Winemaking in Galicia has long been associated with the tart, fruity white wines from the Ribeiro and Rias Baixas wine appellations. Until very recently, Galicians and other Spaniards could be seen ordering classic Spanish reds in the region’s bars and restaurants, while snootily turning their noses up when recommended a Ribeira Sacra red. Thankfully, narrow-minded attitudes 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 deep in the Galician interior. Ribeira Sacra means something like sacred river shore or bank.
The Miño and Sil, as they wind their way west from Ourense province towards Lugo, cut a spectacular, ever deepening gorge into the countryside. Oak, pine and chestnut forested slopes, dotted with precariously perched dwellings and the odd Romanesque church or monastery, plunge right down to the water line, and it’s on these vertigo-to-go 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 precious Mencía cargo was by boat. Today, some vineyards have motorised conveyors to move the grapes to the top of the mountain, others rely on the strength alone of the pickers, all of whom carry 20kg capacity crates on their shoulders. Literally back breaking work!