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For decades, Spain has not been the top address for high-quality white wines. But with the Albarinos from Rias Baixas and the Verdejos from Rueda, the Iberians have also gained ground in this segment. In other D.O.'s there is a spirit of optimism - for example in the D.O.. Ribeiro in Galicia. A visit to the north-western corner of Spain proved this.

Winter vineyards in the Miño Valley

It is the oldest Galician wine region, once famous for its excellent and expensive wines: today's D.O. Ribeiro. But the destruction of the vineyards by phylloxera at the beginning of the 20th century marked the beginning of the decline of this wine-growing region, which is a neighbour of the D.O. Rias Baixas and lies only 60 kilometres from the Atlantic as the crow flies, began its decline into insignificance. Since then, it has been one of the almost forgotten treasures of Spanish wine culture.

It was not until the 1980s that quality-promoting measures were introduced again - and the successes are remarkable. "What I have tasted here these days is almost a quantum leap compared to the wines I knew from the area in the past," said wine consultant Ludwig Wengenmayr, for example. "The whites are fresh and fruity, clean and have a great style, which is characterised by freshness, floral aromas and minerality. Clearly a lot has happened in Ribeiro." It is not surprising that even experts have missed the spirit of optimism in the region: only five percent of the total production is exported, of which just under a third goes to Germany.

The vineyards with almost 3,000 hectares of vineyards are located in the valley of the river Miño and on the banks of its tributaries Arnia and Arnoia. In the hilly country, the mountains are natural barriers against the sea winds and lead to a mild climate with an annual average temperature of more than 14 degrees. Granite and slate, especially in the poor soils of the hilly areas, form a subsoil that makes the production of mineral quality wines possible.

The vines grow up to an altitude of 400 metres

The vineyards reach up to an altitude of 400 metres, where Albarino is often planted, although it has a different character in Ribeiro than in the neighbouring region of Rias Baixas: the malic acid is far less pronounced here. The most planted vine, however, is now Treixadura, which has replaced the neutral mass carrier Palomino in the course of the quality orientation. With its fine structure, subtle fruitiness and elegance, Treixadura contributes decisively to the rise in quality of Ribeiro wines. Pure Treixadura wines are produced, but it is more common to blend them with a little Godello, Albarino or Loureira.

Dominant cooperative

There are currently 119 wineries in the D.O. Ribeiro there are 119 bodegas. Of these, 88 are so-called "Adegas de Colleitero" - producers who process only their own grapes and produce no more than 60,000 litres. In terms of volume, they are naturally overshadowed by the dominant Vitivinicola do Ribeiro cooperative, which was founded in 1968 and has 651 members. With its main brand, Vina Costeira, the cooperative accounts for about 50 percent of the total production of the D.O.. However, under the leadership of Argimiro Levoso, it too has recognised the signs of the times and is clearly focusing on quality. A good example is the Colección Costeira Treixadura 2008: a finely structured single-varietal Treixadura that pleases with a delicate acidity as well as floral and lychee notes. A barrique version of this wine is also produced, which is quite successful. Nevertheless, the impression is that the barrique - similar to the Riesling - is only ideal for the fine fruity wines in rare cases.

State-of-the-art cellar technology is also standard at the cooperative today

State-of-the-art cellar technology, lots of spick-and-span stainless steel: this is also the standard at Bodegas Docampo, one of the larger producers in the region with 14 ha and a total production of half a million bottles. The Vina Do Campo is a cuvée of Treixadura and Torrontés, fruity with pleasant acidity and not unlike a Pinot Blanc in style. "Treixadura usually delivers better results in Ribeiro than Albarino, which presents itself quite differently here than in Rias Baixas," says Antero Docampo.

Compared to Rias Baixas, Ribeiro differs not only in the style of the wines - they are more like somewhat acid-reduced Rieslings than Albarinhos - but also in the significantly lower prices. Many wines are available at prices between 2.50 and 4.00 euros ex winery. Even a top wine like the Gran Reboreda from Campante, the second largest winery in the region, which has a lot of body and complexity, is modestly priced at 4.20 euros. This means that most Ribeiros in the German trade can be had for less than ten euros.

Cooperation between family businesses

What has recently become qualitatively feasible in the most northwestern corner of Europe is illustrated not least by the members of the Association Ribeiros do Avia. The members - Casal de Arman, Coto de Gomariz, San Clodio and Vina Mein - have committed themselves to a strict quality philosophy and have already implemented principles such as the combination of traditional and new technologies, care for local grape varieties and respect for the soil and the vine in an exemplary manner. "We will never buy in grapes, because we want to keep the entire winemaking process under control and shape it according to our criteria," emphasises José Luis Cuerda, owner of San Clodio.

Committed to the terroir: the wines of Coto de Gomariz

Wines like the San Clodio, the estate's only wine with a very intense floral aroma and a delicate structure with hints of lemons and exotic fruits supported by a fine acidity (86 points), set standards. The cuvée of five grape varieties (70 percent Treixadura) costs 5.50 euros ex cellar, just like the Vina Mein from the producer of the same name. Here, too, the very round, fruity variant without wood is more appealing than the barrique version. Particularly impressive is the programme of Coto de Gomariz, where they work on a total of 27 ha according to biodynamic principles and produce top wines such as the Gomariz X, an almost single-varietal Albarino, which smells of flint, has green-grassy notes and captivates with its enormous minerality. The Colleita Seleccionada 07 certainly has even more potential, aged for twelve months in barriques with first-class use of wood, elegant, full-bodied and very long. And here you will also find one of the best red wines of the region, the Abadia de Gomariz: a crianza from Sousón, Brancellao, Ferrón and Mencia, aged for twelve months in barriques, complex, with fine cherry fruit, cocoa and spice.

Nevertheless, the strengths of the D.O. Ribeiro are clearly the delicate, finely fruity whites, which as a rule become better the higher the proportion of Treixadura. They all thrive on their freshness and should therefore be drunk young.

The guaranteed designation of origin of the D.O. Ribeiro

The D.O. Ribeiro at a glance

Total vineyard area: just under 3,000 ha

Average annual production: approx. 16 mill. kg of grapes
- of which
white: 85 percent
red: 15 percent

Number of bodegas: 119

Main grape varieties:
Treixadura, Torrontés, Loureiro, Albarino (white), Caino, Brancellao, Sousón, Mencia (red).

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