THE SACRED RIVER SHORE


Winemaking in Galicia has long been associated with the tart, fruity white wines from the Ribeiro, Valdeorras and Rias Baixas appellations. Until very recently, Spanish and foreign tourists alike could be seen ordering classic Spanish reds such as Rioja in the region’s bars and restaurants, whilst snootily turning their noses up when recommended a Galician red. Thankfully, situations like this are now being consigned to the past, largely due to the heroic efforts of a number of pioneering individuals from the Ribeira Sacra, a wine producing area situated near the small agricultural town of Chantada, known as the Heart of Galicia.

VERTIGO TO GO

Loosely translated, Ribeira Sacra means something like sacred shore or sacred river bank. The River Miño, as it winds its way east from Ourense, cuts an ever deepening
gorge into the countryside. Oak, pine and chestnut forested slopes, dotted with precariously perched dwellings and the odd Romanesque church, plunge right down to the water line, and it’s on these vertigo-inducing slopes, on tiny granite terraces known as bancadas, that the local grape variety and flagship of the appellation Mencía is grown. In places the vertiente, or slope, is so steep that the only way to ‘evacuate’ the grapes was by boat, traditionally a flat bottomed, rectangular wooden vessel. Today that work is done by conveyor belts.

The area has long been synonymous with the grape. During Roman times, wines from Amandi, today one of the appellation’s five sub-zones, were regularly shipped to Rome to be served at the emperor’s table, along with that other great Miño delicacy, Slamprey. By the middle ages, the upper Miño began to attract monastic communities who carried on the tradition of planting vines and producing wines to be sold to the inns and hospices along the nearby Camino de Santiago.

FISH FARM PUMPS

After breakfast, we were met by the Deputy Mayor of the town of Chantada, Ildefonso Piñeiro, a dead-ringer for Robert de Niro. As our first port of call, he took us to a small vineyard belonging to his father-in-law. This was where we were able to catch the first of many stunning panoramic views of the Ribeira Sacra. Along the route he told us of the friendly rivalry that had always existed between the ribeiraos, vineyard owners, on both sides of the river. Tongue-in-cheek insults would fly between paperos, or papists on the Chantada side and rabudos (rabbis) on the Saviñao side. A typical case of back-breaking work made a little more bearble with a some cross-river verbal jousting, he confided.

ROMAN ROADS

After a few minutes meandering up and down twisting lanes, we pulled up at the gates of Adegas Vía Romana, a beautiful stone building dating back to the 16th century. The owner-director José Luís Méndez Rojo warmly greeted us, ushering us inside for a tour of the grape reception area, fermentation tanks, labelling and bottling facility, and the wonderful salon with its jaw-dropping views of the Miño. Juan Luis’s approach to wine making is firmly rooted in the pursuit of quality
over quantity, a constant of all the wineries I was to visit throughout the trip. This guarantee of quality is achieved by an exhaustive poda en verde, or pruning of the fruit before it reaches maturity, manual selection of the grapes and,
somewhat bizarrely, the use of fish-farm pumps to protect the seeds during fermentation. Damaged or bruised seeds can cause an unwanted, mouth-puckering astringency in the wine, so fish-farm pumps were evidently a wise investment for this innovative wine maker. The rest, he told us, was down to the six months of
absolute peace and tranquility the wine spends in a strictly controlled environment. About 10%of his production of Via Romana Mencía and Via Romana Selección Añada 1999 goes abroad, mainly to the USA, but more recently to Japan and Russia, with new markets being explored all the time.

A RIGHTFUL PLACE

Next on the route was Bodega Pincelo. Though the family has been making wine since the 1840s, in 1985 Bodega Pincelo became the first legally constituted winery in the province of Lugo, a crucial step in the 1993 founding of the appellation D.O. Ribeira Sacra. The owner Alfonso Regal Teijeiro said that there was still some way to go on the road to D.O. Ribeira Sacra earning its rightful place among the prime movers of the Spanish wine scene. Statistics still show that many of his paisanos or countrymen in Galicia, when ordering red wine, order Rioja instead of Ribeira Sacra Mencía. Alfonso specialises in Viño Artesano, or artisanal wine, and Pincelo, Viña Portotide and the oak-aged Pincelo 1985 are three fine examples of the genre. With an ever keen eye on the future, Bodega Pincelo is now dedicating around six hectares of its vines to the experimental production of Viños Ecolóxicos, or organic red and white wines.

