Some 2,000 years ago, Galician wines were being loaded onto galleons to reach the thirsty citizens of Roman-occupied England. This famed wine production continued through the Middle Ages, thanks to the clergy, and Galicia was the final destination for thousands of pilgrims over the years, who crossed the 500-mile route from the Pyrenees in the hope of reaching the tomb of Saint James. Today, this Spanish region on the northwest of the Iberian Peninsular, straddling Portugal to the south, is one of the 17 highest-level administrative regions in the country, and is best known for its white Albariño wines, although there is also a growing red wine scene.
The area is known as Spain’s “green region”, for obvious reasons. The green hills along the River Miño gradually merge into the Cantabrian Mountains to the east, which can reach up to 2,000 metres.
Two sides of the area border the Atlantic Ocean, which contributes cool wind that carries moisture from the sea. As such, this is one of the wettest parts of Spain, reaching annual levels of up to 1,300 millimetres in some places. This coolness is tempered by year-round sunshine of up to 2,000 hours annually. This balance is key to the grapes’ survival, but is not always enough for the reds to mature fully anywhere other than inland. As a result, the 1970s saw many of the red vines pulled up and replaced by the more productive whites, mainly Albariño. Other whites include Loureiro, Torrontes, Godello, Treixadura and the native Caiño Blanco.
These conditions produce wines that are in many ways similar to those of Minho, such as Vinho Verde, just over the border into Portugal.
There are five DO wine areas in Galicia, the most famous of which is Rias Baixas (or “lower estuaries”). Rias Baixas is a rare example of a non-contiguous appellation, spanning five sub-regions (Val do Salnés, Ribeira do Ulla, Soutomaior, O Rosal, and Condado do Tea). Here the terroir benefits from a cool, wet climate with plenty of sunshine. The wines have a fresh minerality, extracted from the granite soils. Some 90 per cent of the grapes grown here are Albariño. The different sub-regions produce variations in the wine, with those near the ocean having an increased minerality and those inland, grown in a warmer climate, championing wines that have more qualities of stone-fruits.