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Rías Baixas

Rías Baixas is a DO wine zone in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain, located along the Atlantic coastline. Although a comparatively young DO (established in 1988), Rías Baixas has rapidly grown in stature thanks to the efforts of its various enterprising producers, who have adopted modern winemaking techniques to showcase the region's signature grape variety, Albariño.

The region, made up of five subzones, stretches along Spain's Atlantic coast from just south of Santiago de Compostela to the Portuguese border, a distance of around 60 miles (100km) as the crow flies. Rías Baixas is named after the coastal inlets (or rías) that characterise the landscape here. The DO's neighbours include Ribeiro to the east and Minho (home of Vinho Verde) to the south, just across the border in Portugal. The three regions have more in common than just their Atlantic-influenced climate – they are all well known for their crisp, fresh, aromatic white wines, and all three use Albariño to some extent.

Not surprisingly, the Atlantic Ocean is a key influence on the Rías Baixas climate. Average rainfall is very high here, sometimes exceeding 71 inches (1,800 millimetres) a year, and mists and fog from the sea also add to the cool climate. This climate is why Rías Baixas is so successful with Albariño – the cooling ocean influences help the grapes to retain the crisp, mouthwatering acidity so vital to the distinctive style of the local wines. The finest Rías Baixas wines are characterised by their intense aromatics, and long, pleasant floral aftertaste, often further lifted by a slight fizz. The area's granite soils help imbue the wine with intense minerality.

There are some distinctions in Rías Baixas' terroir, however, and the DO is split into five different subzones: Val do Salnés, Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Soutomaior and Ribera do Ulla. The most important zones, Val do Salnés and O Rosal, are located on the coast itself. Val do Salnés is the coolest, wettest zone, with vineyards located on gentle slopes and the flat valley floors of the Umia River. O Rosal, on the other hand, is home to terraced hillside vineyards overlooking the Miño River and the Vinho Verde region of Portugal. Soutomaior is Rías Baixas' smallest subzone, while Condado do Tea and Ribera do Ulla are a little way inland, and are the warmest subzones.

Wines from each subzone may be labelled as such, with the varietal composition varying from zone to zone. All wines labeled Rías Baixas must be at least 70 percent Albariño, with the rest made up of Treixadura, Torrontes, Loureiro and Caiño Blanco, a rarely seen Galician grape which is often mistaken for Albariño. A small number of red wines are also made in this part of Spain, predominantly from Mencia and Sousao (Vinhao).