Passionate and always ready to learn, Xurxo Alba is the visible face of Albamar, a small family estate in Cambados, in the Salnés valley. Born into a working class family, both their winery and the two hectares of owned and rented land they work are close to the Atlantic ocean, an element which is key in their philosophy and in the wines they make in the mouth of the River Umia, in the heart of Galicia’s Rías Baixas, a protected area rich in migrating birds.
When Xurxo was a child, it was his father Luis who planted almost all the Albariño vines. When he lost his job as a bricklayer, Luis devoted his efforts to making simple wines, sold in bulk and unlabelled in the family’s furancho —a kind of tavern-cum-shop run by his wife Isabel where locals have the chance to enjoy one of the region’s best homemade Spanish omelettes.
Xurxo's return home in 2006, after studying viticulture and working as a consultant, meant a change in the way things were done in the family business, which was called Albamar. That was also the name of their first wine, which remains the winery's flagship today. Albamar (45,000 bottles, €11.50) is a 100% Albariño, fresh and with tension, made from grapes —both owned and purchased— that is kept for about five months in contact with its lees.
Over time, Xurxo is moving towards non-interventionist grape growing and winemaking practices. There are no treatments applied in his experimental vineyard (where he makes part of his new wine O Sebal), he does not till the ground (he only breaks it a little to let it breathe), presses the grapes with stalks, uses indigenous yeasts and since 2011 there is no malolactic fermentation in his entry level wine. He does work with SO2 —mildew and powdery mildew are present in this coastal area— but in moderate quantities.
Alma de Mar (2.000 bottles, €22) is an Albariño from a coastal plot on sandy soils that was planted by his father. Here the work with the lees and batonnage brings a rounder style on the palate but the presence of the sea nearby is perceived in the wine. This wine was not made in 2018 as the vineyard on the beach suffered an attack of mildew.
From this same vineyard comes Finca O Pereiro (4,500 bottles, €21.50), an Albariño with tension and volume that has been made since the 2012 vintage, is fermented spontaneously and is kept with its lees for five months until bottling. It comes from a vineyard with sand and clay soils on the mouth of the River Umia, a special place recovered from the sea that lies next to the football ground in Castrelo, where Xurxo spent many childhood afternoons kicking the ball.
Pepe Luis (3,000 bottles, €22.50) is a tribute to his brother, who died in a car accident when he was 21. This lees-aged Albariño is first vinified in stainless steel tanks and then rests in second-use oak barrels and comes from five plots with 60-year-old vines near the sea.
Eager to experiment, since the 2016 vintage Xurxo produces Albino (1,300 bottles, €18), a blanc de noirs from old Caiño vines (only 1% of the grapes in Rías Baixas belongs to this variety) which he presses for 20 minutes before being transferred to stainless steel and then to 500-litre casks, where it remains until the next harvest. Although the wine was not admitted by the DO, Xurxo explains that this winemaking style is not new in the area. "In the past, Espadeiro grapes were used to make corrido, a wine made with free-run juice meant for home consumption", he explains.
O Sebal (2,600 bottles, €16) is also outside of the DO. It is an unoaked Albariño with no added sulfur sourced from a rented 60-year-old plot worked conventionally on granite soils. As grape loss in this vineyard was considerable on the 2018 vintage, Xurxo decided to add to the blend some grapes from his experimental vineyard, which managed to withstand better the mildew attacks.
Along with Viñoteca Bagos, an interesting restaurant in Pontevedra that promotes wine culture, Xurxo makes Sesenta e Nove Arrobas (3,300 bottles, €23), a selection of five plots with granite soils and 40-year-old vines which is kept on its lees for six months. The result, which started with 1,000 litres (equivalent to 69 arrobas), is a sharp, saline Albariño with zesty acidity that is perfect to let it rest at the back of the wine cellar and marvel at the excellent evolution of Albariño grapes worked under optimum conditions.
As a tribute to his parents he makes Albamar Pai (10,000 bottles, €15.90) and Albamar Nai (1,300 bottles, €15.90). Pai aims to be an Albariño with volume and good integrated acidity. Each vintage Xurxo blends wines with and without malolactic fermentation and with and without oak contact. To make Nai, Xurxo Alba uses Mencía planted in Ferreira do Pantón, in Ribeira Sacra, which he then ages in oak for half a year. It is a more concentrated profile than Fusco (13,000 bottles, €12.50), a fresh Mencía that sees no oak nd where Alba seeks to express the fruit. It is sourced from vineyards he rents in the Chantada area, with granite soils.
Before his foray into Ribeira Sacra, Xurxo Alba had already made a red wine in Rías Baixas. Albamar O Esteiro (5,000 bottles, €22) blends whole clusters of Mencía, Caíño and Espadeiro that are stomped with the feet and then fermented in plastic buckets before aging in used barrels with no filtration or clarification. The wine maintains shows that fresh, Atlantic profile that is the trademark of Xurxo’s wines but its maturity brings lots of elegance to the wine. Since the 2015 vintage, Alba produces three reds with each of these varieties separately. Around 700 bottles of each wine are produced.
In Rías Baixas he also produces Capitán Xurelo (2,000 bottles, €11.95), a red made with discarded lots of Albamar O Esteiro and aged for 12 months in oak barrels that have previously been used for O Esteiro.
In addition to Rías Baixas and Ribeira Sacra, Xurxo Alba also makes wines in Valdeorras. Ceibo (3,300 bottles, €18.50), is a Godello that until the 2017 vintage came from clay soils in the Bibei valley at about 500 meters above sea level, but since 2019 (there was no Ceibo in 2018) the wine comes from grapes grown on slate soils by an experienced grape grower in A Rúa. Xurxo is very excited with this new project as he has plans to make new wines with the Garnacha Tintorera and Mencía that this grower farms in his vineyards.