Situated in the wet, northwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula, Galicia is one of the most active wine regions in Spain. You can feel a new-wave atmosphere, where innovation is welcomed without turning their backs on tradition. Based on terroir and unique indigenous grapes, Galician wines are nowadays considered among some of Spain’s best, and are already receiving well-deserved international recognition.
Celts and Romans imprint Galicia is Celtic Spain. Its name is believed to reference the ancient Celtic mother goddess, Cailleach (“Calaicia” in Latin). The Celtic origins of Galicia are still felt today, particularly in the region's music and culture.
Through the Roman occupation of Galicia new technologies and trade partners were brought to the area. It also led to a higher knowledge of viticulture, and foreign vines which began being planted alongside local, wild Vitis sylvestris vines which, in turn, gave rise to new indigenous varieties.
Ocean and granite confluence
Resulting from its Atlantic location, Galicia has a marked maritime climate. Particularly in the coastal areas, such as Rías Baixas, where winters are mild and rainfall is steady year-round. Further inland the landscape is hilly and mountainous, and vineyards experience some continental influence, with wider temperature swings and less-uniform rainfall, even with the possibility of summer droughts in some areas.
Granite soils along the coast are ideally suited for the damp maritime climate because it is porous and provides excellent drainage. The treasure of indigenous grapes
Galicia went through a period of great uncertainty at the beginning of the 20th century, with new plantings of low-quality hybrids and non-traditional varieties (Palomino, Garnacha Tintorera). But during the 1980s, a small group of pioneers began making quality wine from indigenous grapes, with Albariño, Godello and Mencía being the major players in this revival. Around the same time, regional authorities created regulations restricting the use of foreign varieties, and so today, the vast majority of grape varieties grown in Galicia (both white and red) are indigenous.
Albariño is the principal grape of Rías Baixas. It represents roughly 90% of plantings in the area. However, another indigenous grape, Godello, is often a better choice in other inland locations. The majority of red wine production takes place inland and utilizes another high-potential, indigenous variety: Mencía.
Many of the vineyards around Galicia are located on steep slopes and terraces along river valleys, here vineyard tasks and harvest are both labour-intensive and expensive. Vineyards on flatter sites are commonly planted on “parrales”. These are horizontal trellises, traditionally built from granite, that sit two meters above ground, allowing for excellent ventilation of the vine canopy. This is extremely important in Galicia due to the high humidity and prone to disease grape varieties.
DOP Rías Baixas: a breath of fresh Atlantic air
Production is more than 90% white wine with the majority crafted from Albariño. Many of the wineries are family-owned, small-scale producers, locally known as “adegas”.
Rías Baixas is divided into five sub-zones: Val do Salnés, Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Soutomaior,
and Ribeira do Ulla. Val do Salnés is the oldest of them and is known as the birthplace of Albariño. There you can find more than 50% of Rías Baixas’ total vined area can be found here.
DOP Valdeorras: the huge potential of Godello
Located in eastern Galicia, Valdeorras means “Valley of Gold.” It is here that the Romans, while searching for minerals and iron ore planted grapes.
It is in this area that the Sil River crosses Valdeorras from east to west, and the vineyards then skirt along the river.
In the mid-1970s a group of viticulturists in Valdeorras began to research the area’s long viticultural history and heritage. Studies were done to identify the original clones of Godello, and from there the best were propagated and planted. As a result, Valdeorras produces some of Spain and the world's highest-quality Godello wines.
Godello is a fine quality grape, making rich and mineral-scented dry white wines. They are well-structured, with significant ageing capacity. Sometimes they are compared to Chardonnays with minimal oak.
DOP Ribeira Sacra: Mencía heroes
Located in south-central Spain, the vineyards envelop the stone terraces that run along the river, valleys and canyons. The work in these sloped vineyards is immensely labour-intensive and tricky.
Vineyards and wine production were, like much of Spain introduced by the Romans to then be expanded upon during the Middle Ages, thanks in part to the local monasteries.
Red Mencía is the predominantly grown variety across all five sub-zones. It’s a high-quality grape making distinctively perfumed and relatively light-bodied reds.
DOP Ribeiro: treixadura and much much more
It is here that we discover the oldest DOP in Galicia. A place with a long tradition of producing and then later exporting wines. It is believed that the first vineyards in the area were planted by the ancient romans. It was Galicia’s early historic centre of wine production, and renowned for its “Tostado do Ribeiro”, a fortified, sweet white wine produced from sun-dried grapes.
It was for the most part consumed by Christian pilgrims passing through on their way to Santiago de Compostela the supposed burial stie of St. Jame’s in north-western Spain. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Ribeiro began exporting large quantities of this wine to England as well as other parts of Europe.
Nowadays, Ribeiro wines are mostly white, known for their fresh, slightly acidic, and fruity character, and for the most part made from the indigenous grape Treixadura.
A wide array of varietals from the region’s indigenous grapes (Albariño, Godello, Mencía, Treixadura, and many others). With top-quality small-scale wine with a fresh style resulting from the Atlantic influence and unique soils.What are the most popular grape varieties in Galicia y León?
Albariño in DOP Rías Baixas, Godello in DOP Valdeorras, Mencía in DOP Ribeira Sacra, Treixadura in DO Ribeiro.What types of food works well with wines from Galicia y León?
Albariño (and Treixadura): Grilled fish, seafood, mussels, clams, ceviche, sushi. Locally: Galician barnacles and oysters, 'Pulpo a feira' (octopus) and grilled 'Padrón' peppers. Godello: Scallops, crab, rice with fish and seafood. Also with roasted chicken and vegetables. Mencía: Game, lamb, rabbit and red meat. Local: Cecina (beef jerky), meat “empanada”