D.O RÍAS BAIXAS
Galicia’s Rías Baixas is a privileged region for vine-growing. Its climate, landscape, soils and indigenous grape varieties combine to make up the area’s wine-growing ecosystem. These characteristics define and condition the vocation of the Rías Baixas appellation (Denominación de Origen Rías Baixas) to produce high quality wines.
Vine-growing conditions are characterised by the conjunction of factors relating to temperature, water and light, which can combine in greater and lesser degrees of complexity. According to the Winkler Scale, which measures the average potential quality of a vine-growing area, the five sub-zones making up the Rías Baixas appellation (Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Ribeira do Ulla, Soutomaior and Val do Salnés) are located within zones of the highest wine-growing quality.
Cigales wines became very famous in both Spain and abroad. When the phylloxera plague decimated the French vineyards, Cigales vines were sent as far as Bordeaux to replace them.
This winemaking region was so important, by 1888 it was producing over 15 million kilos of grapes.
On 29 September 2011, Order AYG/1197/2011, of 22 September, was published in the Official Gazette, approving the new Regulation for the Cigales Designation of Origin and its Regulatory Board.
This new regulation authorises the production of white, sparkling and sweet wines after several years of experiments that have endorsed the quality of the wines produced in Cigales. The experimental varieties of Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are also used as complements to the main varieties, namely Tempranillo, together with Garnacha and the white varieties of Viura, Albillo and Verdejo, which have enjoyed a very close relationship with our historic and renowned rosés.
The Rías Baixas appellation lies wholly within the vast Atlantic zone, the borders of which are traced by the Wagner line (Wagner P., 1976). The appellation’s wines are thus termed “Atlantic” wines.
Winters in the Rías Baixas appellation are characterised by Atlantic squalls driving in from the west and the south-west along with warm fronts which are frequently tropical in character. These bring heavy rainfall and produce mild, even warm weather with very little variation in temperature between day and night. Only the arrival of cold, Arctic air or periods in which anticyclones push squalls northwards are able to cause a sufficient drop in night-time temperatures to produce frosts.
The average temperature in January, the coldest month of the year, varies between 10°C in the O Rosal sub-zone and 9°C in Ribeira do Ulla, which gives an idea of how mild winters are. However, winter is the rainiest time with 600mm of the annual average of 1,600mm falling in this season.
Spring in the Rías Baixas appellation comes early and is rainy. The dangers arising from these conditions are frost damage and aborted fruit setting. Nevertheless, frost damage is rare.
At the beginning of summer, the Azores High settles in the West Atlantic, preventing the passage of bad weather which even in the worst case scenario is diverted over the northern coast of Galicia. During summertime, rainfall is infrequent and light, while temperatures are not excessively high, thanks to the presence of cool air. Summer storms are rare. In this season, significant drought conditions set in on account of low rainfall, high temperatures and fast-draining sandy soils.
During the months of autumn, squally weather arrives, causing very rainy conditions.
From a geomorphological point of view, the region is from the Miocene epoch. The soil is made up of tertiary and quaternary sediments: sand, limestone and marl, on a subsoil of clay and loam.
The soil has a weak granular structure, fine to medium, with few stones and little organic material (0.7 to 1.6%).
It lies on a subsoil layer of clay and loam and sometimes on sand and gravel. The limestone content varies greatly, ranging from 1% in Santovenia to 35% in Valoria. In general the soil contains enough potassium but is poor in phosphorous. Its pH is around 8.1.
The area has a continental climate influenced by the Atlantic, with wide temperature variations, both diurnal and also throughout the year.
Rainfall tends to be irregular with severe drought in the summer; winters are long and harsh with frequent frost and fog, with the predominant winds coming from the west and southwest.
The average annual hours of sun total 2,616, with a maximum of 371 hours in July and a minimum of 87 hours in December.
Average annual rainfall is 407 mm, occurring over 93 days per year. The average annual temperature is 12.2°C, with a temperature range of -6°C to 39°C.
The type of landscape has great influence on possible soil erosion, soil moisture content and drainage. From a topographical point of view, the most significant aspect of the Val do Salnés sub-zone is the predominance of low-lying land. This zone contains the most coastal plains in all Galicia. Only on small residual reliefs or towards the periphery of the area can you find altitudes of over 100m.
In Condado do Tea and O Rosal, sub-zones between which it is not easy to make a clear distinction, the topography is characterised by the morphological opening of the Miño river valley, especially as from the borough of As Neves. But perhaps the most unusual feature is the alternation of inter-river areas or horsts and their successive tributaries such as the Deva, Termes, Tea, Louro and Tamuxe rivers. These are generally short, small rivers, which mostly originate in high Galicia ridges and which drain small depressions in a north-south direction and are caused by severe terrain fractures. They have in common a flat bed and on their sides there are rocky, often steep cliffs.
The predominant rock-type found in the Rías Baixas appellation is almost exclusively granite. Only a narrow band of metamorphic rock affects the Val do Salnés sub-zone on its way through to the villages of Rosal and Tomiño. Also quite frequently found in the five sub-zones (Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Ribeira do Ulla, Soutomaior and Val do Salnés) are quaternary deposits which may be either alluvial or alluvial-colluvial. They are also in the Val do Salnés sub-zone, more specifically along the Umia River, and at the bottom of the meridian depression which crosses the area from north to south. These consist of gravel, sand and clay deposits (in Sanxenxo, Meaño, Cambados and Ribadumia), and silt-clay deposits in the marshland of the mouth of the Umia.
In the Condado do Tea and O Rosal sub-zones too, there are large, recent sedimentary deposits, among which the terraces of the Louro and Miño rivers feature. Both are very closely related, and from them seven levels have been detected.
Finally in the Ribeira do Ulla sub-zone, the soils are essentially derived from granite substrata. In some cases the mother rock is schist in character, corresponding to the wide strip of schist that crosses Galicia from north to south through the central zone. In the lower parts of the river there are alluvial soils made up of material deposited by the river current.
The Rías Baixas appellation is made up of five sub-zones: Condado del Tea, O Rosal, Ribera del Ulla, Soutomaior and Val do Salnés. Four of these areas are located within the province of Pontevedra, while the Ribera do Ulla sub-zone is situated in the province of La Coruña. All of them have opted to grow the indigenous grape varieties of their zone, particularly Albariño, which represents over 96% of the production. These indigenous varieties cope well with the challenging climatic conditions peculiar to each zone and impart genuine quality and a sense of place to wines that have a distinctly Atlantic character.
Largely made up of a patchwork of micro-plots of vines, typical of Galicia, the appellation currently covers a surface area of 4.047 hectares (9,996 acres), divided up into over 21,825 plots of vines. With the benefit of the manual skills and expertise of the area’s 5,500 and more vine growers, traditional Galician vine-growing has been maintained, so that vines are still trained on pergolas, a growing system which we can take pleasure in observing when visiting Rías Baixas.
The regulatory Council (Consejo Regulador) of the Rias Baixas DO currently authorises twelve different grape varieties, though Albariño represents over 90% of all vines planted.
Authorised white grapes: Albariño, Loureira blanca, Treixadura, Caiño blanca, Torrontés and Godello
Authorised red varieties: Caiño tinto, Espadeiro, Loureira tinta, Sousón, Mencía and Brancellao
The vines are trained along granite posts (called parrales) and wires so as to protect them from humidity and to maximise their exposure to the sun in summer.
Over 90% of the wines produced are white, predominantly using the Albariño grape variety.