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For me, there's something about the wines of Galicia that is particularly suited to cooler weather, darker nights, and heartier foods. The red wines and the white wines of the region, hailing from predominantly granitic soils, river valleys, and mountain slopes, combine purity of fruit, structured earthy minerality, and an overall savoriness. As my dinner routine turns towards roasted meat and fowl, root vegetables, and hearty bitter greens, I think of Mencía and Godello, Caíño and Treixadura, Merenzao and Albariño.
The red wines on this list are not full-bodied or tannic. Rather they are good matches to rich foods, with bright acid structure and herbal qualities providing contrast to large savory meals. The whites range from zippy, bright and saline to broader and spicier expressions of granitic soil. The Atlantic further influences these wines, whether they are from coastal Rías Baixas or further inland in Galicia's green mountains and valleys, lending salty minerality and bright fruit.
These wines come from appellations across Galicia, from Valdeorras to Rías Baixas. Many of them also come from very old vines, one of the fascinating and unique aspects of Spanish wines. These old (in some cases, centenarian) vines lend depth and intensity to the wines, and, at least for me, a connection to the long history of viticulture in these areas. Many of Galicia's vineyards were terraced and planted by Greek slaves in the Roman period; in the medieval era the region was one of the great crossroads of Christendom owing to the Camino de Santiago, the most popular pilgrimage route in Europe. Whether that connection to history fascinates or not, these are great pairings for the food of this season and great accompaniments to the transitional weather of fall and early winter.
Xurxo Alba is making a number of expressions of Albariño and other local Galician grapes in Cambados, in the Rías Baixas DOC in Galicia. His farming and winemaking are innovative and experimental, as he pursues organics and biodynamics in this challenging climate, ferments his wines exclusively with native yeasts, and adds little to no sulfur during production. This is an extremely Atlantic-influenced area, and the wines show that influence clearly. The entry level cuvée is made from grapes sourced from multiple sites with mainly sandy soil. The fruit from each parcel is vinified separately (some in stainless steel, some in barrels) gaining structure and complexity of flavor from six months spent on the fine lees. 2019 was a difficult vintage (late summer rains on the coast) that ended up producing beautiful wines with lots of very pretty structure and texture. This is a very good, classic expression of Albariño with plenty of saline minerality and joyous notes of stone-fruit and sea air. Ben Fletcher
The valleys of Ribeiro have been renowned for their white wines, dry and sweet, for hundreds of years. Only in the first part of the 20th century did this reputation begin to diminish due to war, vine diseases, and the introduction of over-productive but inferior tasting grape varieties like Palomino. But any historian of wine or appreciator of elegant white wines will tell you that Ribeiro is a special place, and that the decomposed granitic soils (the sabrego) and old terraced vineyards are capable of producing truly exceptional wines. Bernardo Estevez manually farms roughly 5 hectares of vines that range in age from 20 to 100 years old. His agricultural approach is strict biodynamism, and he is an important proponent of biodynamics in Ribeiro. The majority of the white grapes are Lado and Treixadura, probably the two "noblest" grapes of the appellation. The rest of the blend in the Chans e lus (soil and light) Castes Branco is composed of the other indigenous grapes: Silberilla, Godello, Albilla, Loureira, Verdello Antiguo. He harvests his vineyards by hand, then presses the grapes whole cluster into an old 500L French oak barrel and an ancient 1500L chestnut foudre, where they ferment with indigenous yeasts. The wine rests in barrels for 10 months before bottling with very minimal sulfur, and then rests again in bottle at length before release. For me, this bottle delivers all of the many pleasures of Ribeiro white wine. Jubilant and expressive on opening, the nose is full of granitic stone, white and yellow flowers, wildflower honey, and melon. The palate is beautifully balanced between granitic minerality that lends ginger spice, length, breadth, and texture and the ripe fruit notes of peach, melon, and citrus. Despite the intensity of these different flavors, the balance between them yields a surprisingly delicate and thoughtful wine that will accompany the flavors of the fall and winter table very well. Ben Fletcher
"Conas brancas?" means "what to do about the whites?," referring to old vines of white grapes that were planted among the Mencia and Merenzao vines in the vineyards worked by Fedellos do Couto. For many years these grapes were too abundant to blend into the red wines, but not vigorous enough to bottle on their own. Eventually, this bottling became the answer: a field blend of Godello, Dona Blanca, Albariño, Treixadura, Lado, and Torrontes that reflects the terroir and the local white varieties of Ribeira Sacra. About 75% of the grapes are fermented whole cluster, then macerated on their skins for 40 days, while the Godello is pressed into old barrels. Finally, these are blended to produce a vibrant medium-bodied wine with notes of beeswax and pear but also salinity and bright acidity. 2016 was a cooler vintage, which shows in the stony, mineral concentration of this vintage of Conasabrancas. This would be well-suited to the table at Thanksgiving, a friendly, medium-bodied white wine to pair with roast potatoes, stuffing, or mushrooms. Ben Fletcher
