Stunning Red wines from the "Ribeira Sacra" The Sacred River Bank in Galicia, Spain

by Sean O'Rourke

Ever since I tried the wonderful Menica wines of the Ribeira Sacra Denomination of Origin in Galicia, Spain I haven't stopped talking about them. I am very parched at the moment while in North America because I can't seem to find any wines from this D.O. Reason being is it is a very small wine-producing region and the majority of which are consumed locally. 

This wine region in my opinion is one of the most picturesque River gorges, actually there are two gorges, the River Sil, which meets with the powerful river Miño. The area is know as the Ribeira Sacra (Sacred River Bank) named this because of the numerous amount of Monasteries that string along the banks of the river gorges. A wise note to remember is when you find a large concentration of monasteries in such short distances of each other, that means there is likely to be found excellent wines, that is the case with this area.

The most popular type of wine in this region is a red wine made from the Mencia grape variety, although other wines are produced in this area including white wines made from the Albariño variety. Production of this wine is very limited, but very high quality. This is due to the situation of the plantations which spread over the steep river banks. The terrace like plots of vineyard are so steep that even a mountain goat has trouble climbing, but to the local vintners of the Ribeira Sacra it is no problem. They use to bring all the baskets of grapes down to the river and load them in small boats and take the grapes down river where the canyon side was not so steep. Now-a-days they use modern techniques with a motor generated power lift that brings the grapes to the top of the canyon side. The region has a microclimate and the rock soil is excellent to grow these fabulous grapes.

My personal favorite of all Mencia wines is Via Romana (Roman Road), The name comes from being located on an ancient Roman Road. It is the latest wine to be add to the Ribeira Sacra Denomination of Origin. The winery is located on the bank of the River Miño, in the small village of Belesar. With a total of 12 hectares of its own vineyards they grow top quality grapes with a balanced production limited to one and a half kilos per vine. At the time of the harvest a strict process of selection is undergone. Offering the essence of the land where it grows, the autochthonous Mencia small pip grape as the main variety and blended with other noble varieties. Technologically perfect, the Via Romana winery is equipped with the leading edge machinery for extracting the grape with all its excellent qualities: pumpless casking, pressing and low speed de-stemming, combined with a traditional cellar half underground to maintain suitable temperature and humidity. The brand of wine made here is called Via Romana, like the winery. It an exquisite looking wine, deep purple-red in color with flashes of dark violet. The aroma is highlighted by intense hints of red fruits of the wood, enveloped in mint and cherry. Its fresh, balanced tastes fills the palate with the same aromas at the back of the nose, offering an aftertaste marked by an emphatic tannin flavor. A harmonious solidly structured wine.

When I am in the area I always make it a habit to stop and buy a few cases seeing it so hard to find outside the region. On various occasions I have taken clients and friends here for a tour of the winery and the a special lunch in the dinning room of the winery, which overlooks the vineyard and River below. What better way to savor these wines than with a succulent "Cordero" Baby Lamb or "Cabrito" baby goat accompanied by potatoes, all roasted over a wood burning flame to bring out the true juicy flavors of the meat.

Now I understand why this area is known as being "Sacred", a Sacred land to Savor with all senses.

D. O. Ribeira Sacra 

The production of this wine region runs along the banks of the Rivers Miño and Sil, an area of remarkable landscapes, with sharp contours that are ideal for vine-growing. It is also a lands full of history and Romanesque buildings. Five sub-regions are differentiated: Chantada, Quiroga, Ribeiras do Miño, Amandi and Ribeira do Sil-Ourense. The fundamental varieties are the splendid Mencía and the delicate Albariño and Godello. Excellent quality aromatic wines are produced, mostly red.