Ribeira Sacra is by some distance the most beautiful, dramatic, heart-stopping wine region in Spain. Rugged in its mountainous beauty, the climate here in central Galicia is more continental than Rias Baixas to the west but cooler and more Atlantic-influenced than neighbouring Bierzo in Castilla y Leon to the east, where deeper soils and hotter summers ensure higher ripeness levels. Here, in Ribeira Sacra, the Sil and Mino rivers serve as moderating influences, winding through breathtaking landscapes, flanked on all sides by vertiginous, extreme vineyard sites. It truly is, as the locals describe it, “viticultura heroica”. Famed for crisp, fragrant, medium-bodied, refreshing red wines, the dominant grape variety is Mencia, co-planted with lesser known, indigenous varieties such as Brancellao, Merenzao (Trousseau), Alicante Bouschet, Sousao, Caino, Tempranillo and Mouraton. Winters are cold and wet and summers long and dry. Incredibly steep slopes and the dominant slate/schist soils yield fabulous red wines with a salty, mineral profile.
Despite a wine legacy that can be traced back over a thousand years around ancient monasteries and Romanesque churches, many of which still stand today, it is only really in this decade that Ribeira Sacra has become a hotspot for quality Spanish wine. For in the early twentieth century, phylloxera and the Civil War badly hurt Galicia, and poor, agricultural workers decided to move to towns and cities in search of industrial work. The vineyards were neglected and simple wines were botted purely for self-consumption. It was all looking very grim until DO appellation status was granted in 1996, almost by virtue of its history alone. A few years later, a small group of producers, spearheaded by Bierzo’s Raul Perez, decided they would set about trying to revive its former glories. We can say with some certainty now that contemporary Ribeira Sacra producers owe a great deal to Raul Perez, Guimaro and Algueira for leading the way. Twenty years on it is now one the most exciting regions in Spain with a growing sense of identity and real confidence in its wines. There are five sub-regions in Ribeira Sacra: Amandi, Chantada, Quiroga-Bibei, Riberas do Miño and Riberas do Sil and each is marked by an individual micro-climate, as dictated by the extreme topography, altitude, soil, orientation and regulatory effect of the rivers.