Ribeiro Wine Tasting – A Surprising Spanish Region

June 23 2011 - 6:07 PM

Perhaps it’s my lack of Spanish language knowledge, but I honestly thought that this was a Ribera Del Duero wine tasting until after I got in the door, expecting some rich Tinto Fino, known in Rioja and elsewhere as Tempranillo.  Much to my surprise, I was delighted to find out that for me this was completely unchartered territory.  So small and relatively unknown that a keyword search on CellarTracker only yielded eighty wines.

Ribeiro is in fact a tiny region in Galicia, the far northwestern part of Spain, bordering Portugal, and where Galician, the native language, shares much in common with Portugese, even perhaps being considered a dialect of Portugese. Only 115 wineries exist here in 6600 acres in the mostly granite and schist soils in this Denominación de Origen. Dampness is pervasive in this region, so that many of the vines are trained above ground to reduce rot. The edge of it is just six miles apart from Rias Biaxas, whose Albariños have made forays into the wine world in the past ten years.  It’s only fair, therefore, that its neighbor gets a fair shot as well.

Approximately 80 to 85 percent of Ribeiro’s wine is white, and the predominant grape is Treixadura, a citrusy, gooseberry and anise-like grape with a bitter finish that is so rare in the international wine world it doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page, and information on it is patchy.  Traditionally Treixadura is blended with other grapes, such as Albariño, Godello,  Lado, Loureira, Albilla, and seemingly most popularly, Torrontés, which has no relationship with the popular white wine produced in Argentina.   Curious to me, there were also wines from the Palomino grape, most popularly used in far-away Jerez for most Sherry wines, but brought to the region over one hundred years ago during the phylloxera epidemic.

Red wines, like white wines, are also traditionally blended in Ribeiro.  Common grapes included Sousón,  Mencía (increasingly common on its own in the US throughout Galicia and Castilla y Leon), Caiño, and Ferrón, often light- to medium-bodied with a purplish hue almost reminiscent of Beaujolais.    On balance, I found I liked the blended whites and reds more, though the public’s proclivity for single-varietal wines and marketers’ tendencies to supply them sometimes don’t give the public enough options.  Good examples, of course, are Bordeaux, Chianti (usually), Valpolicella, and especially Portugal, which is geographically and culturally very close to Ribeiro.

Quality varied throughout the winemakers, and while some were off-balance, others were crafted to satisfy so-called “international” palates with sweeter and bolder wines, as well as sometimes unnecessary oak aging (other examples did use oak quite well).  Other wines had bitter tastes, though being a fan of obscure regions and varietals, I can’t say it was all bad, as I gravitate toward angularity.   Though some wines tried to be something they were not, others stuck true to their region and delivered well.

The first wines I tried (and liked) were from Adegas Valdavia, who had two whites available to try.  Cuñas Davia from the 2009 vintage was their first wine, a mix of 70 percent Treixadura, 20 percent Albariño, with the remainder being a mixture of Lourerio, Lado, and Torrontés at 13 percent alcohol.   It had good balance and moderate acidity, though perhaps a bit sweet, with some lemon, green apple, and floral notes.   The ’09 Cuñas Davia Barrica,  the second offering, was a mixture of 80 percent Treixadura and 20 percent was nicely done with moderately-toasted French oak with some vanilla, toast, and lemon flavors.

I next moseyed over to the far table to try some wines which I really enjoyed. The first wine was a nice, simple, crisp yet creamy, 2010 Pazo, a mix of  Palomino and Torrontés at 11 percent alcohol and respectable acidity.  It was followed by Viña Costeira, a mix of Treixadura, Torrontés, Loureira, Godello, and Albariño, at a tame 11.5 percent, but with an interesting nose and front palate of white peaches and gooseberries.  This would make a great summer wine to pair with fish and salads, as well as grilling outdoors.

Their Albariño was nice as well, with characteristic lemon, and chalk, with a fuller body. We didn’t quite gravitate toward their 100 percent Treixaduras as much, though the 2007 Tostado de Costeira, a desert wine called a “brown wine”, with rich raisin, date, and molasses notes was a pleasant way to end the day.

The next table, from Bodegas Docampo, had some interesting wines.  The first, a 2010 Viña do Campo, was 70 percent Treixadura and at a reasonable 12 percent was quite tasty.  Crisp, minerally, acidic, and with slight carbonation at first taste (though, disappointingly, not an hour later), with gooseberry, white flowers, mild anise, cream, green apple, and kiwi flavors.   I didn’t spend much time on the 100 percent Treixadura, so I moved onto their 100 percent Godello, a nice summer white with distinct lemon notes.   The Mencía we tried was an interesting red (an underrated grape in my opinion), possessing some leather, spice, and sour cherry.

Viña Mein had a nice, quaffable wine with some notes of lemon, with floral notes and good acid.  We followed this by the marketing label clad San Clodio, at 13 percent, was bigger than the rest of the wines. With 75 percent Treixadura and 8 percent Godello, this wine had nice lemon, kiwi, white floral, and anise notes.  From granite soils, it was crisp, though a bit sweeter.

Coto de Gomariz had some interesting whites, though all of us felt that the best red of the evening was the VX Cuvee Caco, a blended red of  Sousón, Caiño, and Mencía, with flavors of cherry, violet, soft tannins, and good acidity.  Overall, it was a well-balanced wine that reminded my of some of my Portugese favorites.  

The final table I approached, from Bodega Eduardo Peña, had both a 2010 Eduardo Peña and 2010 Maria Andrea wine.  Both I though were fantastic Treixadura blends, and I consider both whites perhaps the best of the afternoon:  very well-balanced with respectable acidity and drinkability.  The Eduardo Peña had higher alcohol at 13 percent, but it had notes of thyme, lemon, lime, minerality, and peach notes, and while overall very balanced, perhaps a tiny bit sweet.   Aged in 80 gallon oak barrels so as not to overpower the wine, it also had some slight vanilla notes.  A blend of Treixadura, Albariño, Godello, Lourerio, and Lado, this was perhaps my favorite.     The Maria Andrea was also noteworthy, a blend of Treixadura, Loureira, and Albariño with a nice crispness.

As there become more wine geeks throughout the U.S. looking for something more unusual, there will hopefully be a larger market for wine regions such as Ribeiro.  It’s fun to drink wine that isn’t of so-called “international” varietals from fill-in-the-blank countries with the same predictable tastes.  Welcome to America, Ribeiro.

–Brian Ziegler