QUAFFING AND NIBBLING

It was soon time to move on again and the next stop was Adegas Lareu, another family winery run by the eminently hospitable Primitivo Lareu. To describe his place as lovely would be to do it a gross injustice. The setting for this charming winery is a beautiful 18th century granite farmhouse, surrounded by huge, gnarled chestnut trees and lush fields. Our genial host showed us into the traditional Adega de Garda or storage winery, now a wine-museum, with its trodden earth floor and doors oriented to the east and tiny aperture on the west wall allowing for ventilation and a shaft of light. An ancient wooden estruxadora or wine press sat on one side, and two or three huge cubas or storage casks on the other. A couple of pellexos or animals skins, used centuries ago to transport wine, completed the display. The rest of the evening was spent quaffing his excellent Sabatelius Branco white, Sabatelius Mencía and Sabatelius Carballo , an oak-aged red, whilst nibbling away on some memorable home-made smoked chorizo. Unfortunately, all good things must to come to an end, and after some fond farewells, we set out for our last but definitely not least port of call, Adegas Moure on the enigmatically named Cabo do Mundo or Cape of the World.

THE SACRED RIVER SHORE

Cabo do Mundo means the Edge of the World. The course of the Miño here takes a dramatic 180º turn and Adegas Moure, clearly defying the laws of gravity, surveys all this awe-inspiring beauty, totally confident in the knowledge that there must be very few vineyards on this Earth that can compete with them in terms of the sheer drama of the setting. If that wasn’t enough, they’re also sweeping up award after award on the international wine circuit, with medal-snatching vinos like Abadía da Cova, Mencía Barrica, Fuga and an excellent Albariño that recently scored an impressive 90 points in Wine & Spirit Magazine, putting the wind up Rías Baixas, no doubt.

TIME HONOURED TRADITION AND INNOVATION

Evaristo Rodríguez López, Vice-President of the D.O. Ribeira Sacra and our contact at Adegas Moure echoed the words of the other wine makers we met along this most sacred of river shores. He said, “Our vineyards that descend so steeply along the Ribeira Sacra, are hundreds of years old. We’re absolutely determined to preserve our time-honoured traditions, all the things that make our wine unique, but at the same time we’re looking forward, constantly striving for the highest possible quality, investing in the latest technology and innovation and of course, focusing our efforts exclusively on improving our wine with each new vintage.” If seeing and tasting is believing, then this appellation has every reason to be justifiably proud of its wines, so the next time you’re in Spain, make sure it’s a Ribeira Sacra Mencía, you’ll be instantly smitten.

SPRING 2009

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WINE TOURS IN NORTH WEST SPAIN


Highly recommenable tailor-made itineraries in Galicia, visiting Albariño wineries in jaw-dropping locations covering all five sub-zones of the Rías Baixas appellation: Val do Salnés, Val do Ulla, O Rosal, Sotomaior and Condado do Tea. Another excellent wine making region included in this tour is the stunningly beautiful Ribeira Sacra in Lugo, where wine-lovers will have the opportunity to taste wines made from the red Mencía grape and other native to Galicia varieties such Brancellao and Merenzao. For white wine there’s Godello in its mono-varietal form and some innovative blends of Godello, Treixadura, Torrontés, Loureira and Doña Branca. In 2013 GrapeHop Tours plan to make an incursion into the neighbouring Bierzo region, internationally much talked about due to the Parker Guide 90+ ratings for mencías from splendid artisan vineyards such as Tilenus, Descendientes de J. Palacios, Pittacum, Altos de Losada and more. The gastronomy of both regions, seafood in Galicia, botillo, goat’s cheese, roasted red bierzo peppers, empanada de patacas in El Bierzo are good enough reasons for an extended stay in the region, whatever the time of year, though GrapeHop Tours offers you the chance of visiting in late spring or early autumn, when the north-west of the Iberian peninsula is at its most captivating.

Email: bookings@grapehops.com
http://www.grapehops.com/tours/galicia.html

Photo: Californian winemaker Richard Longoria tasting Albariño with winemaker Paula Fandiño at Mar de Frades winery.

