Stage 16: Luarca to Ermita del Alba-Quirós

Green Spain

Green Spain

Even the climbers in the peloton must be tired of the brutally difficult routes chosen for this year’s Vuelta.  Today’s stage, the third mountain-hopping, leg-crushing route in as many days, has seven categorized climbs.  Honestly, after having watched each of the last few stages, I don’t know how any of the contenders will survive tomorrow’s race, let alone strategize to win the day.  Hey, to paraphrase Mark Cavendish, famous sprinter from Great Britain, “no one wants to ride the Vuelta anymore because it’s stupid.”  Presumably he was referring to the dearth of sprint stages in this year’s race, as compared to the astonishing number of pure climbing days.  He might have a point . . .

Green Spain 2I will enjoy watching the race, however it plays out, with a lovely glass of wine from Galícia, the heart of Green Spain, so called for the lush countryside that receives more rain than any other part of the country.  It lies at the northwestern tip of Spain, sandwiched between Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.  As you might expect, Galícia is famous for its seafood; but you might not be as familiar with its wines, which are just as deserving of accolades.

Galícia includes seven Denominaciónes de Origén (DOs) – one for each of today’s monstrous climbs, if you will.  They are (in no particular order): Rías Baixas; Bierzo; Valdeorras; Ribeira Sacra; Ribero; and Monterrei.  But three grapes dominate wine production throughout the region:  Albariño and Godello, both white; and Mencía, the lone red.  Other grapes are grown here, but these are the ones you’ll most likely come across in American wine shops.

Albariño, the pride of the Rías Baixas DO, has become its signature grape here, responsible for 90% of all plantings.  It is also dominant in the north of Portugal, where it is known as Alvarinho.  Wines made from this grape tend to be highly aromatic, with notes of peaches and white flowers.  I think you can even smell the sea!  Because of the grape’s relatively thick skins, it fares better than other varieties in this rainy, maritime climate.

Green Spain 3

Godello, another lovely aromatic white grape, is the province of the Valdeorras DO, which is in the eastern reaches of Galícia, where vineyards are protected from the omnipresent rain by the Cantabrian Mountains to the north.  Winemakers often barrel-age their Godellos here, resulting in wines of real complexity.  Godello, too, is part of the Portuguese wine scene, known there as Gouveio.

Mencía, which is the focus of vignerons in the DOs of Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra, and Valdeorras, makes beautiful red wines.  As with the others, Mencía  also has a home in Portugal where it’s called Jaen.  I’ve heard them compared to Pinot Noir from Burgundy and Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley.  I find them to be something unique altogether – maybe a little of both, the best of both worlds?

Try some of these wines from Green Spain.  They are great examples of the diversity of the Spanish wine industry, and will probably introduce you to a variety or two that you aren’t yet acquainted with.  Enjoy!

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