7 Thirst-Quenching Bottles from Galicia, Spain's Spring Wine Mecca
These are Spain's most refreshing wines.
The barometer for wine coolness these days is drinkability. Rather than stocking up and hording away rich, tannic, and ageworthy bottles, more and more oenophiles are turning to youthful whites and reds with bright acidity and fruit purity. Wines that require decanting hours in advance or other pomp and ceremony: out. Wines you can pop and pour on the patio in lieu of a session beer: in.
That leaves Spain in a tough spot. So many of the country's wines have built a longstanding reputation on their cellarability and brooding, earthy flavors. One notable exception is the region of Galicia.
Its extreme northwestern geographical situation, its proximity to the cool, salty Atlantic, and its wealth of fruit-forward and rare native grapes make Galicia a treasure trove of wines for warmer weather. That includes Albariño, the now ubiquitous white from Rías Baixas, but also the vibrant, red-berry scented reds made from the Mencía variety—a sort of Gamay-meets-Cabernet Franc with a Spanish accent—and blends based on grapes you've probably never heard of, like Caiño, Sousón and Brancellao.
Mencía's kingdom within Galicia is Ribeira Sacra, a relative newcomer to Spain's roster of Denominacións de Origen despite the fact that vines have been planted on its steep, terraced slopes since Roman times. I have listed a few Ribeira Sacras here, as well as wines from the Monterrei and Ribeiro D.O.s, each as zesty and bracing as the last. They're great right out of the bottle, perhaps with a slight chill, and are versatile with food, including delicate spring flavors, seafood and fried fare.
2015 Pedralonga Rías Baixas Albariño ($27)
This Albariño grows on a granite hillside approximately ten miles from the Atlantic in the Val do Salnes subzone of Rías Baixas. It's biodynamically farmed, unoaked, unfined and unfiltered, and has the salty mineral tang to rival great Sancerre. What it doesn't have is the viscous, confected fruit typical of more commercial renditions of the grape.
2015 Bodegas Albamar Rias Baixas Albariño ($20)
This up-and-coming producer comes from a family of local restaurateurs who have held a small plot of Albariño for generations but only started bottling and selling it as recently as 2006. It's native yeast-fermented and made in a clean style, packing tons of mineral verve and superfresh, peach-scented fruit.
2014 Quinta da Muradella 'Alanda' Monterrei Blanco ($29)
A champion of Galicia's native grape varieties, Jose Luis Mateo of Quinta da Muradella started up his garage winery in 1991 by recovering old vineyard parcels scattered around the Monterrei D.O. He makes this concentrated, stony white from organically grown Godello, Treixadura and Doña Blanca on soils as diverse as slate, granite, and clay.
2015 Guímaro Ribeira Sacra Tinto ($18)
Guímaro, which translates to "rebel" in Gallego dialect, was one of the first wineries to join the young Ribeira Sacra appellation. This tinto—their entry-level wine—showcases the lush and vibrant red fruit of the Mencía grape, unencumbered by oak. It's great with a slight chill and can match anything from grilled shrimp or octopus to charcuterie.
2015 D. Ventura 'Viña do Burato' Ribeira Sacra ($18)
Among D. Ventura's three single-vineyard Mencía bottlings, Viña do Burato is the most forward and approachable due to the site's relatively fertile soil. The expression here is pure and lively, like pepper-laced raspberry fruit with the mineral edge of a white wine and the floral bouquet of a Beaujolais.
2013 Luis A. Rodríguez Vázquez 'A Torna Dos Pasas' Ribeiro ($35)
If the Mencía-based wines of Ribeira Sacra are Spain's answer to Beaujolais, Luis Rodríguez's Ribeiro reds are its Burgundies. Rodríguez meticulously farms his little-known indigenous grapes, like the Brancellao, Caiño Longo, Caiño Redondo, and Ferrol that make up this blend, ferments with native yeasts, and ages the wines in old oak casks. The result is fresh and aromatic yet concentrated and spicy.
2015 Coto de Gomariz 'The Flower and the Bee' Ribeiro Sousón ($15)
Gomariz's Ricardo Carreiro is a pioneer of progressive viticulture in Ribeiro for his biodynamic farming and minimal-intervention approach (natural fermentations, no filtration, no oak). This Sousón is a great example of his style: vivid, brambly fruit, with peppery spice and mineral-tinged flair.