LITTLE GEM OF A HOTEL IN CAMBADOS


A stroll around the ancient empty streets (at least in February) of Cambados is always a joy, but when one stumbles upon this absolute pearler of a boutique hotel just a few yards from the grandeur of the Praza de Fefiñans, it’s a challenge not to wander in and have a nose around. Not intending to stay the night, I meekly asked the receptionist if we could just sneak a peek. The man couldn’t do enough for us. After introducing us to the charming owner of the establishment, we were given an exhaustive tour of the hotel where we saw a succession of tastefully decorated rooms with the decor accent firmly on the classic with a dash of Laura Ashley thrown in for good measure. Each room was slightly different to the previous one, with georgeously appointed, spacious bathrooms. Just before we left, the owner confided that times were extremely tough for the service sector, though luckily his establishment was already fully booked for the big summer party, the Fiesta de Albariño in August. Hardly surprising, looking at the place. I’m in absolutely no doubt that this will be the place I’ll be recommending to friends in the future. Hotel Real Ribadomar also offers its customers a unique dining experience in the Restaurante Ribadomar, one of the finest seafood eateries in town, offering the best of the bountiful Ría de Arousa, but that will be the subject of another post.
http://www.ribadomar.es

AUTUMNAL MARISCADAS

An epiphany moment, which, after nearly twenty years of gastronomic adventures in this gorgeous corner of Spain, is an achievement in itself. That special occasion calls for a mariscada como Dios manda, as the Galicians will tell you. So what does this actually mean? Something about God ordering seafood platters? Well, yes. A seafood platter fit for God himself? Well, yes. Ask a native Galician what constitutes a mariscada como dios manda and he will invariably reply ‘patitas’, i.e. little feet.

This in local seafood speak means crustaceans, and preferably local ones. That means we have to politely reject gambas (prawns) and langostinos (bigger prawns), as they’re not native to Galician waters. No, the only thing any self-respecting Galician seafood nut will order is centollo (spider crab), percebes (goose barnacle), camarónes (shrimp), nécora (velvet swimming crab) and cigalas (norwegian lobster/dublin bay prawns/nephrops-nephrops)and, if they’re available, the very rare and much prized santiaguiño known to all and sundry by their easy to remember scientific name Scyllarus Arctus.

With this in mind, and the special occasion being the visit of my dear nephew James, we headed to Restaurante Suso in La Coruña, tucked away in the same street (C/ Angel Rebolledo, Nº 50) as that other La Coruña institution O Bebedeiro. The place is small and pleasantly unassuming, a far cry from the starched table cloths, napkins and snooty waiters you get in some marisquerías or seafood restos.

As you head upstairs you get a tantalising glimpse of the precious ‘raw material’, piled onto pristine worktops, with bubbling cauldrons overseen by the charming cooks, all beaming smiles and warm greetings. We were shown to our reserved table and within minutes the order was taken, the bread basket plonked on the table and the wine served, a delicious Pazo de Señoráns Albariño Rias Baixas, the obvious and correct choice for such a feast.

About ten minutes later our platter arrived, all freshly cooked, no cold cabinet chill in this place. We started off with the goose barnacles, uniform in size and simply exquisite. After that we moved on to the spider crab, wisps of ‘marine moss’ still on his back, a sure sign that it was locally caught. The norwegian lobsters swiftly followed and finally the velvet swimming crabs and the shrimps, a riot of different though subtle flavours and deathly silence reigned as we chomped our way through legs, sucked gleefully on heads (yes, the Brits do do this) and weedled our way into legs and claws, stoically putting into practice the old Spanish refrain, Oveja que bala, bocado que pierde, i.e. the sheepeth that bleateth doesn’t get to eateth. Wise words.

We were far too stuffed for either café or pudding, and left the place very contentiños, as the Galicians say. Restaurante Suso is a must do it experience for all marisco buffs, i.e. those that are after the pure experience, i.e. without the unwarranted ‘distraction’ of molluscs, bivalves and other lesser creatures, which are perfectly acceptable as stand-alone dishes, though not as part of a ‘proper’ mariscada fit for the Gods and the more discerning mortal.

