Albarino with Attitude: Mar de Frades Finca Valinas 2015

Mar de Frades was established in 1987 and is located in the Salnès Valley where the strong, salt-carrying Atlantic breezes and granite soils give grapes that make fresh, zesty wines with saline and mineral flavours.  The winery today owns 60 hectares of vineyards in some of the best plots in the Salnès and Ulla Valleys and buys grapes from over 200 individual growers, making it one of the largest producers in the region.

For Mar de Frades’ Galician winemaker Paula Fandiño, Albariño is a grape that can show great complexity, and be truly reflective of its terroir, its ageing and its winemaking: in fact, she firmly believes it will soon match the prowess of Riesling in all these areas.  And her Finca Valiñas 2015 shows how.

Mar de Frades Finca Valinas Albariño 2015
RRP £31.50, Great Wine Co - greatwine.co.uk

The Grape
The Queen of Spanish white wines, Albariño’s thick skin makes it less prone to damage from rot - perfect for the cool, damp, Atlantic-influenced Galician landscape.  It is early-to-mid-ripening and high in acidity with medium body and medium levels of alcohol. 

“The majority of Albariños out there are focused on freshness and youth, but I firmly believe the variety’s natural acidity gives it great ageing potential,” says Paula. “Harvesting our grapes at the precise moment of maturity is crucial.  I look for aromatic intensity where the grape provides thiolic aromas of pineapple, apricot, fresh fruit and balsamic notes.  Only then can you work on the winemaking to contribute to the wine’s maturity.”

But to really recognise its potential, Paula says you should wait for at least one year after fermentation…

The Region
With just 4,047 highly fragmented hectares under vine and an annual rainfall of 1,700mm, Galicia is where Albariño has found its home.  Vintage variation is common, but the soils (sand over granite bedrock) are free-draining and the pergola vine training that is commonplace promotes the air circulation needed to keep the grapes disease-free in the damp atmosphere.

The Vineyard
Finca Valiñas is the jewel in Mar de Frades’ Galician crown: a 2.2 hectare vineyard planted in 1975 on a sloping plot of granite and sandy soils at 112 metres altitude.  In fact, it was one of the first vineyards to be planted on Galicia’s mountainous slopes.

“Looking out over the Atlantic, our Finca Valiñas vineyard is home to old Albariño vines which grow on granite and are blessed by the microclimate of the Val do Salnès,” says Paula.  “This wine is my interpretation of a singular vineyard in which, through the passing of time, I have sought to capture the mineral and saline profile of the most special Mar de Frades terroir.  The vineyard has shallow soils and increased acidity due to the presence of granite outcrops that occur throughout.  This is an old vineyard which maintains a unique freshness that other lower areas of the valley do not, making it possible to vinify wines for ageing.”

The Winemaking & Ageing
While you may be pouring a 2020 vintage of the ‘core’ Mar de Frades Albariño, Finca Valiñas is always at least four years behind - and this is because of the ageing work that Paula undertakes to bring complexity, nuance and terroir character to her wine. 

Paula’s first step is a maceration for 36 to 40 hours using the Ganimede fermentation method (a cold maceration process which enhances aromatic white wines by preventing oxidation and the need for sulphites).  For the first year after fermentation, the wine remains in contact with its lees while Paula and her team monitor its evolution.  “To be able to know and understand the wine, we need at least one year because it is only then that we can really see the varietal expression of the Albariño.  After that, we start to pick up floral notes, and aromas of fennel and white flowers.  Starting to age the wine straight after fermentation would be a mistake,” she admits.

In the second year, the wine is aged with its lees in stainless steel with batonnage for nine months and three months rest to give an overall sense of volume and structure.  Lees-stirring then alternates with rest every five to six months, before the fourth, all-important year of bottle ageing to allow the wine to properly mature and develop for release.

The Wine
An elegant, aromatic wine with the body and texture of an oak-aged Chardonnay but the touch of the smoky salinity so characteristic of Galicia and Mar de Frades.  For Paula, its iodine notes are just perfect for Galician seafood platters.

Paula freely admits that Albariño still has a lot to prove in the complexity stakes, but she knows that as she continues to experiment and push the viticultural boundaries of her home region, she will see it reach the echelons of Riesling and Chardonnay.

Coming Soon…

… news of more single vineyard wines from Mar de Frades as Paula further explores the Rias Baixas terroir.