Galicia’s cool and misty climate necessitates a focus on earlier-ripening grapes, especially white varieties. Aromatic varieties prosper, with Albariño the most visible success in international markets. Grown along the coast, and along the rivers that give Rias Baixas (“lower fjords”) its name, Albariño is the dominant grape; it can vary from crisp and tangy to round and peachy..
Other white grapes fill the vineyards moving inland; the rich and complex Godello grape rules in Valdeorras (the “valley of gold”, reflecting Rome’s interest in the place 2000 years ago). Godello, Treixadura and others serve the regions of Monterrei and the picturesque DOs of Ribeiro and Ribeira Sacra. But away from the coast temperatures rise, so red grapes do well too; the Mencia grape is one of northwest Spain’s most distinctive red varieties.
Climate change is an issue, as Albariño requires a cooler climate. The reliance upon tangy, tart wines that match the famed shellfish and seafood from the Atlantic Ocean goes hand in hand with cool weather.
Denominations of origin:
Denominacion de Origen
The spectacular success of Rías Baixas' fragrant, elegant white wines since winning DO status in 1988 has given Galician winemaking a new lift.
The harnessing of modern technology has also been a key influence. Producers range from modern cooperatives to small-scale artisan producers - here called adegas, the Galician name for bodegas- some of whom now make 'signature' wines of astonishing quality and complexity.
With Albariño achieving wide international success, it has encouraged winemakers to start experimenting with new techniques.
Front runners in the region such as Terras Gauda have been active in scientific research and technology. From the 200 Albariño clones available, they narrowed these down to the four best suited to their microclimate and soil and planted the winery with these. They also use their own in-house yeast sourced from their vineyards, so avoid the generic traps of commerical yeast.
Denominacion de Origen
Its first name in Latin was Roboira Sacrata (Sacred Oak Grove) but a bad translation made in the XVII century by a monk, changed it to Ribeira Sacra (Sacred Riverside). Grape growing and wine production were introduced to the area by the ancient Romans. When Galicia was a roman province, local wine was shipped to Rome along with the lampreys fished out of the river Miño, to be served at the table of the emperor.
Along Ribeira Sacra there are 18 monasteries and hermitages that were founded in the early Middle Ages between the 8th and 12th centuries and which are located in the inaccessible river valleys. It was the monks who replanted the vineyards for their own consumption and maintained the grape-growing and wine-producing tradition until modern times.
The area is divided into five sub-regions, each with a different micro-climate but, in general, all the soils are alluvial over a slate-based subsoil. These sub-regions are Chantada, Amandi, Ribeiras do Mino, Ribeiras do Sil, and Quiroga-Bibei.
The climate in Ribeira Sacra DO is more continental than Atlantic and has long hot summers and cool autumns. However, rainfall is high (around 800 mm per year). The sub-zones on the river Miño have more rain (900 mm) than the ones on the river Sil (700 mm). In general, the Miño area has a more Atlantic climate whereas the Sil area is more continental. Winds can be very strong as they are funnelled by the shape of the valleys.
Denominacion de Origen
Valdeorras, whose name means “Valley of Gold”, may have been the first grape-growing and wine-producing region in Galicia. After the ancient Romans had finished mining the area for gold, they planted vines, and the wines produced were mentioned in several inscriptions in Latin.
During the Middle Ages, the vineyards were taken over and managed by religious orders. After a centuries-long period of decline, the 19th century saw the area take off again and, in the 20th century, in the 1970s experiments were conducted to reintroduce the native Godello grape variety. The area acquired its official DO status in 1945.
The vineyards of the Valdeorras DOP are on the banks of the river Sil, which flows westwards from Castile and León to the province of Ourense. In general, the landscape is flat or gently rolling. As most of the vineyards are on the river Sil valley floor, the soils are alluvial and quite fertile, with good moisture-retaining properties. The vines are planted at a height of between 240 m and 320 m above sea level.
The climate in Valdeorras is a combination of Atlantic, continental and a specific micro-climate in the Sil valley. These factors ensure that the vines receive enough sunlight and heat during the short summer. Rainfall is high, between 850 mm and 1,000 mm per year. Temperatures can drop to below zero during the winter.
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