Another week, another wine region; from one of the oldest D.O. in Spain (Jerez was founded in 1933), Sherry, to the oldest wine region in Galicia, Ribeiro.
On this occasion we were invited by the D.O. board to attend the annual Ribeiro Awards, together with the personalities who received the award this year. An excellent chance to get to know some wineries and the stories behind them.
We visited Eduardo Peña, Finca Viñoa and Vilerma, learning from the people who work in the vineyards, taking in the landscape and witnessing first hand how “terroir” is not just a nice word, but it’s all that goes into your wine glass.
On Monday, while Jorge took part in the final tasting panel which chose the three best Ribeiro wines out of the 18 finalists, some of us took a walk around Ribadavia, a beautiful village with a strong historical sense and the craziest baker in the world (that is Herminia, from the Sephardic Bakery, who on this occasion was in a good mood and scolded me just a couple of times).
A boat trip on the Miño river was the perfect way to see where the name of this wine region comes from: ribeiro is the riverbank. Low and gentle hills covered in vinyards fall into the water, different from the harsh and wild slopes of the Ribeira Sacra. Despite the scorching heat – nearly 40ºC! – we enjoyed the breeze one the boat and, well, some wine had to be had! One of the two whites we had, Ramón do Casar, eventually won the Colleteiro Prize the following day (but we didn’t know it at the time).
Traditional local food was simple and delicious – octopus feira-style or carne o caldeiro, both dressed with just some olive oil, pimentón and coarse salt, fried eels, conger eels rice, cheese and quince – but we also could taste the modern cooking with an Italian twist of Flavio Morganti at Bodega Vilerma.
Ribeiro is the oldest wine region in Galicia, and tradition plays a key role. We learned that the cellars used to have red wooden doors like this one: the squares would allow the right amount of airflow so the temperature and humidity would be at its best. Nowadays this system is not necessary anymore in most wineries, and some cellars might not be in use anymore, but you still find plenty of red doors throughout the villages.
Tuesday started off in Finca Viñoa, 13 hectares of vineyards – which in Galicia is a very large extension: due to the traditional system of small holdings it is very difficult for a winery to own its vineyards. Finca Viñoa had to buy its vineyards off 70 different owners in order to join all those small plots of land!
Modesto, the man in charge of the vineyards at Finca Viñoa, won our hearts with his stories and anecdotes. He’s been working among vineyards since he was 9, and he still prunes the vines one by one by hand. He talks to the plants – “My grandfather said that the plants want to see their owner every day” – and also takes care of the stray dogs that end up in the estate, abandoned after the hunting season is over.
Asunción and Arsenio literally opened their house to us. Now retired from the wine business, they were among the pioneers of Ribeiro, shaping its essence when they started 40 years ago. Living history, paired with a double vertical wine tasting of their white and red wines from 2011 to 2016 left us in awe.
What we enjoyed the most of this visit was how much the words tradition and uniqueness were pronounced. Local varieties of grapes – Treixadura and Loureira for whites, Caiño and Brancellao for reds are the most common, although not the only ones – are meticulously planted, cared for and mixed so that what goes in the bottles is unmistakably 100% Ribeiro. On top of that, the concept of colleiteiro although not uncommon in other areas is especially relevant here, so much so that one of the awards are only for colleiteiro wines. Colleiteiros, or cosecheros in Spanish, are those wineries that produce less than 60.000 litres of wine per year, and they represent roughly 80% of all the members of the D.O.
The lineup at the awards: Sarah Jane Evans MW, Premio Persoeiro de Honra (Person of Honour Award); Cristina Alcalá, managing director of the CRDO; Mónica Fernández, Premio Muller e Viño (Woman and Wine Award); Joan Gómez Pallarès, Premio a Mellor Tarea de Comunicación (Communication Endeavor Award); Arsenio Paz, Premio Vida entre Vides (Life among the Vines Award).
The winning wines were Ramón do Casar Treixadura 2016 (white wine), Pazo Tizón 2016 (colleiteiro white wine) and Elisa Collarte 2016 (red wine).
To know more about Ribeiro, and maybe plan your future visit there, have a look at their brand new web page: www.ribeiro.wine.