CORINNA HARDGRAVE

THE WINE BUFF

Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Drink -

Have you ever thought, gosh, wouldn’t it be won­der­ful to own a vine­yard? Some­where in France, Spain or Italy, with sunshine, vines, a nice villa and of course your own es­tate-bot­tled wine. Some peo­ple ac­tu­ally do it, quit their day job and head off into the rosé-tinted sun­set. But mostly, it’s peo­ple with wine run­ning through their veins. They’ve grown up with the rhyth­mic pat­terns of vine­yards all around them, they feel the con­nec­tion to the land and the urge in their hands to nur­ture grapes from vine to bot­tle, year af­ter year. And yes, it’s a big in­dus­trial busi­ness too, but let’s not shat­ter this pic­ture of the artisan. For me, when I taste wine, this is the way I most want it to have ar­rived in my glass.

I was back in Gali­cia in the north-west of Spain re­cently, this time in Mon­te­forte de Le­mos in the province of Ourense in Ribeira Sacra. Mean­ing ‘ sa­cred river­side’, the Ribeira Sacra DO was es­tab­lished in 1997, and has been at­tract­ing a new wave of young wine­mak­ers over the past few years. One of whom is Miguel Coca, who started a joint wine­mak­ing project with An­drea Obenza in 2013 at their Tolo de Xisto vine­yard, mean­ing ‘mad about slate’ in Gali­cian.

Head­ing up the steep, wooded hill­side in a 4x4 with Miguel, if felt like we could be in Wick­low. Lush and ver­dant, with forests of pine trees spilling down the steep slopes, this re­gion has more rain­fall than we do in Ire­land, but they also have more sun. When we ar­rived at the vine­yard, all I could think was, peo­ple may dream of own­ing a vine­yard, but here? This is an ab­so­lutely in­sane place to plant vines. And I’m not the only one to think that. Be­cause of the risks and dif­fi­culty of farm­ing and har­vest­ing here, the re­gion is one of the few in Europe to have the ‘heroic viti­cul­ture’ seal.

The plots at al­ti­tudes of 200m to 500m are tiny, hav­ing been di­vided over the years. Look­ing down from the pre­cip­i­tous edge to the River Sil cut­ting through the gorge be­tween the moun­tains; an­cient ter­races sup­ported by hand-built, dry stone walls, weave their way around the con­tours of the moun­tain on one side of the river; while the hot­ter south-fac­ing slope is cov­ered in trees.

Built by the Ro­mans — well, the hard-work­ing Gali­cians at the be­hest of the Ro­mans, who knew a good site when they saw one — the slatey ter­roir means that the roots have to dig down deep to ac­cess wa­ter.

The grapes that have made this re­gion one of the dar­lings of the hip set are Godello, an in­dige­nous white grape va­ri­ety sim­i­lar to Al­bar­iño; and Mencía, a black grape va­ri­ety that orig­i­nally hails from nearby Bierzo. Re­cently re­vived, the old Mencía vines are farmed us­ing meth­ods that are as close as pos­si­ble to or­ganic, and pro­duce stun­ning low-vol­ume wines which are a bit lower in al­co­hol but have a good con­cen­tra­tion of fresh fruit.

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