Galicia has five Denominaciónes de Origen (D.O.) for wine, of which Rias Baixas has the largest vineyard area, produces the most grapes and has the most wineries. Rias Baixas’ success has been based on producing fruity, refreshing, dry white wines from the Albariño grape cultivar. Also increasingly featuring on the international radar are red and white wines from Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei. Part of their attraction is their use of indigenous grape cultivars, which give many of the wines an attractive and welcome flavour profile change from that of the more commonly encountered international winegrapes.
The most important indigenous cultivars are Albariño, Godello and Treixadura (whites) and Mencia (black). Many other cultivars may be permitted according to D.O. regulations, but are usually encountered in only small amounts. The following pie charts show the compositional makeup of each of Gallicia’s D.O.s based on 2013 harvest information. For Ribeiro, limited information only allows a split between black and white cultivars to be made. Also included for comparative purposes is the 2013 harvest composition for the Bierzo wine region which, although located in Castilla y Leon, is contiguous with Valdeorras.
Exports from Galicia’s stunningly beautiful Ribeira Sacra D.O. are tiny. In 2012 they totaled only 299 hl (40,000 bottles), yet they’ve still managed to impress a number of critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Sufficiently so for President Obama to be served a Peza do Rei 2011 at a recent Gala dinner.
How has a wine region that seemed to be in serious decline not so very long ago been able to reinvent itself? The answer includes improvements to rural infrastructure and producers with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to quality. The five page free to download PDF Ribeira Sacra in Figures tracks the region’s recent history through data compilations to help explain a part of the story.
Rias Baixas is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a Denominación de Origen in 2013. During this time it has undergone considerable growth and development, so now seems as good a time as any to take stock of its achievements. The 5 page free downloadable PDF, Rias Baixas in Figures summarizes the readily available data to help explain the Rias Baixas story.
Wines from Galicia, Spain’s northwestern autonomous region, have been attracting welcome attention lately. Albariños from Rias Baixas and Mencias from Ribeira Sacra are leading the charge and making their presence felt on restaurant lists outside of Spain. Perhaps less known is the overall makeup and composition of Galicia’s vineyard arrangements, which play an important role in determining the styles, quantities and prices of wines from the region.
In 2012 Galicia had 26,233 ha of vineyards, all of which are used for the production of wine grapes. Of this amount, vineyards in the five Denominaciones de Origen Protegidas (DOP) accounted for 9,689 ha or 37%. There are three areas in Galicia with Indicaciones Geográficas Protegidas (IGP) status, but their total area amounts to a mere 20 ha. Whereas regions such as Sicily are producing large quantities of IGP wine, you’re unlikely to see a Galician IGP wine in a supermarket anytime soon. The remaining 63% of the Galician vineyard lack any geographical indication and are almost entirely used to produce wines which are consumed locally.
The bedrock geology of Galicia consists of Palaeozoic igneous and metamorpic rocks. Subsequent tectonic activity and weathering have produced a rugged topography with many steep slopes and deep valleys. Along the coastline many of these valleys have been drowned producing inlets or rias. Such topography means that in many areas mechanised farming is not possible, and labour costs farming terraced plots are high. Individual plots are almost universally small, with the 2009 vineyard survey showing that 97% of Galicia’s 83,942 vineyard plots were <1 ha. Producing grapes on such small plots creates something of a logistical nightmare for the bodegas and inevitably means that Galician wine producers lack economies of scale.
Of the DOPs in Galicia, only Rias Baixas has been able to increase its vineyard area to any significant extent during the 21st century. The other four DOPs are constrained by their geography and their vineyard areas have remained more or less constant. Wine production from these DOPs isn’t going to markedly increase anytime soon. So if you want to taste Palacios’ Godello from Valdeorras or Peza do Rei’s Mencia from Ribeira Sacra, you’ll have to be prepared to pay for these delights. Hopefully you’ll take some comfort from an appreciation as to why production is so limited and why their production costs are so high.
The relatively unknown wine region of D.O. Ribeira Sacra was in the news recently when it emerged that a red Peza do Rei 2011 would be served to President Obama at a Gala dinner. This producer usually makes red wine with 100% Mencia, but what other grape varietals are available in the Ribeira Sacra vineyard?
Unlike the neighbouring Galician D.O. of Rias Biaxas (whose vineyard is dominated by the white varietal Albariño), the D.O. Ribeira Sacra vineyard is dominated by black vines. White grapes have made up less than 10% of total grape production for every year this century and for the last eight years their contribution has been under 5%. The D.O. regulations permit the white varietals Albariño, Godello, Treixadura, Loreira, Torrontes and Dona Branca. Of these, Godello is the most important and typically contributes >70% of white grape production. Albarino is the second most important white grape with a contribution of ca. 15%.
The black varietal vineyard is dominated by Mencia, which has comprised >90% of black grape production every year this century. Apart from Mencia, the other recommended black grape varietals for D.O. Ribeira Sacra include Brancellao, Caino tinto, Merenzao and Souson. These varietals make up a tiny part of the vineyard and in 2012 their combined contribution was <1% of black grape production. More important is Tempranillo (also recommended) but more important still is the permitted varietal Garnacha tintorera, which made up 6% of black grape production.