Rias Baixas is not your usual Spanish wine region. Instead of the Mediterranean landscape that comes to mind when thinking about the country’s vineyards, a picture of this terroir would be closer to a postcard from Donegal than to a sun holiday at the Iberian Peninsula.
Albariño is not your usual Spanish wine either. The product of this rainy land that thanks to the right soils and smart wine-making is able to produce fine and refreshing white wines, is a crispy, dry and elegant wine with a distinct mineral quality and flavours that perfectly match the local speciality: seafood.
Last Thursday 9th of June we were part of Dublin’s Albariño Trail, where guided by the expert Lisa O’Doherty a group of wine lovers was invited to taste some of the finest Albariños in town, skillfully matched with carefully chosen dishes at three different locations.
ACT I: THE SHELBOURNE
Lisa O’Doherty explained how Rias Baixas is a small but interesting DO within the Galician region in Northwestern Spain. Most of the producers are part of co-ops and many vineyards are family-run operations. Maritime influence helps to overcome the heavy rainfall, and the terroir is tough on grapes (granite mother rock and a mix of clay, silt, sand and gravel for the plants to cling to) but gives them all they need for top quality wines.
Albariño Agnus Dei: Citrusy, delicate, light bodied and with a quiet mineral flavour. This was paired with natural oysters and its freshness and acidity were ideal to enhance the shellfish. It also worked well with the Fivemiletown goat’s cheese mousse with pickled spring vegetables.
Albariño Pazo Barrantes: Richer and slightly more voluptuous, it showed that it came from a warmer part of Rias Baixas. Delightful aromas of pineapple and tropical fruit helped it to keep up with natural Dungarvan smoked oysters with truffled leeks, also a stronger bite. Also a good companion to the Dingle cured salmon with Liscannor crab served on the evening.
ACT II: SUESEY STREET
Later that day, the group walked to the second venue where an inviting al fresco table was set for them on a relaxed and lively garden area. As the guests sat down and the wines were poured, we learned that 99 per cent of the wine made in Rias Baixas is white and although there are eight different grapes allowed in the DO, Albariño varietals are usually the norm occupying about 90 per cent of the planted surface.
Rula Albariño: Pale and light bodied, this was a very popular choice among the present and its green melon notes were praised by most, as well as the dainty apricot aromas that mellowed the mineral side of it. The wine was assigned a tricky quest, as it was drank along New season asparagus, Clogher head crab meat and lemon mayonnaise (and it is known that asparagus likes to challenge most glasses). Victorious, it showed Albariño’s versatility.
Condes de Alberei: Again, as it should be done, the second wine was a little richer. This time citrus punch came to mind after tasting, thanks to its pleasant mix of lime and passion fruit. The pairing was also good, although this time it came as no surprise since Salted cod brandade, basil créme fraiche and salsa verde are classic Galician flavours and a proven match to the varietal.
ACT III: BRIOCHE
As the sun’s shift was ending, so was the Albariño Trail. The care that farmers put into Albariño harvesting was again highlighted by Lisa who explained how a mix of technology and love make things possible. Handpicking, early morning work, transport in small baskets and cold room storage are common practices in Rias Baixas to ensure that the grapes are happy and willing to give their best to the wine-makers.
Val do Sosego: A textbook example of what an Albariño is supposed to be. Very refreshing and with a lemony character and a beach-evoking minerality, it went well with the creative rendition of an ubiquitous dish: Braised leek and potato with artichokes, a deconstruction of the popular soup.
Terras Gauda O Rosal: The night’s only blend was saved for last. It was 70 per cent Albariño, 20 per cent Loureiro and 10 per cent Caiño Blanco, which acted on the combination as spices would do on a dish. With the added character of the other two varieties, this Albariño wasn’t textbook at all. Aromas that reminded us to lemon curd and key lime pie gave the blend the strength to face a Ham terrine, pickled onions and spiced pinapple relish. The combat for our taste buds ended up in a hug and all was well.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.