All You Need to Know: Spanish Galician Wines
The Atlantic climate and tough terrains of north-western Spain are better known to pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago than by wine drinkers. Nestled in the terraces and valleys of Galicia in north-western Spain are several significant wine regions: Monterrei, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, Valdeorras and Rías Baixas.
It is said that wine production arrived in the region with the Cistercian Monks in the 12th century. Vineyards then blossomed in the granite soils, in part due to the ample rainwater, long ripening season, warm summer days and cool overnight temperatures. In the 1800’s, the region was devastated by an outbreak of phylloxera, which all but halted production in Galicia for almost 100 years. The region then faltered economically and politically until the fall of Franco’s dictatorship in 1975. Upon Spain’s entry into the EU in 1986, the European Union poured funding into the region, which has since been granted a number of protected origin (Denominación de Orixe) classifications.
Today, Galicia is a popular tourist destination, particularly the capital Santiago de Compostela and coastal towns like A Coruña and Vigo. The region has a strong industry in fishing, clothing manufacture, mining, agriculture and viticulture. Like the language in Galicia, the wines here show some Portuguese influence, and indeed Albariño, Treixadura and Mencía grapes are cultivated across the border in Portugal.
Albariño spearheads the Galician wine output, with bottles being exported to the UK and globally. The Albariño grape from the Rías Baixas produces a popular, dry white wine with an alcohol content of roughly 12%. In Gallego, the local language, ‘rías baixas’ means the lower estuaries. Rías Baixas Albariño wines are distinctively aromatic, with a ripe flavour and a crisp tang from the grape’s skin and seeds, toughened by the changeable Galician weather.
Other Galician white grapes include Godello, which has a rich, attractive minerality. Godello is produced in Valdeorras and these wines can be oaked and creamy. Treixadura and Loureiro are fruitier, aromatic grapes well suited to blended whites. Treixadura is widely produced in the Ribeiro region, which is a warm and active winegrowing region.
Galicia also produces impressive red wines. Mencía is a good example of a Galician red grape, as it produces rich, fruity, almost herbal wines. The heat in Bierzo, where Mencia is produced, is tempered by the Atlantic breeze to keep alcohol levels sufficiently low. Mencía is sometimes used to make rosé wines in the Valdeorras region. Other red grape varieties include Espadeiro and Caiño Tinto, which are not widely produced but nonetheless make interesting Spanish wines.
Locally, Albariño, Godello and Treixadura wines are most commonly served with seafood. Galicia produces magnificent octopus, mussels, scallops and clams. The region’s seafood dishes are often seasoned with paprika, olive oil, garlic and liberal amounts of salt. Galicia’s minerally, fresh white wines can stand up to these flavours, enhancing the sweetness of the seafood. Albariño’s clean flavours also match well with Galician fruits and vegetables, such as Padrón peppers. In Santiago de Compostela, local white wines may be served with less predictable accompaniments like Spanish omelette and tostadas with Tetilla cheese or salt cod, which are offered for free to pilgrims and tourists. Galicia’s spicy red wines are perfect for charcuterie, particularly Jamón Ibérico. Galician ribeye would be a good match, too. Mencía would be great with stronger cheeses such as Manchego and Tetilla.
At home in the UK, try Galician reds with steaks or even sausages. A cheese board with cheddar, Red Leicester and any other strong, British cheeses would be a winner. Perhaps a good match for Galician white wines would be fresh Scottish oysters or mussels, although there is something to be said for enjoying a large glass of cold Albariño in the sunshine with no accompaniment at all. Salud!
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