Modern Galicia If you’ve ever been to Galicia, you may have been perplexed by the presence of tartan, Celtic jewelry, and buskers playing bagpipes. Wait a minute, you thought. I thought I was in Spain? Then the rainy landscape, green ferns, and white beaches made you think that maybe you hadn’t left home at all and were still in New Zealand. Until you ate some of the best and most unusual seafood of your life at lunch, looking out past the stone ruins on the headland to sea, a bottle of exquisite Albariño wine from nearby Rías Baixas on the table, and concluded that this place wasn’t like anywhere else at all.
A Brief Background Originally settled by the Celts, and subsequently incorporated into the Roman empire (where it was named Gallaecia), Galicia has at many points in European history been its own independent kingdom. Gallego, the Galician language, is a blend of Spanish and Portuguese. With a border that shifted boundaries relatively frequently, the people of the region identified first and foremost as Galicians, regardless of which official rule they were under. Although Galicia possesses an abundance of both seafood and metals, it has for parts of its recent history been extremely poor.
Following the Spanish civil war in 1936 and the subsequent years under General Franco’s rule, Galicians found themselves with seafood but often no bread, coffee, penicillin, or lightbulbs. Portugal, just over the river, was faring much better economically due to its colonization in Africa. Due to the unique geography of the Galician-Portuguese border, with hundreds of kilometres of coastline combed throughout with inlets and rivers, the border was very permeable. A lucrative industry of contraband sprang up. This began with essential food and medical supplies being carried over the border with shepherds, but the logistics quickly grew to incorporate boats. These were used to navigate up the rivers and move steadily bigger amounts. Owners of boats and fishermen suddenly found themselves in a position to make a lot more money than they could from harvesting seafood.
The Narco Trade When the South American drug cartels were looking to expand their market into Europe, they found in Galicia a ready-made distribution network. In the 1970’s, Galicia became the main entry point of heroin and cocaine to the rest of Europe. The book Fariña (“Flour”) by Nacho Carretero, and the Netflix series of the same name detail how this developed. In previously impoverished fishing villages, the unusual presence of luxurious houses and cars appeared at the same time as newly drug dependent youth. The locals began to protest, and police reinforcements were brought in from Madrid to assist with the crackdown.
The best wine on their doorstep With contraband and trafficking being increasingly risky, people sought a new source of income. Fortunately, at the same time as the trafficking had been going on, scientists and oenologists had been working hard to isolate the best vine clones from the many that covered the region. The name of the famous grape of Galicia, Albariño, is said to come from Alba, meaning white in Latin, and Riño, from the Rhine valley. It was purportedly carried by monks in the 16th century from Germany and is thought to have been a variety of Riesling. It had however long since adapted to the Atlantic climate and soil of Galicia and acquired a completely different taste profile. It was the perfect match for the local seafood, being crisp but with hints of delicate stone fruit and great length. But consistency was somewhat hit and miss. A team from the Spanish Superior Council of Scientific Investigations (CSIC), together with the passionate viticulturist and winemaker from local Albariño producer Terras Gauda, Ana Oliveira, undertook an exhaustive study of 200 of the different clones of Albariño present in the region. From the wines made from each, they isolated five with the characteristics best adapted to the climate and agronomy of the region. Terras Gauda planted each of these five grafts in the areas of the vineyard according to the topography. The best version of Albariño was now possible. Other wineries began to also focus on single parcel production, and Galicia began to achieve justified fame for its unique white.
Terras Gauda & Albariño Galicia is worth visiting just for the experience of sampling the vieiras (tiny scallops), percebes (goose barnacles), fresh fish, and lobster with a bottle of Albariño. The old vines lend a great concentration to the wine. Other countries with similar climates are now experimenting with planting Albariño, and it is becoming more widely available in New Zealand. Spain is however still very much the benchmark. On the Spanish side of the Minho river that separates Portugal from Spain lies Terras Gauda. No longer in territory muddied by narcos, the winery stands proudly on the hill and overlooks the gentle green countryside. Each type of grape and each parcel is harvested when its ripeness is perfect, and is vinified and fermented separately. For the fermentation, Terras Gauda uses its own yeasts, selected from their vineyards. The yeasts are unique to the winery and have been patented. This is one of the reasons the TG wines are so consistent because they don’t need to rely on commercial yeasts.
If you are in the area, it is well worth arranging a tour. If not, you can order one from one of the restaurants we supply to (see below for a list of these), or find a bottle on our website, chill it to 12 degrees, and break out your best seafood. If you’d like to make a traditional Galician dish, the following one from Spanish website directoalpaladar.com is particularly good.
Recipe: Vieiras Gratinadas a la Gallega / Galician Style Grilled Scallops https://www.directoalpaladar.com/recetas-de-pescados-y-mariscos/vieiras-a-la-gallega-receta This traditional recipe is so delicious, yet so deceptively straightforward, that once you’ve made it once you’ll put it in your regular repertoire. It does, however, have two secrets required to make it good. The first is good primary product, be it fresh or frozen. The second, a really good quality Galician wine. This can be Albariño or Godello - but never of inferior quality to what you will afterward serve into your glass to drink with the scallops. Ideally, it should be the same wine.
Ingredients (serves 6 as an entrée) 12 Scallops 140g Jamón Serrano (Spanish serrano cured ham) 100ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil 200ml Albariño 20ml Tomato pulp (if you want to make a homemade version, just grate tomatoes and heat to reduce the pulp) 60g grated bread 20g fresh parsley Salt to taste 400g onions Method: - Wash scallops thoroughly, then leave them soaking in cold water with a handful of salt added to it for one hour - Finely dice the onion and cut the jamón into small evenly sized pieces - Heat oil and cook the onion until golden, around 20min. Stir regularly. - Add jamón and fry 2 minutes more. Stir so it doesn’t burn - Add Albariño and allow the alcohol to evaporate (a few minutes) - Add tomato purée and cook for 12 minutes more - Adjust salt if necessary Preheat oven to 190ºC - Dry scallops and place them back on one half of their shells - Divide the mixture among the shells, placing each spoonful on top of the scallop - Sprinkle them with grated bread so it forms a crust on the surfaces, then add the chopped parsley - Cook in the oven for 15 minutes, then place under the grill for a further 5 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn
Stockists of Terras Gauda: Auckland Baduzzi La Fuente Wine Bar Casita Miro (Waiheke) Ponsonby Rd Bistro Accent on Wine Sid at the French Café One Tree Grill Augustus Bistro
Napier Vetro Mediterranean Foods Wellington Regional Wines & Spirits Noble Rot Wine Bar Highwater Eatery Cult Wine
Arrowtown La Rumbla