Not all of Spain is sun drenched and rain free. Rías Baixas (pronounced ‘Ree-ass By-shuss’ for the linguists) can be as wet as the British Isles. The Iberian land mass is one of the first places the rain clouds gathered over the Atlantic can relieve themselves.
What it does have over us Brits though, is a slightly warmer temperature and while it’s harder to grow full bodied reds, the standout wine from here is perhaps Spain’s most lauded and famous white grape – Albariño.
Albariño thrives in wet conditions (due to its thick skin) and expresses itself with bracing citrus and peach flavours. A dry wine that is great for quaffing, but really at its best with food and especially with the delicious produce from the region.
The other industry of note in Galicia is fishing. The rugged coastline is packed with fjord-like inlets (the ‘Rías’ in Rías Baixas) which are perfect for landing shellfish.
But this part of Spain is also home to a proportion of her Atlantic fishing fleet, so it’s no surprise that seafood dominates the cuisine. Treats like Pulpo a la Gellega – boiled Octopus (until al dente – in case you are attempting at home) - doused in Pimenton (the local Paprika) and olive oil are very popular.
Perhaps an easier dish to attempt at home might be Gambas a la Plancha (grilled prawns). Get the best and biggest prawns you can afford, grill for a few minutes on either side (on a griddle) and then serve immediately with lemon wedges, salt and a glug of olive oil.
And the best wine to pair with it?…. Of course, it’s a glass of Castelo do Mar Albarino
This wine is amazing value for its type. Made with grapes grown in the Condado do Tea (the Valley of Tea – nothing to do with the drink – Tea is a river), which hugs the Portuguese border about 10 miles from the Atlantic coast.
There you’ll find a granite-rich soil friendly to the vine, which allows for less chemical interference and a lower natural acidity (the wine is still mouth-watering but in a more user-friendly sort of way). The trellising used in the vineyard is designed to allow as much sun exposure as possible. This is especially key in this area due to the aforementioned Atlantic drenchings it receives.
However, the Rías Baixas hasn’t always been known as a source of good quality wine. In fact, it really only emerged in the 1990’s (a bit like another fashionable white wine area - Marlborough in New Zealand).
Before that, although wine was being produced, it was invariably a basic wine drunk predominantly in the local area (interestingly using the Palomino grape variety, which is more famously utilised in Sherry production in the south of Spain).
The resulting Albariños were an almost overnight success (despite being grown in Rias Baixas and exported to Northern Europe since the 16th century!!).
This largely disappeared with the infestation of Phylloxera (a vine eating insect that was the single biggest pest to the wine industry and pretty much wiped out European wine production in some form or another in the 19th century – largely now controlled by vineyard techniques)
Adventurous wine drinkers in Spain and abroad took to this crisp refreshing wine with ease and nowadays it makes a regular appearance on wine lists and offers the drinker a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. The Albarino partners with food arguably in a more interesting way as the flavours tend to be less dominant, but powerful enough to stand up to strong flavours.
If you want to broaden your horizons and try something similar, then Vinho Verde from Portugal Quinta do Lixa is not the fuddy duddy/1980’s throwback wine you might imagine it to be.
At its best, it’s crisp, refreshing and very easy to enjoy. It’s closely related to Albarino, but produced on the other side of the border to Rias Baixas in Portugal and is usually a blend of local grapes (sometimes even Albarino (or Alvarinho in Portuguese)).
Another to try is the Verdicchio Classico from Fazi Battaglia. Grown close to the Adriatic midway along Italy’s eastern coastline, the Verdicchio grape is easily one of the best native white varietals. Fresh, crisp with rich, tangy taste and lovely, almond blossom note on the finish. Fazi Battaglia is one of the pioneers of this grape and make some of its most noted examples. A fantastic seafood wine, especially if you are in a shellfish mood.
Just trying something different is what makes wine exciting. Wines made by the sea usually have something special about them, as does the produce that comes out of the sea – marry them both together and the result is spellbinding.