In 1980, the special classification of Denominacion Especifica (Specific Denomination) was applied to the word Albarino, used to refer to the wines produced in the province of Pontevedra in the autonomous community of Galicia. While the concept of Denominacion de Origen already existed to protect certain regions that produced wines with similar characteristics (La Rioja, Jerez, Penedes, etc.), Albarino wines for example, were not protected as they were known by the name of the grape variety, and not by a regional name. In 1988, in order to adhere to European Union norms, it transformed into the D.O. Rías Baixas, although wines from this D.O. are sometimes still referred to interchangeably by the name of their star grape, Albariño.
Rías Baixas is made up of five sub-zones, and one of the most special microclimates occurs in that of the privileged Val do Salnes (Valley of Salnes) located where fresh water mingles with salt water in the Ria de Pontevedra producing a myriad of shellfish and a milder, more temperate climate. The others are Soutomaior, which is a natural prolongation of the first; Condado de Tea, along the right bank of the Minho River; El Rosal, located in the Minho’s lowest basin; and Ribera del Ulla. While each sub-zone produces wines with their own special characteristics, they share similarities as far as soil type and the Atlantic climate is concerned. The most important grape by and large is Albariño and wines referred to as Albariño on the label must be 100% single variety wines, while D.O. Rías Baixas wines in general must have at least 70% of that grape in the Valle de Salnes and Ribera do Ulla, and in the remaining sub-zones, 70% of Albariño and either Treixadura in Condado de Tea or Loureiro in El Rosal.
Galicia also boasts the most atomized vineyards in Spain, and especially in the province of Pontevedra where D.O. Rías Baixas is located. Parcels are passed on through inheritance and often further divided so much that one single winery might have to depend on hundreds of independently owned vineyards to get the grapes they need.
This unique situation led to the formation of what is today the D.O.s largest bodega, Martin Codax out of a collective of viticulturists. Other well-known bodegas here are Pazo de Barrantes, Pazo de Senorans, and Valdamor, to name a few, and in general wines from D.O. Rías Baixas are coming into their own in the international market, more than doubling their exports between 1999 and 2003 alone. The area has also invested a significant amount of energy in promoting eno-tourism with the creation of various wine routes identified by green signs along the highways, also indicating restaurants and the very popular accommodations known as casas rurales (rural houses) that often provide picturesque and peaceful places to stay, where you can frequently taste your host’s homemade Albariño, made from the vines that literally cover every inch of the landscape in this lovely south-west corner of Galicia.