Vineyards are inherently beautiful and I am never less than enthralled with a visit to one, but despite visits to gorgeous vineyards in France, Italy, Germany, the United States, Chile, South Africa and elsewhere in Spain, I was unprepared for the unparalleled gorgeousness of Galicia’s mountainous Ribeira Sacra region.
Our day started with a quick maritime view of Galicia’s coastal Ria de Arousa as we left the town of Cambados to return inland and head back east. We quickly entered winding mountain roads as we gained altitude. Once in the mountains, we made our first stop of the day, back in Ourense province, in the village of Beade. There, we stopped to visit the small, but superb Adegas Manuel Formigo to taste their delicious white wines. Albariño and Godello are by far the most well known of Galicia’s white grape varietals, but there is another, far less well known, but equally delicious, at least in the hands of a skilled grower/vintner like Manuel Formigo. It is called Treixadura and is the main white varietal in this particular region, which is known as Ribeiro. They also grow a number of other lesser known, but delicious grapes and are working on producing a top flight red with their local varietals.
The Formigo whites, aged in steel tanks, are flinty and mineral rich, reminding me a lot of good Chablis. Like Chablis, the earth is rich in minerals and this comes through with real terroir.
From Beade we dove deeper into the serrated Galician mountain countryside heading towards the winding Miño and Sil Rivers and the Ribeira Sacra wine region. As we approached and came upon the river valleys of the region, I was stunned by their sheer sides and their sheer beauty. The vineyards, especially within the area known as Cañon de Sil, were built on terraces built into slopes that careened down towards the river. In some places, retrieval of the grapes for winemaking is a particularly daunting task with the grapes either hand carried or loaded onto trams on a rail DOWN to the river, where they are barged to the actual wineries. The process is a paean to dedication and hard work. The results, to my tasting, made me appreciate that work all the more.
Our initial destination was a riverside restaurant called Abaceria O Batuxo in the small town of Belesar, where we were meeting two local winemakers with their wines as well as a few others to taste over lunch. Roberto Regal of Toalde and Primitivo Lareu of Sabatelius (seen in the photo above) are two passionate and talented, young winemakers, whose Ribeira Sacra wines run the region’s gamut from Godello and Treixadura based whites to the beautifully rich reds of the Mencia grape, with each reciting stories of this particular time and place.These are wines full of romance and more importantly, full of pleasure.
Lunch was quite good, but simple, harkening back to my younger days when I chose restaurants based on their wine lists and ordered food to complement the wine rather than the reverse, which I now generally prefer. Still, this day on the Miño and Sil, were all about the wines and that was just fine by me given the bounty and beauty of the wines we had to drink. Croquetas, cheese, tuna and filet mignon were perfect foils for the not too heavy, wonderfully nuanced and unique bottles poured, tasted and (unfortunately) mostly spit as we work our way through more than a dozen different wines, each delicious and individually expressive with structure and balance not obscured by wood or drowned in excess alcohol. (Abaceria O Batuxo and Ribeira Sacra Flick’r Photoset).
From lunch, we headed out into blinding winter sunlight to explore the beautiful scenery and head on over to a particularly magnificent area, both in terms of views and quality Mencia based wines. That area, known as Amandi, lays in the Cañon de Sil, which winds into the Miño as it heads towards the Portugal border and the Atlantic Ocean. Our first destination was to visit one of the stars of the area, if not the region’s biggest rising star. Vineyard owner Jorge Carnero and enologist Enrique Pérez Fernández make tremendous red wines from the local Mencia grapes in their Cazoga wines. The winery itself is situated in an atmospheric old stone barn, where in a cutting cold we tasted a range of vintages of Cazoga. These are wines of incredible character and depth, the equal of Burgundies at multiples of the cost. These are wines equally at home with food as with sipping besides a roaring fire in a comfortable lounge chair. My senses were braced by the environment, the wine and the little bites of meaty empanadas served by Carnero to accompany his wine. (Amandi Flick’r Photoset) (Cazoga Flick’r Photoset)
We weren’t done when we left Cazoga – far from it. Carnero and Fernández accompanied us to the home/winery of Victor Rodríguez, who had tasted the wines at Cazoga with us. His winery, Val da Lenda, was not far away, located in the home he shares with his parents. There, he makes delicious white and red wines of the Ribeira Sacra and once again, we were treated to tasting some truly beautiful wines. (Val da Lenda Flick’r Photoset)
The last winery that we would stop at that day was Adega Verao, a legendary producer from steep, steep vineyards,and the producer of Cividade, a range of outstanding Ribeira Sacra wines that were not yet Gerry Dawes Selections. We tasted wines from the bottle and from the tanks, drawing off drafts as we wished. Though we continued to spit, with wines this good, it was no easier than it had been all day. The wines were delicious and by the time we left, they were in Gerry’s portfolio. (Cividade Flick’r Photoset)
That might have been the end of the day, but it wasn’t. Ribeira Sacra boasts a wealth of great wine and so does The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group. We actually had more wines to taste and, of course, dinner to eat. We arrived at Restaurante O Grelo in nearby Monforte de Lemos with Jorge Carnero and his Cazoga and met up with José Manuel Rodríguez, jefe of the D.O. Ribeira Sacra and owner/winemaker of another outstanding Ribeira Sacra stable of wines, those of Décima. This dinner was a light affair of classic Galician cooking including caldo Gallego, the classic Galician soup built around greens and beans, and other delights. The wines , food and company excelled as a busy and beautiful day came to a close. (O Grelo Flick’r Photoset)