Spain has many claims to fame in the wine world but it will always hold a special place in my heart for being home to the wine region that is the most fun to say: Rias Baixas. Confoundingly difficult to wrap one’s English tongue around, as is most of the Galician language, this small region produces wines that most white wine lovers should want to wrap around their tongues.
For the record it’s reeyahs-bye-shuss, and it is tucked into the far northwest corner of Spain near the border with Portugal and the Atlantic ocean. Were it not for the fact that the Canary Islands also produce wine, Rias Baixas would be Spain’s Westernmost growing region. Rimming the bottom of the Spanish state of Galicia, Rias Baixas, like perhaps the Mosel in Germany or Chianti in Italy, is most known for, and indeed exists entirely because of a wine made from a single grape variety.
While it is permissible to grow other varieties such as Torrontes, Godello, and even some red varieties like Mencia there, it was Albariño which the Cistercian monks brought with them to Galicia in the 12th century, and it is this grape variety that has become synonymous with the region.
With a long cultural history in this cool region of Spain populated by hearty seafaring folk, Albariño from Rias Baixas has always been famous, but it has not always been good. Of course it’s hard to know just how good the region’s white wine was in 1375, but even if it was fantastic, we know that by the early part of the 20th century, it wasn’t so hot. Producers made a lot of of wine, sold it locally, and folks were content to drink it, both for tradition’s sake, as well as because its flavors have always been a part of the local oceanic-influenced cuisine.
Like much of the rest of Spain, however, there came a point a few decades ago that Rias Baixas was shaken awake to the possibility of building a new era of greatness for its wines.
Jose Antonio Lopez may well have been the man doing the shaking. Perhaps more than anyone, Lopez may single-handedly responsible for the rebirth of greatness in Rias Baixas, and the global recognition of Albariño as one of the distinctive regional white wines of Europe. Through decades of tireless promotion combined with the education and encouragement of growers and winemakers to improve the quality of their products, Lopez has helped to bring about a revolution in the quality and distinction of the region’s wine.
Lopez began his crusade to rescue the all-but-forgotten Albariño by founding and managing the Morgadio estate more than twenty years ago. In 1996 he began the new label Lusco do Mino. Through a bit of luck as well as Lopez’s sheer persistence, in 2001 the Lusco estate managed to purchase what may be one of Spain’s single best plots of Albariño: the 12-acre Pazo Pineiro vineyard, which is named after the 16th century manor house “pazo” on the property. Lopez has since moved his winemaking operations into this building, whose meter-thick walls of stone make for ideal winemaking and cellaring conditions.
I don’t know a lot about how this particular wine was made, but I do know about Lopez’s personal philosophy when it comes to Albariño. In his mind it should be treated like the Viognier of Condrieu in the Northern Rhone. Which is to say, picked ripe and aged (if not fermented, too) at least partially in French oak.
Light gold in color, this wine has a refreshing and cool nose of apple and wet chalkboard minerality. In the mouth it is thicker than might be expected, with a weight on the tongue uncharacteristic of the region, but nothing if not sensuous in quality. The primary flavors of green apple, lemon juice, and a stony minerality are knit together in a nice medley of freshness with good acidity and a pleasant finish.
We had this wine with cherry tomatoes stuffed with anchovies, and the fruit and acidity of the wine complemented the briny and sweet combination of the dish.
Overall Score: 9
How Much?: $42
This wine is available for purchase on the internet.