The wine region of Galicia, Spain, wines, Galicia, Spain
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Wine in Spain - Galicia  wine

Have you ever seen a Spanish bagpipe? If not, head up to Galicia, a different side of Spain in many ways. Hidden away in the northwest corner of the country, this land of Celtic origins is lushly verdant and often damp and murky. Nothing about it recalls the classic Spanish sun and sand so widely exported abroad, and yet few of the thousands of visitors who make it there will deny its endless charm. It’s a beautiful region full of mystique and personality, and it is home to one of Europe’s legendary medieval cities, Santiago de Compostela, as well as a paradise for seafood lovers and wine aficionados…especially white wine.

   
Galicia, like many parts of this country, has been in the viniculture business since Roman times. In the Middle Ages the wines were among the favourites of the English. They would sail up the Miño River and buy cask after cask from the area surrounding Ribadavia. During the days of Philip II and his Armada, commercial ties were severed, however, and the English moved south to Portugal to invest in what would eventually become the internationally famous Port wine. Bad news for the Spanish; good news for the Portuguese.

In the past twenty years or so, Galicia has undergone an enormous transformation that has turned it into one of the stars of the Spanish wine scene. On the international level, its white wine is champ. The moist climatic conditions mean less sunlight and more acid, a key factor when elaborating fresh, crisp whites. And inland, you can find distinct fruity reds. One last interesting point is that most of these wines are made exclusively from grape varieties which are native to Galicia.

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As we speak, the white wine region of excellence in Galicia is D.O. Rías Baixas. In fact, it’s more of a conglomerate of various sub-regions, each contributing suggestive nuances. Rías Baixas is made up of tiny vineyards nestled in the lower hills and countryside along the southern inlets of the Galicia, where the vines are mounted high up on stone posts, kept safely away from the damp ground to avoid mildew. Rías Baixas is the capital of albariño, possibly Spain's most famous white in the world. It is an outstanding wine. Extremely aromatic and silky smooth, it seduces you from the very start. And to think that just a handful of years ago, basically no one had even heard of it. Now exports steadily increase with the coming of each harvest. Albariño is essentially the only kind of wine made there, but then again, with a grape like that, who needs another?

Rías Baixas might be the current king, but you should know that the classic Galician wine of yore was D.O. Ribeiro. The whites from this region were synonymous with Galician seafood gastronomy. They had a sort of turbid look to them which everyone took as the "real thing", but apparently that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The muddied appearance certainly didn't do anything for their quality. Back then, the wine was drinkable, but a far cry from exquisite. Nowadays, Ribeiro has cleared up that clouded tint (in both senses of the word) and is producing some fantastic wines at equally fantastic prices. They are mostly blends of local varieties like Treixadura, Torrontés or Loureira. Apart from being extremely difficult to pronounce, these grapes make up a formidable trio.

Crossing the colour line, reds are another offer in Galicia. Many people, including Spaniards themselves, would be surprised to find out that there is a firm red wine tradition here too, especially in the hilly inlands. Much less known, and perhaps a little more inconsistent in quality, they are nonetheless another of the many shades of red one can find in Spain.

The unrefined versions can be darker than blood and tarter than a green apple. The locals called in viño do país. But the reds made from Mencía are an entirely different story. The grape variety Mencía is said to be related to Cabernet Franc, though there is discrepancy on the matter. Some of the best mencías can be found in D.O. Ribeira Sacra. Ribeira Sacra (“Holy River Banks”) gets its name from the monks who settled along the river banks of the Sil River, but the practice quite possibly goes back to Roman days. Very aromatic and fruity in taste, mencías are almost always sold as young wines. I like mencías a lot. There is something about them that you can't find anywhere in Spain. Then again, that is the wonder of Spanish wine: its variety.

 

Just next door is D.O. Valdeorras, which offers both reds and whites, but I would say that it is the latter which holds the most promising future. They are made from a local variety known as Godello, and when they are good they are magnificent. Dry and tasty, the characteristic that most impresses me is its apply bouquet. The reds are made from Mencía, and though nothing to turn away from, they haven't quite reached the heights of the godellos.

 

Finally you have D.O. Monterrei, which is a kind of separate region in all ways. Small and unassuming, this land might easily have been overlooked by the majority of the consumers had it not been for one of its most famous producers: fashion designer Roberto Verino. Verino sort of got into the business as a hobby, but he and his brother have made a contribution to the wines there that are reminiscent of his clothes: class. Monterrei makes whites from Godello and reds from a number of varieties.

A vinicultural visit to Galicia is a different experience for anyone. There is plenty of variety and novelties for the senses.

Feature written by Brian Murdock, author of the book "Let's Open a Bottle". You can contact Brian at murflo@eresmas.net.

 
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