Food, wine, travel, music
Located in the north west of Spain, Rias Baixas is by far the best region to deliver Albarino, a white wine made from a white grape grown in the region for centuries. While Portugal tries its best, it comes far down the list of even the lesser producers in Rias Baixas. The largest sub-zone Val do Salnés has the best quality and 99% of the grapes grown there are Albarino.
At the popular and largest producer named Martin Codax, 180 wineries and co-ops covering 2,500 hectares of land contribute to the company. Martin Codax welcome visitors for tasting, but ring first. They have a function room for events. The wine is full on fruity, often a bit too much for food at times. Not as elegant as other wines mentioned below, but easy to drink and satisfying on its own. It’s widely available in Ireland and the UK and is a good introduction to the grape type. www.martincodax.com
Top of the Albarino producers is Fefinanes. Based in Cambados and run by Juan Gil since 1994, the family business started in 1903 and aims not to be a large producer, but to supply a small quantity of top quality wines to wide range of importers and local restaurants. “We can only compete on quality, not price”, says Juan Gil who has just taken up the prestigious position of President of the DO Rias Baixas. “Personally I only like good wines, so I make them!” He was well accustomed to quality, growing up as a member of the family which were dukes of Fefinanes. They own the elegant buildings which house the winery, and where tastings can be given if you ring ahead. Tel: 34 986 542 204 www.fefinanes.com
There is a basic Albarino de Fefinanes which is a fabulously easy wine to drink with lots of depth and satisfaction. No big flavours jump out, it’s silky smooth, yet has, and a second bottle (in its distinctive Riesling style bottle) beckons after the first. For a few euros more Albarino de Fefinanes 111 ano is kept for 2 years in bottle before releasing. Just 3,000 bottles are produced and you will be lucky to find it. The complex flavours are achieved, not by maturing in oak as you might suspect from the complexity, but by simply leaving on the lees and turning it over (batonnage) to bring out as much flavour as can be found in this grape type. This has been quite perfect with Christmas dinner and is delicious with creamy fish dishes. The basic one is ideal with eastern food, lighter fish, salads, chicken dishes, especially roast chicken.
Even more rare, Fefinanes goes against the grain where regular Albarino lovers are concerned. The 1583 Albarino de Fefinanes is matured for 6 months in 30% US and 70% French Allier oak casks, which are renewed every three years. “Ideally there is no taste of wood at all”, say Gil. “Everyone thinks Albarino shouldn’t have oak, but this one proves otherwise.” Try it with heavier meats, lamb is good, as well as turkey and rich fish dishes. Fefinanes wines are not easy to find, even in Spain, but we are fortunate that the entry level wine is now imported into Ireland by Smith & Whelan who will deliver by the case to your door.www.smithandwhelan.com. It can be found in small scale importers worldwide, so it’s worth seeking out.
Paco and Lola is another great Albarino which is lively and interesting. Quite a treat, I found some in Madrid airport so you can carry some on board. Their blog is good fun: pacolola.com. It’s packaging is distinctive with its black and white spots.
Pazo de Barrantes has another good Albarino which is widely available and comes from the Marqués de Murietta cellars.
Pazo de Senorans is another excellent producer of Albarino. Based at Vilanoviña, in the Pontevedra town of Meis in the Salnés area, a pazo is a Galician mansion dating back to the 16th century. Delicious wine which is exported so watch out for it. Ring 34 986 715 373 to find out where to buy it, or have a tasting when in the area. http://www.pazodesenorans.com. In Ireland it is imported by James Nicholson Wines and can be bought for €21 at http://www.jnwines.
Santiago Ruiz has a quirky, white label with a hand drawn map designed to show the way to a family wedding. It is a delicious Albarino which is exported, so worth watching out for. Based at Pontevedra. Ring ahead for a tasting: Tel: 986 61 40 83 or http://www.bodegasantiagoruiz.com