Atlantic Spain Pt. 1 - Real Wines From Riax Baixas

3/30/11 -

(Benito Santos' Limestone Pagos de Bemil Vineyard)

A stone’s throw from the Atlantic grow the vines of Rias Baixas, a noble terruno* where the green grape Albarino flourishes on granite, sand, and limestone soils.  Over recent years, big money interests from all over Spain, with trained enologists in tow, have flocked to Rias Baixas to chase either the next one-hit-wonder Albarino, or the next big brand. In these parts, one rarely finds real wine-growers who work their vineyards responsibly, who eschew synthetics, who ferment with native yeasts, and who do not rely on winery tricks to cater to current tastes and trends.

We look for producers who make Albarino that expresses its singular origin of Rias Baixas through honest, natural, and unforced means.  Enter Todd Bloomberg from Benito Santos and Miguel Alfonso from Adega Pedralonga (not to mention the elder statesman of Real Albarino Gerardo Mendez of Do Ferreiro, see for more on Gerardo). These individuals are profoundly dedicated to their vineyard work. Todd Bloomberg is a San Franciscan who relocated to Galicia ten years ago. After learning wine-making at Zarate, a leading estate in Rias Baixas, he purchased the Benito Santos winery with the idea of making the most pure, natural, and vivid Albarino possible. Benito Santos is the only certified organic winery in Rias Baixas. All of the wines are from single vineyards that are leased from the church. Natural yeasts are used; fermentation is in stainless steel, and sulphur is kept to a minimum. The results are complex, saline-laced Albarinos with delineated flavors and distinct personalities. The wines can be likened to the great wines of the Loire such as Huet and Pepiere and are compelling options for fresh seafood.   

Miguel Alfonso of Adega Pedralonga is a young vinicultor*. His wines hail from one contiguous 7-hectare vineyard, planted 25 years ago by his father, that rises up a granite slope with a foot at most of sandy top soil. Huge boulders randomly emerge.  Red grapes are grown at the bottom of the slope where the soils are sandy and alluvial, with the rest of the vineyard planted to Albarino. This vineyard is beautiful and alive. The vineyard has fantastic biodiversity and is farmed organically; there are experiments with bio-dynamics. Miguel, a man very at home in his vineyard, told me that there is a saying in Galicia, "one who doesn't look to the moon does not reap the harvest." Miguel and his father's sole aim is to express the profound singularity of this granite terruno. There are no tricks in the winery. Fermentation with native yeasts in stainless steel tank. Malolactic fermentation happens naturally (this is a difference from his peers who often block malo). Nothing is forced here. His red wine, which is definitely one of the best of the appellation, is released when ready, which means a few years of tank and bottle aging; it's a dead knock-off of Chinon aromatically. The Albarinos show a penetrating stoniness, a purity of fruit that combines with a texture and vivacity rarely seen inAlb arino. This is Spain's answer to top tier Chablis. Cheers! -cb

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