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Burgans Albarino 2011
Somehow cooperatives developed a bad reputation. While it is certainly true that cooperatives can make mediocre wine, it is also true that proper Domaines can be guilty of the same offense. It’s not the nature of the operation that determines quality, but what happens in the vineyard and cellar. Burgans is a custom cuvée made for European Cellars by Martin Codax, the largest cooperative in Rías-Baixas. Founded in 1986 by about 50 families with small plots of Albariño around the village of Cambados under the guidance of Luciano Amoedo, it has grown over the last three decades to include almost 600 families and well over 3000 small parcels of Albariño.
By volume, the vast majority of grapes grown in Rias-Baixas are made into wine at any one of a number of cooperatives for the simple reason that much of the land in Rias Baixas is broken up into tens of thousands of small holdings. Almost everyone you meet has a family home in the semi-suburban countryside where they grow a wide variety of crops. Large contiguous estates are fairly rare by comparison so by necessity most growers are members of a local cooperative or they sell their fruit to the few “larger” estates in the area. Most of the Albariño consumed in the world comes from and handful of Cooperatives rather than a multitude of smaller estates.
The driving force behind Martin Codax is Luciano Amoedo, a ninth generation grape grower in Rias Baixas and an early proponent of the Albariño variety. Long before Albariño was synonymous with Rias-Baixas, Luciano was dedicated to the promotion and development of both. Now an official in the local DO, the day to day winemaking responsibilities at the cooperative are in the hands of Katia Alvarez.
With such a vast array of sites and with so many individuals involved, Martin Codax has invested in a team of viticulturist who make regular visits to the vineyards to educate the members on proper farming techniques and sustainable practices including the use of cover crops to fix nitrogen in the sandy, granitic soils. They host a daily radio broadcast in the region as well, to encourage best practices and they pay their members based on the quality of their fruit, not the quantity. All the vineyards are located in the Salnes sub-zone of the appellation – the coolest and most humid of the regions within Rias-Baixas.
In the cellar the wines are fermented and aged in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks to preserve the freshness and bracing acidity that is typical of Albariño grown in the Val do Salnes. Each vintage several experimental fermentations are conducted to understand the minor variations of site, the role of natural yeasts, the length of elevage and the applicability of different fermentation vessels. All of these experiments are used to improve the quality of the wines with each successive vintage.
Named after the rías, or estuarine inlets, that flow as far as 20 miles inland, Rías Baixas is an Atlantic coastal region with a cool and wet maritime climate. The entire region claims soil based on granite bedrock, but the inlets create five subregions of slightly different growing environments for its prized white grape, Albariño.
Val do Salnés on the west coast is said to be the birthplace of Albariño; it is the coolest and wettest of all of the regions. Having been named as the original subregion, today it has the most area under vine and largest number of wineries.
Ribeira do Ulla in the north and inland along the Ulla River is the newest to be included. It is actually the birthplace of the Padrón pepper!
Soutomaior is the smallest region and is tucked up in the hills at the end of the inlet called Ria de Vigo. Its soils are light and sandy over granite.
O Rosal and Condado do Tea are the farthest south in Rías Baixas and their vineyards actually cover the northern slopes of the Miño River, facing the Vinho Verde region in Portugal on its southern bank.
Albariño gives this region its fame and covers 90% of the area under vine. Caiño blanco, Treixadura and Loureira as well as occasionally Torrontés and Godello are permitted in small amounts in blends with Albariño. Red grapes are not very popular but Mencía, Espadeiro and Caiño Tinto are permitted and grown.
Bright and aromatic with distinctive floral and fruity characteristics, Albariño has enjoyed a surge in popularity over the last couple of decades. This grape claims dual citizenship of both Spain (in the Rías Baixas region) and Portugal, where it is widely planted in the northwest and is known as Alvarinho. In recent years, plantings have increased throughout California.
In the Glass
Bursting with rich, ripe flavor, Albariño can show flavors of orange blossom, lime, pear, melon and white peach. It may also have notes of raw almond, freshly cut grass, jasmine or geranium. The best examples boast zingy acidity and often a briny, mineral quality. It is typically fermented in stainless steel to preserve purity of fruit, though oak-aged examples can provide a weighty yet refreshing alternative to Chardonnay with surprising potential for aging. Due to Albariño’s thick skins and large number of pips, it often shows a hint of attractive bitterness on the palate.
Albariño loves seafood, and can be paired with a variety of marine delicacies. Its distinctive waxy texture and lemony acidity make it a perfect pairing with fresh sardines, oysters, octopus or squid.
Albariño is considered an aromatic variety, and actually shares characteristic with Viognier, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Muscat. If you enjoy these elegantly perfumed whites, chances are you’ll love Albariño.