Friday Focus; Galicia, Spain
When I think of Spain, the first images that come to my mind are the sunny, hot and dry beaches and small yellow-brick towns of south and central Spain, however today we journey to the region known locally as the ‘green corner’ of Spain; Galicia. Located in the very north west of the Iberian Peninsula, Galicia is bordered to the south by the Miño (pronounced “Minyo”) river, over which lies Portugal who, in typical argumentative neighbour fashion, calls the river the Minho. To the north and west it is bordered by the cold Atlantic Ocean and to the east to the foothills of the Cantabrian Cordillera mountains of central Spain. This isolated corner receives more rain than any other part of Spain, at an average of 1300mm per year. However the region still has abundant sunshine to grow grapes, as the rain comes in heavy, violent squalls off the ocean which dump huge amounts of water into the soil and pass on quickly, providing the important life-giving water along with sunshine for photosynthesis.
The water that falls in the high mountains to the east of this region inevitably finds the ocean, meaning the whole state is criss-crossed with rivers large and small, formed over the millennia and providing it with its second name; “o país dos mil ríos” which translates from the local Gallego dialect as “the country of two thousand rivers”. Rías is the local word for the constantly flooding and receding coastal valleys that dot the whole state. This isolation, as well as open access to the seas has led to an intriguing local culture; Centuries ago the region was a far-flung Roman outpost, meant to warn of the invasions of wild Northmen and Vikings from England and Ireland to the North. Today many locals can trace their lineage back to these marauding Celts from Ireland, some of who settled in the area, their customs and genes mixing with the Spanish/Roman locals.
Whilst the entire Galician region produces wine of varying quality, there are 5 major regions of quality wine production, known in Spain as DO- Denominacion de Origen, a similar concept to France’s Appellation system, which sets rules on grape varieties allowed to be grown, vine yields, wine styles and many other factors in an attempt to protect and encourage quality and individual style. These regions are;
Rías Baixas; is located to the very west of Galicia, right on the Atlantic coastline. The most famous of all the DOs of Galicia, it produces some of Spain’s most sought-after white wines. This region, and its most famous variety Albariño, put the Galician region back on the map after decades of struggling local economy. As an indication of this, in 1987, there were 14 producers in the area, in 2012 there were 177! Much of this growth came from local growers focusing on native grape varieties which grew well in this unusual climate, such as the aforementioned Albariño, Treixadura and Caiño Blanco, all of which are disease resistant (necessary in wet, humid regions such as this), creating crisp, fresh and dry whites which go perfectly with the abundant seafood fished from the Atlantic Ocean directly to the west. Albariño is the real hero variety here, having gained global recognition, and is today responsible for 90% of plantings in the region. It loves the abundant water and thrives in the granitic soils, making fragrant and intensely fruity dry whites with refreshing acid and only around 12% alcohol.
Ribeiro; means ‘riverside’ in local Gallego, that’s exactly where it sits, all along the Miño/Minho river border with Portugal, just inland from the above Rías Baixas region. Being surrounded by water, this region has the highest disease risk, so all varieties must have thick skins to not be rot or mould effected. One of the smaller and most old school regions, Ribeiro focuses on native white varieties Treixadura, Lado and Torrontes (made famous by Argentina and a relative of France’s Muscat grape), as well as reds from Caiño Redondo, Garnacha Tintorera (recently discovered to be Alicante Bouschet), Ferron and Carabuñeira which is known as Touriga Nacional across the river in Portugal.
Ribeira Sacra; is the next region heading inland from the Atlantic coast, and is therefore less affected by the maritime climate. This DO is unique in that it is the only one of the 5 that specialises in red wine. Ribeira Sacra translates to ‘Sacred shore’ which is a reference to the many monasteries that dot the hill tops of the region. These monasteries kept winemaking alive throughout the centuries, as they always had need of red wine for the blood of Christ sacrament. Just over 70% of the region is planted to the red Mencía grape (pronounced Men-thia), which makes a mid-weigh and gorgeously herbal dry red, thought to be a distant relative of Cabernet Franc. If you want to try some, our mates at Oliver’s Taranga have the one and only plantings of this variety in Australia now available for sale- it’s really yum!
Monterrei; is the newest DO of Galicia right down in the south of the region on the border with Portugal. Today this region makes entry-level, cheap and cheerful dry whites. Much investment is being made in improving the quality of the indigenous varieties, including the interestingly named, large-berried ‘Monstruosa’. Apparently one to watch in the future.
Valdeorras; is the easternmost DO of Galicia, meaning it is the most land-locked, and least affected by the ocean. As mentioned above, the eastern section of Galicia rises into the mountains, so this area is very hilly, with many vineyards on steeply-terraced slopes. Godello (pronounces Go-dey-yo), known as Verdelo in the Hunter Valley is the most-grown variety here, responsible for over 70% of production. This variety is susceptible to disease, which is why it isn’t grown in the wetter, more coastal regions, and produces a mid-weight, tropically fruity and aromatic dry white, sometimes aged in barrel by some local producers. Plantings of Mencía are growing after the popularity of it in neighbouring Ribeira Sacra.
Wine Sales Manager