When most tourists think of Spain they picture the sprawling Las Ramblas in Barcelona, strolling along the Gran Vía in Madrid, sipping café con leche outside of the Museo del Prado, flamenco music, chorizo, the list goes on. Many vacationers will be surprised to find that Galicia, known as “green Spain,” looks more like Ireland with its lush green hillsides and maritime influences than the rest of the country. Verdant green valleys, dramatic coastline views, and fresh seafood are commonplace here.
Winemaking in Galicia dates all the way back 2,000 years to the time of Roman rule. The rich tradition of winemaking here and the diverse microclimates allow for the production of fresh, ripe, and complex white wines, and a small production of impressive reds. Unlike the bold powerhouse reds of Ribera del Duero, Galician wines display softness, finesse, and elegance.
Galicia has five major classified wine regions, Rías Baixas on the Atlantic coast, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras, and Monterrei, which are all much smaller and further inland.
Wines to Drink Now
Albariño is the most well-known grape variety in Galicia and it flourishes in Rías Baixas. It is considered Spain’s quintessential white wine. The sea influence is prominent and the best wines display a briny, salty character backed by zippy acidity. The granitic soils in Rías Baixas create wines with complex stony minerality. The best examples show off lovely citrus, green apple, and tropical fruit character. They pair wonderfully with the local delicacy, Pulpo (octopus).
2016 Vinabade Albariño, Rías Baixas $14.99
Fresh, floral, and very fragrant. Notes of nectarine, peach, and lemon zest on the nose and palate. The round texture and creamy mouthfeel make this wine a tremendous value.
2016 Raiolas Doutono Albariño, Rías Baixas $15.99,
Elegant and lush, this wine is another great example of the complexity possible from Albariño. Honeydew melon, apple blossom, and salty flavors.
2016 Altos de Cristimil Albariño White Label, Rías Baixas $19.99
Notes of tropical fruits like pineapple and peach are followed by hints of creamy marshmallow and toasted vanilla. The viscous texture comes from several months spent on the lees (dead yeast cells) and makes it a perfect pairing for buttery dishes like seafood risotto or scallops sautéed in butter.
Godello is a full-bodied white wine with a mineral element. It is mostly grown in Valdeorras, in eastern Galicia, but it can also be found in other regions of eastern Galicia, including, Ribeira Sacra and Monterrei. Godello, like Chardonnay, has the ability to express the place (terroir) where it’s grown. Frequent stirring of the lees also creates a creamy, yeasty, and biscuity quality, a practice commonly used in the production of high-priced Chardonnays.
2014 Terra do Castelo Godello, Ribeiro $14.99
Apple, pear, and cantaloupe aromas with hints of bright lemon peel and good weight. This is a complex, zippy, and fresh wine without being overly tart.
2015 Avancia Godello, Valdeorras $29.99
A pure expression of place, Avancia Godello comes from a single vineyard plot planted in 1904. It ages beautifully and it has been recognized by Robert Parker as Spain’s best Godello. The grape was almost extinct at the end of the 1980’s until Jorge Ordóñez sought to preserve the indigenous variety. The wine spent 10 months on the lees in French oak barrels.
In the 1970s, due to poor economic conditions, winegrowers in Ribeiro abandoned the native grapes, Treixadura and Albariño, in a favor of higher-yielding varieties like, Palomino and Garnacha. Palomino is wonderful when made into sherry but very bland when used for still white wines.
Ribeiro, however, has spent the last decade returning to it’s roots, replanting the native varietals, and contributing major investments in the vineyards. Today, the wines are very impressive. The region is located about an hour inland from Rías Baixas and it is split into three main sections: Miño, Arnoia, and Avia. Ribeiro has a reputation for the fresh and complex Treixadura white grape planted to steep terraced, sun-drenched slopes.
Treixadura is fresh, juicy, and round, with fruit-driven notes of lemon and apple. Warmer Mediterranean climate and Atlantic influence imparts Ribeiro wines with more structure and weight, along with fragrant floral aromas. Commonly, it is blended with other grapes such as Albariño or Loureiro. However, as a single varietal wine, it stands strong producing lovely and complex citrus flavors.
2015 Alma de Vino Mar y Montana, Ribeiro $24.99
This stunner is owned by an American, April Cullum, a wine expert with 30 years’ experience studying and promoting Spanish wines. Alma de Vino Mar y Montana, is a blend of predominantly Treixadura, with Torrontés, Godello, Albariño, and Loureiro. It shows off a delightfully complex, fresh and bright character with laser focused acidity. Meyer lemon, orange blossom, and nectarine explode from the glass. Full-bodied, ripe, and lovely.
There are not many red wines in Galicia, but the best are made from the Mencía grape. The region, Bierzo, just east of Galicia, is known for some of the most prestigious examples. Galician red wines are much harder to find than whites. They only grown only in the warmer, sunnier microclimates where they can fully ripen. When done right they produce exciting, intensely fragrant wines packed with lively red fruit.
2014 Bodega de Abad Sierra Iberica Mencía, Bierzo $19.99
Shows off a velvety palate with low tannins. Tart Bring cherry, red raspberries, with hints of dried herbs, make this a wonderful pairing with Jamón ibérico.
2012 Pilgrim Crianza Mencía, Bierzo $21.99
Ripe blackberries, blueberries, and a note of creamy balsamic on the palate. This in an incredibly aromatic and juicy wine.
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