Alberto Nanclares and Sylvia Prieto are making expressive, exciting wines from Albarino and other local grapes in Rias Baixas. This wine is from multiple sites in Cambados on granitic and sandy soils. The vines range in age from 30 to 60 years, the wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts and raised in small tanks for close to a year. The 2019 is a classic expression of focused, acid-driven Albarino, with notes of lime, sea shell, and the slightest tinge of tropicality. An absolute favorite of the whole staff here. Ben Fletcher
O Esteiro is a blend of Caíño, Espadeiro, and Mencía from vineyards along the Atlantic coast in Rias Baixas, farmed organically by Xurxo Alba. Although Rias Baixas is better known for Albarino, this is a refreshing red, perfect for the summer. On the nose, it is exceedingly mineral and saline with delicate red fruits, while the very light bodied palate shows bolder berry notes alongside tons of refreshing, salty minerality and structuring acidity. I keep returning to the balance of minerality and bright herbaceous notes offered by this wine! Ben Fletcher
Portela do Vento is made from a blend of Mencia and Garnacha Tintorera, from biodynamically farmed parcels throughout Ribeira Sacra. Mostly destemmed, and made in a bright, easy drinking style, this is pretty and red-fruited with lots of granitic minerality. The nose shows granite spice, pomegranate and cherry, while the palate emphasizes strawberry notes. Bottled without fining or filtration, and with no added sulfur. Ben Fletcher
Trousseau is a wine of many names. In Galicia, it goes by Merenzao, Maria Ordona, or Bastardo. Under any name, however, it is very rare to find a single varietal bottling of this grape from Ribeira Sacra (in 2008 there were only about 12 hectares of the grape planted in the region, per Jancis Robinson) - which is exactly what this is. And from the moment it is poured this is clearly Trousseau: ruddy, ferrous Indian red in hue, the wine has aromas of violets, strawberries, salt, and earth. The palate is light but framed by pretty tannins that lend great structure: the palate leans towards tart red berries, orange peel, earth and granitic spice. If you're a fan of Jura Trousseau, this is a relative value and a fascinating expression of the variety; if you're enamored of the Mencia-based reds of Ribeira Sacra, this is an intriguing and satisfying refraction of that terroir through the lens of a very different grape. One of my favorite wines that I've tasted recently. Ben Fletcher
Guímaro (which means "rebel" in Gallego) was founded by Pedro Rodriguez in 1991, in Amandi, the most celebrated subzone of Ribeira Sacra. Here Mencía and other indigenous varieties (Merenzao, Mouratón, Brancellao, Caiño, Sousón...) are planted on very steep terraced slopes of slate on the northern bank of the river Sil. The vines on these south-facing slopes (almost cliffs, really - I definitely recommend checking out a photograph of these precariously steep vineyards) produce wines of great mineral intensity and character. Camiño Real comes from six terraced vineyards around Amandi, with about 85% of the blend Mencía and 15% other indigenous red varieties. Pedro harvests the grapes by hand and ferments them together in open-top oak vats with 40 days of maceration on the skins before raising in an foudre and 225L and 500L barrels. Right now, this shows a bit tight, but it will blossom with air or further bottle age into a great expression of Ribeira Sacra: structured, medium-bodied, spicy and very gastronomic. Ben Fletcher
1984 is a faithful expression of Bierzo Mencía from 3 organically farmed plots of old vines (around 60 years old) at around 650m in elevation in the appellation’s southwest. These are some of the highest elevation vines in the Bierzo appellation: the climate here is somewhat humid, and the soils are dominated by quartz, iron and slate rather than the clays of the valley floor. The grapes for the 2018 were harvested by hand in the second week of September, partially destemmed, and allowed to ferment and macerate on their skins for 3-4 days before being pressed into old French oak barrels for 7 months to rest. The finished wine was bottled without fining or filtering, and there was no sulfur employed in the winemaking. 1984 shows the terrific tension between power and delicacy that Bierzo wines can embody: the nose is enticing and friendly with black and red fruits and earth while the palate is all cherry and black raspberry framed with brisk acidity, gently structuring tannins, and notes of black tea, bergamot, and clove. Really lovely and an incredible bargain. Ben Fletcher
Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto make some of our favorite Albarinos. Recently, they've also been making some very interesting red wines from Rias Baixas (and also a small project in Ribeiro). A Senda Vermella hails from organically farmed plots of Caino and Mencia in Rias Baixas, around the villages of Cambados, Vilanova and Barro. 80% of the juice is from the 2018 harvest, picked in September, fermented whole-cluster, and aged in a blend of very old French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. The other 20% comes from the 2017 vintage (far cooler than the 2018 vintage), which saw the same treatment and had aged on its lees in used barrels since the previous winter. Once united, the wine aged a further 9 months on its lees before being bottled without fining or filtering and with just a touch of SO2. The bottled wine rested for a further 10 months before release. This is outstanding: delicate, defined, and elegant. On the nose, plenty of crushed black pepper, delicate herbaceous notes, and crushed raspberry and blackberry. The palate is light and fresh, showing more Caino than Mencia: red berries, thyme, black pepper, around a mineral core. Complex, but so appealing that it disappears fast - qualities that this wine shares with the Nanclares y Prieto Albarinos. Ben Fletcher
Soverribas is consistently an exceptional expression of Albariño at the highest level, and the 2018 is exactly that. Citrus, briny sea air and fresh cut green herbs unite on the nose, and the palate answers with peach and rock salt around a core of long, intense stony acidity. From a single southwest-facing vineyard (called Paraje Manzaniña), the grapes are harvested in September, pressed whole cluster and fermented with native yeasts then rested on the lees in a very large old oak barrel for 11 months, with bâtonnage for the first three. Bottled without fining or filtering and with only a modest amount of sulfur. This was a bit tight, and could use either a year or two (or maybe even longer?) or a lengthy decant. Ben Fletcher
La Tinaja de Aranzazu is Alberto and Silvia's wine made in Tinaja, the traditional amphorae used for hundreds of years in Spanish winemaking. The grapes come from the Paraje Mina vineyard (Alberto's home vineyard) and another old plot of vines on sandy granitic soils. The grapes were hand harvested and pressed whole cluster to ferment with their native yeasts in two tinajas, where the wine then rested for nine months on its lees, with weekly bâtonnage at the start. The tinajas impart a denser, richer texture to this wine, but the core is pure Albariño acidity, with salty, stone-fruit aromas and a long, dense palate. Like the other single-vineyard releases from Nanclares, this could probably use either a long decant or some time in bottle. Ben Fletcher
Viña Somoza is a pioneering winery working to revive Godello, the indigenous white grape of Valdeorras. Javier Garcia works a number of vineyards throughout Valdeorras, all planted to Godello, which has been reestablished as the region's premier white grape after years of dominance by relatively neutral Palomino. Godello has nice texture and weight (especially when raised on the lees, as Neno is), but balanced by a fine and bright acidity. Neno shows the fullness characteristic of Godello with some leesy texture and notes of pear and apple, but also fine acidity (especially in the 2016 vintage) and cooling minerality. Ben Fletcher
Valdeorras is better known for white wines from Godello than red wines, and the Somoza Godello has become something of a staple at Chambers Street the past few years, but this blend of red grapes from a large number of small parcels from Vina Somoza is a lifted, dense, and hedonistic red wine from the region. Winemaker Javier García Alonso macerated Mencía, Garnacha Tintorera, Mouratón, Merenzao, Gran Negro, and Brancellao grapes together for a little more than a month in open-topped neutral fermenters before pressing the juice into 400L and 500L barrels to rest on its lees over winter. The result is a spicy, dark fruited wine with notes of plum, blackberry and exotic spices on the nose, and a structured but delicate palate of mixed small berries (raspberry, blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry) and bright minerality that finishes with long dense spiciness. The character of the Mencía certianly shines through, but the bright acid of Garnacha Tintorera and the delicate red fruit of Merenzao (Jura's Trousseau) are equally apparent. A beautiful wine that opens splendidly with air to reveal more and more length and surprising power. Ben Fletcher
The Mein vineyard surrounds the old San Clodio monastery in Ribeiro's Avia valley, on the region's classic sandy granitic soils. Winemaking has a long history here as a project first of the Romans, and then the region's monastic orders. In 1988, the vineyard was replanted to local varieties, first white then red, by Javier Alén and his associates. Since then, the Vina Mein wines have been models for the revitalization of traditional winemaking in Ribeiro, and have evolved towards a bright, dense, style emphasizing purity of fruit: fermented and aged in stainless steel, the wines spend an extended period on the lees to contribute structure and body. The 2017 shows ripe apple, peach and tropical notes on the nose, while the palate is generously peachy and very mineral. The finish is broad and granitic, and this is a great late summer and fall white wine, suited to a range of foods or sipping on its own. Ben Fletcher