Let me tell you about a man called Santiago Ruiz.
Like many families in Galicia, Northern Spain, making wine was a regular part of day to day life. The area is blessed with some wonderful local grapes; Albariño, Loureiro, Godello, Treixadura and Caiño Blanco. Santiago’s family had been making wine since 1860 from the family home.
Santiago was no youngster and had been making wine for his friends and family for many years. It was a distraction from his life as a salesman. He was a good salesman, whether it was tractors or insurance, he sold great products and enjoyed success.
He was also very good at making wine and decided at the age of 70 that he now had time to turn his hobby into a commercial enterprise. Why not? His family and village locals were always telling him how fantastic his wine was and wine making was his real passion.
Despite some initial resistance, daughter Rosa ended up getting involved in the operation. What began as a little admin here and there to help Dad, soon became a full time job. (Daughter Rosa was not immune to her father’s charisma and charm.)
Santiago would become known as the ‘Father of Albariño’, such was his fervent support for the grape and of the region, travelling all around Spain promoting the wines of Rias Baixas region and of course, of his own. Santiago was successful in setting up trade deals for the region within every corner of Spain.
In September 2017, a small delegation of UK wine retailers and journalists visited the Santiago Ruiz Bodega as part of a regional tour. I was lucky enough to be among them.
As we arrived and were shown around the sprawling old winery and one time family home, the sun had just appeared, casting warm rays across the vineyard pergolas so famously used within the region to cultivate vines. They have kept all the rudimentary traditional wine making equipment on show within the winery, the vines still produce bounties of rich fruit and the family house still stands as it did in 1860. It felt like we had stepped back in time.
Santiago was seen as a real innovator when he installed stainless steel tanks within the property and for a while production was able to continue around the family home, but as popularity of his wines grew, he soon found himself unable to meet demand and bought a second, larger, more modern winery. Still to this day though, healthy but gnarly old vines from the original plot produce grapes used in wine for the Santiago Ruiz label.
We joined daughter Rosa Ruiz and winemaker Luisa Freire to sample the wines within the house where it all began and were made to feel very welcome. After seeing our surroundings steeped in history, we were excited to try the two wines of Santiago Ruiz, a 100% Albarino and a local blend, specific to the Rias Baixas sub-region, O’Rosal. This sub region enjoys a unique microclimate with less rain and more sunshine than any of the other sub zones and has a fantastic position nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Miño River.
As we sat down to taste, nobody noticed initially that spittoons were missing from the table. After first sampling the Albariño we hoped nobody would notice, after all, it was nearly lunchtime and the wine was wonderful. If the Albarino was wonderful then the O’Rosal was sent from heaven. A blend of all the local grapes permitted to be used in the blend by the local D.O. and able to carry the Rias Baixas seal of approval; Albariño (74%), Loureiro (10%), Godello (7%), Treixadura (5%) and Caiño Blanco (4%). Each grape brings its own unique character to the party and blended in concert they sang.
Rosa and Luisa gasped when they noticed the spittoons sitting on an adjacent table, apologising for the oversight. Enjoying this wine in the company of two such gracious and warm hosts, proudly telling us the story of their wine, we discouraged the use of spittoons and expressed that on this occasion we were happy to continue the tasting without. Highly unprofessional of us but highly enjoyable in equal measure. We went on to relax and chat about all things wine, Santiago Ruiz and Rias Baixas for some time.
The labels of the two Santiago Ruiz wines both tell a rich story of family history.
The label on the O’Rosal blend reads like a treasure map. Liquid gold is the prize as the map on the bottle takes you right to the Bodega. However, it was never meant to be a wine label but was actually handwritten directions of how to find the family home for sister Isabel’s wedding. The map was sent out with the wedding invitations. Santiago loved the illustration so much he put it on the bottle. The map really is charming and I cannot help but imagine our salesman and wine guru Santiago chuckling as he had found, not only a lovely label but also a way to help his valued customers find the Bodega to buy more wine. I certainly hope to use the map to discover treasure again one day.
The Albariño label depicts youngest daughter Rosa and her father standing on the balcony of the family home. At the time the drawing was made, Rosa was just a child and it was a lovely moment chatting to the lady from the picture, in the very house we were in, recreated on the label. With many years now passed since the picture was drawn it was lovely hearing Rosa talk with such verve and warmth about memories of her father and his inspiration. A photo of the man sniffing a glass of his nectar adorned the wall of the tasting room and as I mentioned earlier, we felt transported in time.
On our return from Galicia and the Rias Baixas region we had no check-in luggage for our flight so were unable to bring any wine we’d tasted home with us. You can imagine my delight when I found a bottle of the O’Rosal in duty free at A Corunia airport.
I have no such concerns in sourcing this wonderful wine in the future, as Santiago Ruiz O’Rosal has safely made its way onto the Hotel du Vin wine list. No spittoons required.
I was invited to Galicia in Northern Spain to learn more about the region and their wonderful wines by D.O. Rias Baixas and Rias Baixas UK.
Albariño tasting notes:
Clear and bright yellow. Floral aromas, herbal, fresh and light. A full-bodied wine, well-structured with a good level of fresh acidity and as such will have a good evolution and development in bottle over the coming years.
O’Rosal tasting notes:
Clear and bright yellow. Intense and complex nose showcasing aromas of fruit (apple, pear, and apricot), herbs (lemon verbena, aniseed) and mineral notes. Full bodied, its fruity complexity returns combined with wet-stone minerality on the palate prior to a long and crisp finish. The combination of five native grape varieties to Rias Baixas makes this a wine with a uniquely distinct character.