Thanks largely to the international success of its crisp, dry Albariño, which has become the best known of all Spanish white wines, Galicia is now recognized as a premium wine-producing region. The Romans first introduced vines two thousand years ago, growing them on high terraces sculpted by slaves into the banks of rivers like the Miño and Sil. With its mild climate and high rainfall, Galicia is more akin to Portugal than to the rest of Spain – Galego wines, and especially Ribeiro, were much exported to Britain during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before declining relations between Britain and Spain led the Portuguese to develop their own wineries, which produce similar wines to this day.
Technically, “Albariño” is the name of a grape variety, introduced to Galicia by monks who followed the Camino de Santiago all the way from the Rhine during the twelfth century – it translates literally as “white wine from the Rhine”. Albariño cultivation centres around the Rías Baixas (wdoriasbaixas.com), where around five thousand farmers grow grapes on tiny, scattered plots, often banding together and forming co-operatives to bottle and market their wine. The largest co-operative winery, Condes de Albarei, on the main road 2km south of Cambados, is open for guided tours and visits (t986 543 535, wcondesdealbarei.com).
The best-selling wine in Galicia itself is Ribeiro, produced in the region around Ribadavia on the Río Miño. It comes in both white and red, from such grape varieties as Treixadura, Torrontés and Loureira. The recent success of Albariño having spurred greater quality control, white Ribeiro has lost its previous trademark cloudiness, and is seen as the closest Spanish approximation to the dry Muscadet of France. Ribadavia’s tourist office (wribadavia.net) organizes guided tours, and can also provide maps and listings for free, self-guided winery visits.
Only the Ribeira Sacra region, concentrated along the stunning canyon of the Río Sil, produces more red than white wine. That it’s not better known is largely because two thirds of it never reaches the market but is drunk by the producers themselves. There are no large wineries or even co-operatives, but the three thousand or so farmers who create it have instigated a tourist route through the region and its vineyards (wribeirasacrata.com).