A Wine Trip to Galicia
As much as I love working in the yachting industry, with all the crazy demands and supplying some of the finest wines in the world, it sometimes generates frustration. A good example of this was manifested on a Master of Wine field trip to Galicia last week. We discovered some lovely wines from indigenous and rare grape varieties that I would love to share with our clients but unfortunately our dear customers usually prefer classic wine regions and established brands. When we are given the chance to recommend new and exciting wines, I can certainly tell them about my recent discoveries in the beautiful wine region of North Western Spain.
Most of Galicia is as wet as it is beautiful. The landscape is lush and green, often being referred to as The Green Spain. Average rainfall is very high at around 1000mm/ year, although it varies in the different regions. There are five main DOs (Denominaccion de Origen) in the area. Rias Baixas is by far the most famous region producing white, aromatic crisp wines mainly made with the Albarino grape. The others are Monterrei, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro and Valdeorras. Although there are similarities between these areas they all have their unique styles and grape compositions.
This by far the most famous DO in the area, receiving its DO status in 1988. The main grape variety grown here is the crisp and peach scented Albariño, but Loureiro and Treixadura are also grown and are perfect blending partners. There are 4 sub regions in the area of which Val de Salnes represents 45%. A particularity here in Rias Baixas is that the pergola training system is still very common. This solution allows for a dryer canopy which the air and wind easily can access, an important feature in this very wet region of Spain. The main soil is granite, schist and sand which gives a lovely minerality and freshness to the wines. Typical tasting notes includes words like crisp, vibrant peach, pink grapefruit, excellent fruit definition and concentration. Often with a faint and pleasant finish of quince.
The smallest and youngest DO in Galicia with 400 ha, dating back to only 1994. Although we visited 2000 year old granite lagars from Roman times so the area is steeped in wine culture. The main grapes here are Godello for whites and Mencia for reds. Around 70% of the production is white and the rest red. Godello is a fairly unknown grape, that offers lovely plush juicy wines with aromas of peach, blossom, white pear and often a slight waxy note. The acidity is often slightly lower than for Albariño based wines. Mencia is the red grape of Galicia, producing fragrant medium bodied wines with crunchy purple fruit, violets and graphite. A bit Cabernet Franc like with a more feminine touch and softer tannins.
In my opinion this is the most beautiful region in Galicia with steep dramatic vineyard sites and beautiful rivers. Some vineyards are so remote that they can only be harvested by boat! The inclination can be as steep as 85% which makes even wine growers from Mosel go bleak! 93% of the output is red wine and the rest is white. The red grapes used are Mencia, Brancellao, Merenzau, Souson and Tempranillo (lucky we don’t have to learn those by heart on WSET Level 2 course!!).
This is one of the oldest wine regions in Spain where you can find winery dating back to the 7th century which is still active! Despite its long history though, most consumers outside Spain hasn’t heard about the area and of course that has to do with export, they only export 5% of their yearly production. Yet there are lovely wine to be discovered. The main white grape here is Treixadura but it is generally blended with Albariño and Loureiro to produce a complex blend. The wines are similar in style to Riax Baixas but often with a lower price point and some producers don’t fully achieve the quality level of their neighbouring region. Some great reds are also made and my favourite red of the whole trip was a biodynamic wine made of Mencia called Super Hero!!
Valdeorras means 'the golden valley' referring to Roman times when they came here to dig for gold in the river. Another golden treasure from here is the white Godello. This grape had almost vanished from Galicia 30 years ago, until two wine pioneers decided to save this lovely grape. Finca Godeval was one of the main players and still is one of the largest producers in Valdeorras with their 20ha. The soil here is slate and schist which gives the wines a great mineral back bone and focus. The purest expression of Godello which impressed me greatly was the wines of Rapael Palacios, above all the As Sortes and the very rare and expensive O Soro. Mostly white wines are produced here but there is also some lovely fragrant red wine from Mencia being made which are well worth trying out.
In terms of suitability for the yachting industry I would say the Albariño from Rias Baixas and the best Godellos from Valdeorras would suit most palates and would fit very well on any yacht wine list. They most certainly fit the modern flavour profile of unoaked, pure crisp and aromatic wines, making great alternatives to Sauvignon Blanc. For now we have decided to import one of my favourite wines from this trip. So please, help us widen the horizon of the typical yachting wine list and encourage your guests try new things ;-)