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Qué sorpresa: Albarino Tinto & other Rias Baixas reds


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Lately Galician reds have grabbed my attention, especially wines from Ribeira Sacra.  But yesterday was full of surprises.  I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking Rias Baixas is all about Albarino.  This white grape – Portugal’s Alvarinho – dominates the region and I’ve tasted a good many terrific examples this week. But reds?

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Fortunately, I was in the hands of the Instituto Galego do Vino, who invited me to speak at Monday’s Atlante Wine Forum.  They had organised a visit with garagiste Manuel Moldes (pictured) who makes terrific Albarinos (my favourite wines of the week, amongst strong competition).

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Highly territorial geese protect his favourite vineyard, Finca a Pedreira.  Trust me. they were intimidating!  So I dread to think what gorgons will be deployed to guard this one (pictured below), which Moldes is keen to buy.

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It is planted to the once common, now rare, red variety Espadeiro.  Rare because most red varietal vines were grubbed up in the Albarino boom of 30-40 years ago; in fact more than half of the original Espadeiro vineyard has already been replaced by much younger Albarino vines.

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And when I say much younger, I mean well over 100 years younger. Moldes reckons that these surviving ungrafted Espadeiro vines are around 200 years old!

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I wish him luck with the purchase, not least since I enjoyed his Albarinos so much.  Especially his new super-focused, mineral cuvee Fulcro, from schist soils.

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Bodegas Zarate is well known for his outstanding range of ageworthy Albarinos.  However, not content with that winemaker Eulogio Pomares started making red wines in 2009, the latest of which is, he believes, an Albarino Tinto.  In 2015 (an excellent vintage) he tracked down the vineyard from which the bottle pictured below was produced and has made a barrel of red wine from it.

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Pomares is in the process of analysing the grape to confirm its identify, though he speculated that it might be of central european origin.  In any event, the barrel sample which we tasted was exciting stuff. Surprisingly dark in hue given its northerly Atlantic provenance, with marked (but vivacious acid and tannins), Pomares explained that the berries are very small and round so, with a high skin to juice ratio, it’s tricky to extract any juice.  The wine is intensely perfumed, with lifted violets and a trace of white pepper to nose and juicy blackberry and mineral-sluiced palate.  

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Zarate’s range includes three other Galician reds, made from Caîno Tinto, Loureiro Red and Espadeiro. We tasted the higher production Caîno Tinto, of which a princely two barrels are made!  The heavy bottle signals its ambition.  The 2010 has lovely whole bunch riffs of white pepper, herb sausage and orange peel spice which follow through in the mouth.  A subtly bony (grape/vine) tannin structure together with its mineral-sluiced delicate but taut and sapid red cherry and wild redcurrant fruit makes for a quite austere palate.  But it’s very fine.  I liked it very much and reckon it will appeal to lovers of whole bunch Baga, Pinot Noir and Colares.  12% abv.

PS Pomares will be making the next Sidecar with fellow Galician winemaker Susana Esteban, who is based in Alentejo.  I looking forward to tasting that!


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