Many regions throughout the world are known for a particular specialty—gastronomic or otherwise—but some more than others have the ability to conjure up vivid sensory memories. One such region is northwestern Spain’s Rías Baixas. To the uninitiated, this may just look like a confusingly-spelled set of words. But to those who have visited or tasted the wines and cuisine of this region, the phrase “Rías Baixas” is enough to make the mouth water, evoking the sensation of salinity in many different forms: a refreshing glass of white wine, a briny seafood meal, or the crisp, fresh air of a picturesque oceanside vista.The wines of Rías Baixas owe much of their personality to the geography and terroir of the lush, verdant region. Situated along the Atlantic Coast, the relatively modern DO (established in the 1980s) is unique within Spain for its focus on white grapes, which thrive in this relatively cool, damp corner of the country. The name “Rías Baixas” (pronounced “re-ass by-shuss”) comes from Galician—”rías” is the word for the sharp estuaries that cut in to the “baixas,” or the lower-altitude region of southern Galicia. These narrow, finger-like bodies of water that stretch inland from the Atlantic Ocean contain a mix of fresh and salt water, making them an ideal home to an incredibly diverse array of delicious maritime creatures that make up the cuisine of the region. Hard granite soils combined with mineral-rich alluvial top soils provide optimal growing conditions for top quality white wine production.The other key component of this region is its star grape variety: Albariño. While other varieties are permitted, Albariño makes up the vast majority of plantings, and with good reason. It has the ability to produce distinctive wines that maintain their unique varietal character in a wide range of styles, owing both to the diversity of the five different sub-zones and to winemaking decisions such as maceration length, the use of wild yeast, barrel fermentation and ageing, malolactic fermentation, and lees contact.Texturally, Albariño typically falls somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, while flavor-wise, floral perfume, zesty citrus, stone fruit, and minerality are ubiquitous. In the warmer sub-regions of Rías Baixas, ripe melon and peach flavors dominate, while bottlings from cooler climes are often marked by lean acidity as well as grapefruit and lemon notes. An undercurrent of salinity runs through most examples, making them an unparalleled pairing with the region’s plentiful seafood offerings. The Albariño grape is so integral to the style of the wine produced in Rías Baixas that the name of the variety is printed on every bottle—a practice rarely seen elsewhere in Spain (or most of Europe, for that matter).Thanks to the adaptability of Albariño and its friendly, near-universal appeal, the Rías Baixas DO has something to offer just about every white wine drinker. These wines can be enjoyed year-round, but are especially delightful during the summer, when warm, sunny weather calls for a crisp, refreshing beverage. They sing when paired with any kind of marine life—particularly oysters or scallops—but are equally fantastic on their own. If you can’t make it to Spain for a vacation this summer, a bottle of Rías Baixas Albariño just might be the next best thing.
Fall indicators become apparent after the Labor Day Weekend with school back in session and the leaves on the trees about to change color. But many parts are enjoying an Indian summer with unusually warm temperatures. On those hot days, I always recommend dry and aromatic whites from the Mediterranean. Specifically, I’m quick to mention the array of Italian white varietals for the dinner table and barbecue gatherings. Where can you find more varietal options than Italy, which holds claim to over 2,000 native varietals?The Italian White category is one of the most underrated categories in the White Kingdom for the QPR (Quality Price Ratio)! Another perk is that the category offers a great range of pairing options from semi soft cheeses to the foods of the sea. Also, let’s not forget the antipasti course. The most known Italian grape is Pinot Grigio hands down, which hails from the Northeastern corridor of the country: Alto Adige, Collio, Friuli, Trentino and the Veneto. But, let’s not forget the wonders of Southern Italy, where many native cultivars date back to Phoenician and Greco-Roman times. There’s no better place to start in the South than Campania, the district that surrounds Naples, and where the grapes Falanghina, Fiano and Greco di Tufo take center stage. These varietals languished for several decades, but now have made a roaring comeback, making Campania the center of the Southern Italian Wine Renaissance. Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, has followed suit over the last 15 years, with wine imports recently hitting an all-time high. Importers are finally bringing in an array of wines made from ancient varietals like Inzolia, Catarratto, Ansonica and Grecanico. Several noted houses blend Inzolia and Chardonnay together. The finest producers make incredible blends from several of the above mentioned grapes – these are worth seeking out. Zipping over to Sardinia, or Sardegna to natives, Vementino takes prominence in the northern portion of the island. Galluria is the most noted and prized D.O.C.G. for this region. Vermentino also grows in Tuscany, but the exotic fruit characteristics on the nose and palate really shine through with the Sardinian rendition. The common denominator for all these Southern Italian whites are great price points, praise from the press, alluring aromatics, exotic fruit notes braced by excellent minerality and acidity, versatile food pairing wines, and alcohol levels are in check (12.0%-13.5% alc.) without the use of cumbersome oak. Both the neophyte and serious enthusiast can find tremendous benefits from this category. My highly recommended picks: Falanghina: Terredora, Irpinia D.O.C., Campania 2008 Greco: Feudi di San Gregorio, di Tufo D.O.C.G., Campania 2007 Ansonica-Catarratto blend: Donnafugata “Anthìlia”, Sicily IGT 2007 Inzolia, Catarratto & Grecanico blend: Regaleali Bianco, Sicily IGT 2007 Vermentino: Argiolas “Costamolino”, Sardegna D.O.C. 2008