Sitting here sipping in the sea air with the refreshing and crisp wines of Galicia. These are my absolute favorites. The northwest region of Spain tucked above Portugal is an out of the way, less visited or in reality populated then the other side of Spain on the Mediterranean coast. The Gallegos that populates its towns and its summertime beach crowds are fierce to protect it… no one can build on the beach fronts - high-rises, never!! Local town mayors seem to have seen what happens to the Torremolinos or Benedorm on the Costa del Sol – that is not happening here. Every time I get to visit, I see new efforts to protect its spectacular beaches, isles and rugged coastline.
Galicia has more in common with France’s Brittany or England’s Wales each pushing out into the Atlantic. I love the Celtic heritage, bagpipes called gaita which you are likely to hear around town, not just during festivals and the fact that the Galician language is being taught in the schools again. Let’s just say this is a different Spain then the normal tourist circuit; there are no paella pans, flamenco dresses hanging in doorways or Sangria served here. It is the best seafood hauled directly from the sea to the plate from anywhere in Spain. I’ve never heard of a seafood allergy here and the kids in highchairs are sucking on percebes (goose barnacles) they are a treasured delicacy.
This green corner of Spain, you will find more than 10,000 acres of Albarino vines draped over the rolling hill above the sea. So close to the sea these valleys sometimes are likely to hold the marine mists that come in, creating a mystical illusion, but the vines love it as it burns off with the warming sun. The patchwork of fields is in many shades of green, the stone walls separating the field are reminiscent of Ireland and the vineyards are trellised high off the ground. The high trellis system allows the grapes to dry from the ocean breezes.
Albariño is a wonderful, refreshing wine that pairs well with Galicia’s unfussy seafood. It is a wine with very clear characteristics; very floral nose, savory lemon/lime with balanced acidity. The grapes are tiny and have thick skins. This makes them harder for the winemaker to work with and makes it necessary to control the amount of raw almond or citrus character. This was a grape that was grown by the farmers on rocky land where he couldn't grow corn or pasture cattle.
Everywhere in Rías Baixas, you see granite. The houses are made of granite. Floors, walls, even bathroom sinks. You can see giant boulders, and old granite quarries, as well as granite hórreos, ancient structures for storing crops several feet above ground to protect against animals.
Galicia boasts five wine regions with Rias Baixas being closes to the coast and is the largest, all are worthy in my opinion, to explore. Especially Ribeira Sacra and the Sil Valley just east of Ourense. It’s not just Albarino, but you have Godello a grape that came north from Valencia and thrived. A hidden gem with a burst of flavor and minerality. Some say it is closest to a white Burgundy. Another winner in my book with seafood. Also, Treixadura, Palomino, Torrentes…. There are so many all of which go down very easily as you are taking in the sea views. Upon arrival it is top priority to go pick up a mixed case. Names like Do Ferreiro, Pazo de Señorans, Terras Gaudo, Santiago Ruiz, Palacio de Fefinanes and longtime favorite Martin Codax.
My secret hideaway is La Quinta da San Amaro, a boutique hotel snuggled into one of those Albarino vineyards overlooking the Salnes Valley. It is just 10 minutes from some amazing beaches, but across the street is the modern winery Paco & Lola. Founded in 2005, Paco & Lola is a feel-good story, it is the business initiative of a group of independent winegrowers from O Salnés. The growers formed a cooperative called “Sociedad Cooperativa Vitivinícola Arousana”, and now with over 400 members it is the largest cooperative belonging to the DO Rías Baixas. Known around the world for not just their 90 rated wines but for sophisticatedly fun labels, they are the polka-dot wine!
Whether you are coming south from Santiago de Compostela or north from Pontevedra take a breather and get off the AG 41 and stop at La Quinta da San Amaro even if it’s just for lunch or dinner. You will not be disappointed. Staying there overnight (14 lovely rooms) will leave you with marvelous memories. The décor is fresh, great design touches, intimate spaces and the service is personal and attentive. They also offer an exceptional workshop to get to know the local cuisine at their Cocinando en El Salnes. I went when they opened in 2007 and have been going back ever since, always to new touches and designed venues. Both the owners, Nacho and Julio have put their heart and passion into creating a rural retreat that highlights the soul of Rias Baixas. There are plenty of activities but also, they is nothing better than sipping an Albarino at the pool.
San Amaro, 6, 36968 Meaño, Spain. www.quintadesanamaro.com