http://www.marisqueriasuso.es/
Photo: James Harrison

PIMIENTOS DE HERBÓN-PADRÓN



Pementos de Padrón, uns pican, outros non… This Galician refrain translates roughly as ‘Peppers from Padrón, some are hot, while others are not’, thus initiating the unwary diner in a time-honoured Galician food experience – a sort of hot pepper roulette. The farmers that grow them have yet to come up with a convincing theory on why they’re so volatile, usually fobbing us off with blarney about weather conditions and ‘ambiental factors’. For something so central to the Galician summer experience, they’ve only been around since the early 17th century, when Franciscan missionaries brought them from the Americas to their Friary in Herbón, not far from Santiago de Compostela. By the end of the 18th century the trade in dried and ground pepper had become an important source of revenue for folk in the area. With the passage of time, the plant began to adapt itself to the mild climate and rich soil in the Ulla and Sar river valleys, producing pementos or peppers smaller than those that first came from the Americas, but stronger in flavour and not quite as fiery (what must those early peppers have been like!?). According to local government figures, there are about 14 hectares of greenhouse production and about another 20 hectares of open-air cultivation, giving a total annual production of about 1.3 million kilos. Each bag of peppers bears the official ‘Denominación de Origen Protegida’ label that guarantees they are the real deal and not some dodgy equivalent grown elsewhere in Spain, or, horror of horrors, in France or North Africa. So remember,’Pementos de Padrón, uns pican, outros non’, you’ll soon be wearing the t-shirt.

TRADITIONAL COOKING METHOD

Wash and thoroughly dry peppers, removing all the stalks (important). Deep fry in extra-virgin olive oil, adding the peppers while the oil isn’t too hot. Fry to taste, some people like them semi-raw, others well fried and quite blackened. Sprinkle with a good pinch of coarse sea salt. You can either eat them as an aperitivo or have them as an accompaniment to grilled meat or fish.

Info in Spanish and Gallego: http://www.apementeira.com/es/es_index.htm

Albariño Around The World.



General Secretary and Vice-President of Spanish wine appellation D.O. Rías Baixas, Ramón Huidobro, in an interview for the Spanish news agency EFE, has highlighted the internationalization process of these certified Galician wines, given the fact that in the last seven years exports have risen from 8% to 22% and their wines are present in around seventy different countries.

“We’re now starting to look at meaningful figures, most of all when taking into account that one of the most crucial things for a wine appellation is to be strong in its own territory, which is where we also have to fight”, he stated.

In this sense, he explained that the commercial strategy of this quality brand is to try to balance three levels (Galicia, the rest of Spain and the foreign markets), although the Galician market “continues to be our natural and fundamental market”.

Mr. Huidobro acknowledged that their growth in Spain is continued, but “it gets tougher by the year” due to better wines coming on the market and the existence of “a ferocious price war that we cannot enter due to the particular conditions of our viticulture, which translate in high production costs”.

“We will never enter the medium to low priced wines war, this obliges us to compete only by obtaining the highest quality”, he indicated.

Regarding their sales and marketing strategy, he pointed out that, after Galicia, Catalonia, Valencia and Murcia, the USA would represent its third market, with figures he considers “significant”, adding up to nearly two million liters, and distributed in a “difficult, demanding and selective market”.

He affirmed that the marketing of their wines in eight states has reached a level they now consider to be “on the rise with our wines being highly valued by both consumers and critics alike”, something which also opens doors for them in other international markets where they are not so well known.

Mr. Huidobro pointed out that D.O. Rías Baixas has a three year Marketing Plan in the USA as part of a collaboration agreement between the ICEX (Spanish Overseas Trade Institute) and the IGAPE (Galician Economic Promotion Institute) with an annual budget of $750.000.

Along with their campaigns in the USA, he underlined that they also work periodically in the Far East, specifically in China, Japan and Hong Kong, and that this year they disembarked in Tunisia for the first time.

Mr. Huidobro is wholly committed to the marriage of wine and food, not only via Spanish gastronomy but also through other far eastern cuisines, such as Chinese, Thai, Japanese, especially in countries like the USA, where this combination is very popular.

He underlined that “our wines pair very well with those types of foods, and are quite fashionable there, and that they also lean on Spanish gastronomy, though not necessarily the type of cuisine associated with the Mediterranean, but rather that of the Atlantic, centered more on fish and seafood.

“The products speak for themselves, taking a leading role, and it’s the perfect performance, a magnificent montage with the wine”, he concluded.

The source of this article is the superb tourism, gastronomy and Galician wines website http://www.vinogallego.com/

FOOD & WINE FAIR – ALELLA (BARCELONA)

The Food & Wine Festival of Alella, now in its 37th year, is a fabulous showcase of traditional Catalán cuisine. The festival, held in September, features a wonderful selection of vintage wines from Alella itself and from other parts of Catalunya. One of the principal crowd-pullers is the primer mosto or first pressing of the grapes. Don’t feel shy if someone thrusts what looks like a Victorian lamp into your hands for a quick slug, it’s a porrón or wineskin and the trick is to hold it as far away from your face as possible and avoid spilling its precious contents on your shirt, nearly impossible for beginners, but an essential part of the fun. The local bars and restaurants join in the spirit of things by laying on some incredible dishes. Definitely one for foodies.

