of three distinct districts: the Salnes Valley (Val do Salnès); El Condado de Tea; and Ò Rosal. The terrain varies greatly between the three districts. The Salnès valley is located at sea level; El Candado de Tea is mountainous; and Ò Rosal is an area of terraced land along the Bajo Miño River, which is the natural bound‐ ary between Portugal and Spain. Within these three districts, several grape varietals are classified for growing in D.O. Rias Baixas: Albariño, Treixadura, Loureira, Caiño, and Torrontes. It is the Albariño varietal which has brought fame to this area of Spain known politically and culturally as “Galicia.” Over the last 15 years the Consejo Regulador of the D.O.
Rias Baixas has implemented stricter regulations for this region’s wine industry. The wines from each district must contain a minimum amount of Albariño and then may be blended with other “authorized” varietals. In the Val do Salnès a minimum of 70‐percent Albariño is required, with the remaining 30‐percent consisting of any or all of the other remaining authorized varietals. In El Condado de Tea Albariño and Treixadura are blended up to 70‐percent, while the remaining 30‐percent may consist of any or all of the authorized varietals. In Ò Rosal Albariño is blended with Loureira up to 70‐percent, with the remaining 30‐ percent from the authorized varietals. Wines from any of the three regions consisting solely of Albariño are considered “pure.”
There are three theories as to how the Albariño grape came to Spain. One theory is that French monks from Cluny in Burgundy, France, brought the Albariño grape along with several others (e.g. Chardonnay and Mazuelo) to Spain during the 12th‐ and 13th‐centuries during the Crusades. (Santiago de Compostelo, capital of Galica, was the first city on the pilgrimage route to Jerusalem from France at this time.) These monks are responsible for influencing not only Galicia, but Rioja, Navarra, and Penedés. Less popular and widely contested is the idea that Albariño is genetically linked to the Riesling grape of Germany and Alsace. This probably is derived from the similar flavors on the nose and palette in wines made from the two varietals. On‐going research is leading to the acceptance of the theory that Albariño is an indigenous grape to Galicia and northern Portugal. Albariño grapes are medium‐sized, grow on short bunches, and are generally low‐yielding.
Since the entire area borders the Atlantic Ocean, the climate is the wettest in Spain. The annual rainfall in O Salnès averages 50 inches; and when not raining, the area can expect to be overcast. As a result of the weather, red varietals such as: Caiño, Mencía, Espadeiro, and Souson have a particularly hard time maturing without rot, but are grown and experimented with. The white varietals have managed to acclimate much more successfully with a little help from modern technology. Today, the grapes are trellised by laying them parallel to the ground across the wiring, which is elevated five feet off the ground. This is commonly known as the“pergola” method. This practice enables the growers to maximize the sun’s rays and to prevent rot and fungus. The soil is sandy and shallow with a granite base, and slightly acidic with a pH of 4‐6 ̊.