Galicia has five Denominaciónes de Origen (D.O.) for wine, of which Rias Baixas has the largest vineyard area, produces the most grapes and has the most wineries. Rias Baixas’ success has been based on producing fruity, refreshing, dry white wines from the Albariño grape cultivar. Also increasingly featuring on the international radar are red and white wines from Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei. Part of their attraction is their use of indigenous grape cultivars, which give many of the wines an attractive and welcome flavour profile change from that of the more commonly encountered international winegrapes.
The most important indigenous cultivars are Albariño, Godello and Treixadura (whites) and Mencia (black). Many other cultivars may be permitted according to D.O. regulations, but are usually encountered in only small amounts. The following pie charts show the compositional makeup of each of Gallicia’s D.O.s based on 2013 harvest information. For Ribeiro, limited information only allows a split between black and white cultivars to be made. Also included for comparative purposes is the 2013 harvest composition for the Bierzo wine region which, although located in Castilla y Leon, is contiguous with Valdeorras.
Rias Baixas is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a Denominación de Origen in 2013. During this time it has undergone considerable growth and development, so now seems as good a time as any to take stock of its achievements. The 5 page free downloadable PDF, Rias Baixas in Figures summarizes the readily available data to help explain the Rias Baixas story.
Rias Baixas is already one of the most important white wine producing regions of Spain. Only Rueda and La Mancha have significantly larger white wine sales and much of La Mancha’s sales are derived from low value bulk exports. According to figures published by Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, in 2011-12 the average revenue for Rias Baixas’ wine was €5.7/litre, compared to Rueda’s average revenue of €3.0/litre.
Located within Galicia in northwestern Spain, Rias Baixas is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and by Portugal to the south. The highly indented coastline with many headlands and inlets (rias in Galician) has come about by the drowning of river valleys. Deeply dissected metamorphic rocks and granites, which give rise to steep slopes and coarse-grained alluvial soils, underlie the vineyards. This topography has led to the Rias Baixas vineyard being highly fragmented. Since the beginning of the 21st century the Rias Baixas vineyard has almost doubled in size and now stands at 4,048 ha. This total is made up from 23,232 separate parcels of vines, so the average vineyard parcel size is a mere 0.15 ha.
Wine production has more or less increased in line with the increase in vineyard area, though vintage variation can have a marked affect on yields. There was a particularly low yield in 2012, which has been attributed to unusually low temperatures and heavy rainfall in June resulting in very poor fruit set. Winemaking facilities tend to be small with only four of the 177 bodegas producing more than 5,000 hl in 2012. Domestic sales of Rias Baixas wines currently account for ca. 80% of total sales, though this figure was down to 74% in 2011-12 as supplies tightened.
Exports have continued to grow and appear to be an increasingly important priority for producers. The Americas account for the majority of exports by volume, of which the US is by far the largest market. Europe has shown
steady, if less spectacular growth. The largest markets by volume in Europe are the UK, Germany and Switzerland.