The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2016

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august 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  79 With summer still rolling along and our wine-drinking consciousness exploring the lighter side of wine to quench our palates, Spain's Albariño wines, from DO Rías Baixas in the verdant Northwest region of the wine-rich Iberian Peninsula, seem to be the perfect fit. This year's go-to wine in the category for the country's more adventurous sommeliers, Albariño seems to capture in one wine everything that those tasked with pairing wines professionally look to feature on their lists and by-the-glass programs. Florals, minerality and warm-weather cuisine's favorite counterpart: acidity. Barely on the radar a decade ago, Albariño and Rías Baixas have slowly gained a following among the savvy somms for their unique ability to adapt to a variety of different pairing scenarios. Much of this is due to the fact that Albariño is not from just one place, but from a variety of different locations within a classified region. So just what is it that makes Rías Baixas unique? It starts with the host region itself: Galicia. Affectionately known as "Green Spain" due to a climate that is dramatically different from that of the rest the country, Galicia's growing conditions are cooler and wetter than Spain's mostly arid central plateau, home to many of the country's better-known winemaking regions. Albariño, which as a varietal is thought to have northern European ancestry, is happy in this environment, and the wines of Rías Baixas get much of their character from the moderating sea air of the Atlantic Ocean and granite-based soils of the "Fingers of God"—the narrow estuarine inlets on Spain's Atlantic coast where the DO (Denominación de Origin) is located. Originally registered as DO Albariño in 1980, the name was changed to DO Rías Baixas upon Spain's entering the E.U. in 1986 in order to comply with regulations against single varietals being given denomination status. Regardless of the dates, the growing areas of Rías Baixas actu- ally have a very long history of making wine, with records dating back to the 12th century. White wines have always been the focus—99 percent of all wine made in Rías Baixas is white—and while other varieties are planted, Albariño is the predominant white grape. Made up of five distinctly different grow- ing areas (sub-regions) scattered throughout the four rivers— Arousa, Miño, Pontevedra and Vigo—that are home to the DO, Rías Baixas translates to "lower estuaries" and refers to the aforementioned inlets. Albariño adapts equally well to all of them and shows remarkable individuality depending on where it is made. The sub-regions—O Rosal, Condado do Tea, Soutomaior, Val do Salnés, and Ribeira do Ulla—stretch north from the Portuguese border to just south of the city of Santiago de Campostela, terminus of the famed Christian pilgrimage trail through Northern Spain. Though unproven, there is a theory that the trail may play a significant part in why Albariño exists in Galicia, as it is thought that the variety was originally introduced to the region at the hands of Cistercian monks from Alsace who settled the Monastery of Armenteira. Of the five sub-regions, Val do Salnés, O Rosal, and Condado do Tea are the best known, Soutomaior is the smallest and Ribeira do Ulla is the newest to the DO. O Rosal is the most southerly. Situated on the north bank of the Miño River, which separates Spain from Portugal, O Rosal hugs the coast and, like much of Rías Baixas, features vineyards of granite bedrock topped by alluvial topsoil. The Albariño from O Rosal tends to be a bit softer, showing hints of peach and stone fruit with strong citrus notes. Terras Gauda, one of the more critically acclaimed wines from Rías Baixas, is made here. Condado do Tea is bit further inland along the Miño River. The second-largest sub-region, it is also the hottest and driest. Albariño from here tends to have good depth and flavor profiles run from chalkiness to wines of rich mouthfeel filled with citrus. PHOTO: JEREMY BALL Aged beef steak tartare, smoked trout caviar, toast, mustard seeds, olive purée, capers, white anchovies, Maldon sea salt, black pepper and a six minute egg over fried onion rings paired with Pazo San Mauro Albarño at Mundaka. (left) Chef Brandon Miller of Mundaka in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA.

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