There is no generally accepted wine area designated the North-West in Spain, comparable to – say – the South West in France.

The term could apply to the whole North-West quarter of Spain, or just to the most North-Westerly “Autonomous Community”: Galicia, the bit above Portugal. However one could divide the Spanish mainland Wine map into six wide wine “regions” (Duero Valley [basically Castilla y León]; The Ebro Valley; The Mediterranean Coast [including both Catalunya and Valencia]; The Central Plain; Andalucía and The North-West). This definition is much smaller than the quarter of Spain implied by the name (see map below) and is geographically the area North or West of the Cantabrian Mountains, composed of the Administrative Regions of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria.

Most of the wine  in this area is actually from Galicia where there are five Denominacións de Orixe (DO):  Rías Baixas; Monterrei; Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro and Valdeorras.  A sixth DO, Bierzo, is reasonably included with these (as its based on a decidedly North-West grape, Mencia) even though it is actually over the border in the Duero Valley. Also in the Duero Valley is the area of Ribera del Duero, famous for Tempranillo, which we will rather arbitrarily include in this month’s tasting to add variety. (Really if including that there is no real reason for leaving out Toro, Cigales, Rueda, León and others… But one can’t do everything…)

Usually Galicia makes between 2% and 3% of all Spanish Wine. Bierzo adds another 0.1%, but Ribera del Duero adds another 2.2%.

The North West Quarter of Spain

The North West Quarter of Spain

Cool, moisture-bearing winds blowing in from the Atlantic make Galicia one of the wettest parts of Spain. Coastal areas receive more than 50 inches (1300mm) of rain a year. Happily, Galicia receives abundant sunshine (more than 2000 sunshine hours per year on average), without which the grapes would seriously struggle to ripen. Even so, very few red-wine grapes are able to achieve full ripeness here, so Galicia produces mainly white wines, both varietals and blends.

Albariño is the main white grape, making up over 60% of production. Other significant varieties are  Godello (14%)and  Treixadura (3%). Loureiro, Torrontes and Caiño Blanco (a Galician obscurity often mistaken for Albariño) are also grown. Red wines are produced only in warmer inland areas – typically light in style and made from Mencia, which accounts for a little over 10% of production.

Galicia is home to five DO-rated wine zones. Running east to west they are: Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra, Monterrei, Ribeiro, and the most celebrated, Rías Baixas. Albariño is concentrated in Rías Baixas; Godello in Monterrei and Valdeorras; Treixadura in Ribeiro; and Mencia in Ribeira Sacra.

Ribeira Sacra (and its neighbour to the East – Bierzo) have more sheltered continental climates with high temperature differences from summer to winter, and from day to night. The former especially benefits from steep hillside sites, south facing terraces on well-drained slate and granite soil. This gives long growing seasons and concentration in the red grape, Mencia.

The main grapes – pretty distinctive to the area – are therefore Albariño, Godello, and Mencia. Nearly 70% of the world’s Albariño is in Galicia with the rest (apart from tiny amounts in Western US) over the border in Portugal where it’s called Alvarinho. It has a fruit and floral balance which sometimes recalls Riesling, with fresh acidity and occasionally a salty tinge.

Godello can produce mineral tinged concentrated wines, though it can be reductive in winemaking. About 55% is in Galicia and the rest in Portugal, where it is usually called Gouveio or in Dão – Verdelho – although it is unrelated to Verdelho from anywhere else.

Mencia is a red grape historically used, particularly in Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra, to produce aromatic and fruity red wines. Higher concentration is possible, particularly from low-yielding schist soils in Bierzo – but care is needed to ensure that alcohol doesn’t go too high and acidity too low. About 20% of the world’s Mencia is in Portugal – principally Dão.

Tempranillo is an old favourite – and suffice to say that in Ribera del Duero  the wines are mostly varietal or blended with a little Cabernet and/or Merlot.

We will taste an Albariño from Rías Baixas, a Godello from Valdeorras; Mencia – blended from Ribeiro and varietal from Bierzo; and two Ribera del Duero.

Notes will be posted in 4 or 5 days time.

Until then…..