The cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, the final resting place of Saint James, rises out of the landscape, infested with antiquity. The rambling steep streets give way to shafts of dramatic light, emblazoned chapels, and tightly packed tapas bars, dusty, as old novels pressed together in antiquarian bookshops.
Pilgrims are everywhere, chattering with the excitement of finishing the camino. They seem to embrace the wine and tapas with the familiarity of an old friend not seen for an age. Yet beyond the edges of this city is the wilderness of Galicia, the north-western-most corner of Spain, rugged and beautiful.
Betanzos: The old capital
My own pilgrimage is usually to Ares, just north of A Coruna, but this year we have vowed to revisit the south, down to the famous Rias Baixas, where grapevines are trained along granite supports and the Albariño grapes are pressed to make a white wine recognisable in every corner of the world.
En route, Natalia and I stop in at Betanzos, another ancient pile of a compacted city built up high over a hill. We are here for one reason only: tortilla. This town has a secret cache of tapas bars buried into tiny streets where proprietors compete to make the best omelette. We order two portions with an additional two of bacalao, or, in English, salt cod. The tortilla is bright yellow-orange like a child's crayon depiction of the sun. The runny egg yolk is pushing out through the thin outer crust. It is so rich that I order another local wine immediately to keep my digestive system in check. If it wasn’t late morning and I wasn’t driving, then a healthy Spanish brandy would have been ordered.
Cambados: Galicia’s answer to Ascoli Piceno
Vines in Cambados are everywhere. Entering the city they seem to spring up out of the gutters and wrap themselves around washing lines, weaving themselves into the fabric of human life. What is not of the vine, is hewn of granite. The buildings here have been built to survive tectonic shocks, it is thirsty work just contemplating the effort behind the construction!
All of Galicia is defined by it’s proximity to the Atlantic ocean that sets the tempo, the climate, the scent in the air, the diet, and the freshness and elegance of the wine. In Cambados, the people who embody the culture of this part of Spain get some respite, as it is protected by a string of small islands.
Walking through the town, small tapas bars appear everywhere with an abundance of seafood on offer. Clams, oysters, percebes (goose claw clams), gambas a la plancha, razor clams, and so on. We indulge, sampling a wide variety of Albariño along the way.
It is ancient here, pretty and friendly. There is a forgotten air about the place; people come into our line of vision and leave again, like ghosts.
Palacio de Fefiñanes
The Palacio de Fefiñanes in Cambados, an ancient centrepiece of the town
The next day, Richard arrives from Ares and joins Natalia and I. We are in a post-siesta state of mind and ready to visit the Palacio that, in the 16th century, gave birth to the town. We find Richard in the Praza de Fefiñáns, a large square that marks the entrance to the palacio. The stone edifice is a sight to behold, more ancient than we were expecting and, apparently, in a state of permanent siesta.
Inside we are shown the vineyards in the spacious walled gardens that have provided the fruits of the vine throughout the centuries. The grapes harvested here are supplemented enormously by the small growers with their knitted vines all over the town and surrounding slopes of the Salnés valley.
The noble family who founded the Pazo (‘manor house’, or ‘palace’), still live here in apartments above the winery. The winemaking uses stainless steel tanks and oak barrels for ageing some of the wines. We are here just after the harvest and get to taste the newly fermented juice. It’s cloudy, tart, and dry.
Our guide, Carmen gives us a glimpse of the working pazo in action. She notes that aside from showing us around, she is running the admin, organising the winemaking, tasting, and cleaning barrels. There is no complaint, only relish.
Tasting the wines of Bodegas Del Palacio Fefiñanes
Albariño De Fefiñanes, 2017
This is the flagship wine of the estate, pale in colour, floral and apple aroma. These are the wines that go well with a light pinxo of anchovy, green olives, a ration of pulpo. There’s a decent mineral bite of tingling acidity.
The flavour lingers for a while, fresh and pleasing.
1583 Albariño de Fefiñanes
Named after the birthdate of the 1st Viscount of the estate, this wine is aged in Bordeaux barrels with lees stirring. This is all apparent in the complete style change of aroma. The fruits are rounder, riper, with that hint of vanilla signalling it’s time to sip.
More texture in this wine, making it gastronomic. Think bigger dishes than the light tapas, such as baby squids in oil with peppers, or gambas a la plancha.
I love this style of wine, a bit bolder, more structured, great length of flavour. Yum!
Albariño de Fefiñanes III año
This is a multi-prize winning wine for good reason. It is fermented in stainless-steel tanks and aged for 27 months, with 7 months on the lees with stirring x3 per week.
Immediate sense of pleasure when I dipped my nose into the glass. An evolved complexity of apple, grapefruit, herbs. The texture is creamy, elegant, coating the mouth. Great style.
This is a wine for sitting in front of the fire and reclaiming some me-time. We took a bottle away and shared it in Santiago on the last night. A great way to toast a way of life!
Aimas de Lanzos 2014, Magnum only (€88 euros at the cellar door)
This is different altogether, heavyweight bright golden wine, with subtle aromas of apple brandy, cooked pear, a touch of spice. Luxurious texture, long lingering flavours recede to a tidy finish.
Rich and powerful, reminiscent of great champagne. Begs for another glass.
This wine is sold at the estate only and in small production of magnums. If you are visiting, it is a must to try!
The show must go on…
Leaving the winery we are back immediately in the centre of the town. A fiesta has emerged, it is called The Ultimate Fiesta… we dance, drink, are merry… the next day we amble through Santiago de Compostela, happening upon the food market. Somewhat hazily we order clams, oysters, fresh pulpo, muscles, percebes, scallops, and hand it to a lady in a booth who prepares it all for us within a few minutes. Another stall has a comprehensive selection of local wines. We order glasses of Ribeiro, and so follows the best lunch in Galicia in 18 years.
Within days we are back in London, a month of veganism begins.
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Discord in Odesa; pruning at Shabo goes on!
Last week a picture was posted on Twitter of vines in Shabo, a large estate that lies to the west of Odesa on southern Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline. The image seemed benign at face value but the reality, of course, is that the city of Odesa has been bracing itself for attack by Russian forces.
An aperitif by the coliseum
As COVID-19 conspires with the grimmest of winds and rain to force a societal retreat behind our own front doors, the word ennui springs to mind. The muddle of displeasure is pierced when Natalia hands me a large bulbous glass of a liquid I do not recognise.
Artichoke pasta and very fine Pigato
Britain’s lamentable exit
On the eve of Britain’s official departure from the EU, my partner and I decided to explore a small town on the Italian Riviera where thewintry cold doesn’t feel so much like cold war bite.
I had warned my significant other that I would be having an inverse departure party, a release of the sanity valve if you like!
Soave: volcanic wines with elegance and longevity
Sitting inside the ancient castle walls inside the town of Soave, a short drive from Verona in northern Italy, the unique slightly almond aroma of the indigenous grape, Garganega, rises gently from my glass. The castle sprawls up the side of an extinct volcano that gives the region its variant soil structures that mark out the better quality of Soave wines.
An American In Paris; Tanisha Townsend (@GirlMeetsGlass) discusses podcasts, Paris wine bars, & what she's drinking at the moment
Tanisha Townsend decided to move to Paris 4 years ago after regularly passing through the city en route to the world’s most famous vineyards. In fact, it was about 2 years ago at the Printemps de Champagne Bouzy Rouge tasting in Reims that I saw (who we shall now refer to as) GirlMeetsGlass chirpily speaking to her web followers on Snapchat.