Info: http://turisme.alella.cat

CAVA FEST – SANT SADURNÍ D’ANOIA



SANT SADURNÍ D’ANOIA

CAVA WEEK

12 OCTOBER

Every year Catalunya’s biggest Cava producing town holds its annual fizz-fest. Things get underway with a stirring opening speech and the much awaited crowning of the Cava Queen, who, accompanied by her lovely ladies in waiting, pulls into town escorted by a police motor cavalcade from Barcelona. After a week of sumptuous banquets, a three hundred strong bike race, art exhibitions dedicated to Cava, evenings of Petanque, Catalan folk music concerts and Cava symposiums, it’s time for the Great Barcelona Train Ride. On the 12th October, a national holiday in Spain, over a thousand Cava aficionados ride the rails from Barcelona to San Sadurní de Anoia and are greeted at the station by an ecstatic welcoming committee of giants, big-heads and assorted nut-cases. Amid much pomp and fanfare they are escorted to the town hall and Cava Houses. After the customary tour of the cellars and an extended lunch, they blissfully head back to the Capital. A real must for Cava fans.

Info: http://confrariacava.com

FRIED BABY SARDINES WITH GREEN BEANS, HAM AND SEA LETTUCE.


Ingredients

Parrochitas or Baby Sardines
Flour
Green beans
Lechuga de Mar Porto Muiños (Sea Lettuce)
Cured Spanish ham
Garlic
Potatoes
Pimentón (Spanish paprika)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Mayonnaise
Fresh orange juice

Method

Soak the sea lettuce to remove the salt, changing the water several times and cut into fine julienne strips.
Dust the parrochitas or baby sardines in flour and fry till golden.
Cut the green beans into julienne and boil for 10 minutes.
Prepare an ajada with the olive oil, garlic and pimentón. **
Dice the potatoes and boil.
Beat the mayonnaise and add the orange juice to taste.
Chop the ham, and sauteé lightly with slivers of garlic, the green beans and the potatoe.

Garnish with a few cherries and serve warm.

** Ajada is a classic Galician accompaniment to potatoes, greens and white fish like hake, salt cod etc. Take a frying pan and heat up three or four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Take three or four unpeeled garlic cloves and bruise them a little. Add them to the olive oil and fry till golden. Remove frying pan from the heat and add a heaped teaspoon of good quality Pimentón (De la Vera or Murciano) and stir gently. You have to take great care that the pimentón doesn’t burn, allowing it to settle on the bottom of the pan. It’s the garlic and pimentón flavoured oil that you’ll be drizzling over the dish.

For excellent recipes, in Spanish, using Porto Muiños edible seaweed products, check out ‘cocinar con algas’ on their superb website. http://www.portomuinos.com/index.php?idioma=es

Not just any old tart.


Tarta de Santiago, Galicia’s most famed dessert, was not long ago declared, in gastronomic terms, a protected species. The designation itself, known as an IGP which stands for Indicativo Geográfico Protegido, is basically a tool which affords this most Compostelan of desserts a means of protecting its image and reputation in the modern world. The declaration was greeted with satisfaction by the those in the industry, who pointed out that it was only the beginning, but that together with the authorities, real steps could now be taken to control what is sold in many establishments as Tarta de Santiago. Several months on, it’s still possible to encounter tartas labelled de Santiago but whose ingredients are not strictly in compliance with those approved under the new regulations, but cases brought before the Tart Inquisition are now thankfully few are far between. In accordance with the declaration, the authentic Tarta de Santiago must be made exclusively of almonds, sugar and eggs in exact proportions: 33% Mediterranean almonds, 33% sugar and 25% egg. Other ingredients such as grated lemon rind, sweet wine, brandy or aguardiente de orujo may be added, as long as the proportions of the basic ingredients remain unaltered. The Cruz del Apóstol Santiago or St.James’s cross that adorns the tart and makes it easily distinguishable from others is ‘drawn’ with icing sugar as the final touch. Any other added ingredients, however cool or trendy, will surely detract from the true essence of this Galician dessert par excellence and, therefore, damage an image wrought over decades of toil in the pastelería. So the next time you’re looking for Tarta de Santiago, be sure to check the list of ingredients and the all-important IGP label. It’s not just any old tart, you know.