Galician wines on their way to becoming legendary wines

Galician wines with their designations of origin (Rias Baixas, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Monterrei and Valdeorras) are to become legendary wines.

Galician wines on their way to becoming legendary wines
Wineries in Galicia on their way to becoming legendary. Photo by Stefan Schauberger / Unsplash

Some legends said that Galician wines (especially the whites) spoiled when they left Galicia, another that the grape species (especially Albariño) came from Burgundy brought by Cistercian monks and another even more delirious that the Albariño grape was Galician acclimatization of the Jerez palomino. Research and winemaking technology have largely discarded these legends.

Today there are 450 wineries in the five Galician appellations. The most numerous are Rías Baixas (180) and Ribeiro (107). Ribeira Sacra has 94, Valdeorras has 44 and Monterrei has 25 wineries.

D.O. Ribeiro

The Ribeiro Designation of Origin is located on the northwestern edge of the province of Ourense and at the confluence of the valleys formed by the Miño, Avia, and Arnoia rivers. A region 45 km. from the Atlantic Ocean, in a very particular area of excellent aptitude for the cultivation of the vine. With an approximate extension of 2,500 hectares. The native grapes of the denomination of origin Ribeiro are for white grapes: Treixadura, Torrontés, Godello, Loureira, Albariño, Lado and white Caíño and for red grapes: red Caíño, Sousón, Ferrón, Mencía and Brancellao.

D.O. Rias Baixas

The homeland of the Albariño grape has five sub-zones: Salnes, Condado de Tea, O Rosal, Ribeira do Ulla and Soutomaior. The vineyards occupy an area of about 2,700 hectares near the coast. This appellation is the largest producer in Galicia, with 55 of its wineries producing more than 25,000 liters and some 20 producing more than 75,000 liters. Total production exceeds 10 million liters. The most famous brands are Santiago Ruiz and Terras Gauda from the O Rosal subzone and Martín Codax from Val do Salnés.

D. O. Ribeira Sacra

It has a total of 1,242 hectares of vineyards with a production of almost five million liters of which 95% are of the mencía grape variety and the rest is distributed among the red varieties merenzao, brancellao, sousón, caiño into, and tempranillo as preferred and as authorized mouratón and garnacha tintorera and the white varieties godello, loureira, treixadura, dona branca, albariño, and torrentés. This wine-growing area has revived the Galician reds under the protection of the microclimate formed by the Sil river and the south-facing slopes.

D.O. Valdeorras

The production area of Valdeorras is located in the north-eastern part of the province of Orense (Spain). It is made up of 8 municipalities. The average altitude of the vineyards is 500 meters above sea level, the soils are slatey with a Mediterranean-oceanic climate.

The preferred varieties are Mencía, Tempranillo, Brancellao, Merenzao, Sousón, Caíño tinto, Espadeiro and Ferrón for red wines Godello, Dona Branca, Loureira, Treixadura, Albariño, Torrontés and Lado for white wines. In this region the Godello grape triumphs, which gives white wines with a higher alcohol content than Albariño and can be aged in oak barrels. It is now a very fashionable wine.

D.O. Monterrei

It is the youngest appellation (1995) and its production area extends along the Támega river valley, around Verín, in the province of Ourense, with an area of slightly less than 700 hectares bordering Portugal. The preferred white grapes are Godello, Dona Branca and Treixadura and Mencia and Merenzao for red wines.

Mencia, value for the future

Galician red wines had a bad press in the past, as coarse and very acidic wines. Modernity and oenological science have recovered the Mencía grape, predominant in four of the five Galician designations of origin, especially in Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras, and has led to the recovery of other native grapes such as Caiño tinto, Brancellao, and Sousón.

The mencía grape was introduced in the Iberian Peninsula in Roman times. After recovering from the disaster of the phylloxera epidemic at the end of the 19th century, which caused a serious economic crisis in its traditional growing areas, it is used for the production of aromatic and fruity wines, with intense color, and with aging possibilities. Single varietal Mencía wines are produced and blended with souson, caiño and brancellao and the more foreign Garnacha Tintorera and Tempranillo.