The wild and rocky landscape in Galicia stretches around the north-west corner of Spain, a vast spread lucious green forested river valleys called rias. The towns, hewn out of solid limestone, are for the most part very sleepy, except for during the fiestas when locals swarm into town squares and tapas bars in search of fun, food and beverage.
Moving from narrow bars to restaurants and back again there are three main types of white wines (vinos blancos) that one sees on chalkboards and wine lists: Ribeiro DO, Godello and, of course, Albarino. Note that the first is a region and the second two are grape varieties. Frequently, the two varieties are blended in Ribeiro DO but also can be vinified as single-variety wines.
The Ribeiro region is the oldest designated wine-producing region in Galicia and produces a mixture of blended wines that vary greatly in price but maintain a very attractive quality even at the lower end of the scale. The grape varieties used include the Albarino and Godello varieties, as well as, Treixadura, Torrontés, Loureira, Lado and Caíño blanco.
90% of wines made in Ribeiro DO are white wines and are notable for their light, elegant aromas of herbs, flowers and hints of tropical and white fruits. Although they can be richer and gastronomic, my favourite style is the refreshing aromatic Blancos that dance across the palate with a deft lightness of touch.
The Ribeiro Joven (young) is the wine of choice for barflies pitching up for long chats on a low budget. Usually no more than €1.20 a glass; light, snappy and simple, with a perfume of white peach. As we sip, the short burst of fruit fades as quickly as the idle chat we are engaged in. Thirst quenching and totally gluggable, what more could you ask for?
The Ribeiro DO wines are blended and not really meant for ageing although they can be made more complex by giving them more lees contact. It is the freshness and simplicity of these wines that are so attractive and it is easy to imagine pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela sliding countless copas of these wines into their bellies, recounting a blistered journey before staggering on towards the cathedral.
The wines usually contain mostly the treixadura variety but can be blended with any of the following: Torrontés, Godello, Loureira, Albariño, Lado, Caíño blanco, Palomino and Albillo.
Albarino is a grape variety that is now being produced across the world. It is versatile and very versatile with food pairings, especially with seafood. I once had a six-hour lunch with a winemaker, Pablo Padin, whereby we continued through pork steaks with his Segrel wine. The richness of the wine combined with very good acidity combined very nicely with the fat and flavours in the meat. A total success despite the impact on my waist-line!
Albarino is now commonly represented on the shelves of British supermarkets and with good reason. It is a delicious grape variety produced mainly in the Rias Baixas region, in small parcels of land sprawling out of ancient towns up into the mountains and beyond.
Albarino offers more body, more tropical aroma and more roundness, whilst preserving its’ fresh quality, making it a perfect food wine. Galicia is very famous for seafood and you don’t have to look hard to find great plates of baby fried squids, octopus in the Galican style (mouth-melting in olive oil, salt and paprika with slices of potato), gambas a la plancha (shrimps cooked over a hot pan with lots of salt and lemon), or cod served over chips made from Galician potatoes (the best in Spain).
With so much talk of seafood, people often forget that Galicia is a terrific place to buy vegetables. The climate is conducive to growing all kinds of food and here a vegetarian could live out the days in absolute bliss. The now globally recognised padron peppers come from the town of Padron in Galicia.
Godello from the Valdeorras region
Wines made from Godello (pronounced locally as godejo) can vary in quality but when they are good they are superb. One of my most pleasing gastronomic memories from this trip was eating barbecued chicken thighs washed down with a bottle of Godello. The perfect acidity cutting through the fat, the taste of the wine, complex and long in flavour, a pause for appreciation before taking another bite. A luxury for the senses.
Godello can range in price from around €6-20 and if you spy a bottle outside of Spain then definitely try it. The better bottles, as we noticed in nearby Vinho Verde, benefit from batonnage, the process of stirring the lees, to enrich and add texture and flavour to the wine. Lees stirring can detract from the freshness of the wine but when done well can increase the complexity.
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