We have had a brilliant relationship with Alliance Wines for at least ten years, simply because they are great people to work with and always come up with great wines with a strong identity, highly expressive and true to their origins. Matt and Simone hatched a plan for us to visit some classic regions from the cool and damp north-west of Galicia to hot-as-hell to freezing cold Rueda in the north-central Castile and León (like so much of Spain, the altitude makes for extreme diurnal temperature range).
This was going to be an epic wine/road trip, as along the way we were to take in the beautiful wine regions of Ribeiro, also in Galicia but further inland, and Bierzo, home to the hugely characterful Mencia grape.
First stop was to Rías Baixas in the far west of Galicia. From the airport we drove straight to the stunning bodega of Pazo Señorans, hugely respected for its benchmark Albariños. This grape variety has become immensely popular in the last decade or so, not only in Spanish restaurants but across the board. It makes wines that are deliciously aromatic and balanced, and a perfect match for seafood, which is the food the region is particularly famous for. We were met by Javier, a total star, hugely informative and extremely funny, who made it a complete joy to learn as much as we could. He took us on a tour of the bodega and vineyard, and we lapped up as much as we could about the grapes, the vines, the climate and the harvest.
Then inside the beautiful house for a tasting through the range of vintages to see how they evolve, then tapas in the gorgeous gardens and finally lunch where we met Vicky the owner. They pulled out all the stops and even came to meet us for dinner after we’d checked into our rooms at the amazing Parador (lucky us!) in Pontevedra. Amazingly kind and generous people, we were spoilt rotten!
Next morning we jumped into the wagons and rolled off towards Ribeiro. As we drew nearer to the bodega we were flanked by vertiginous vineyards rising up from the river Edo – seriously dramatic scenery. Arriving at Ponte de Boga bodega, we got a very warm welcome from Yves the owner and Chema the wine-maker. In the vineyards, they explained how the steep slopes gave them a variety of micro-climates and soils to suit each of their many grape varieties.
This is a region to find out much more about and hunt down its deliciously fresh and highly unusual wines made from a great range of lesser-known grape varieties which deserve much greater recognition. A hearty lunch in the shade by river, muchas gracias y adios, and on the road again.
Bierzo is a wild region, sparsely populated like so much of inland Spain, and exceptionally beautiful. We were off to see Bodegas Merayo, a family-run business deep in the heart of the region. There are half a dozen grape varieties here, but the one the region is best known for is Mencia. This red grape is distinctive and totally different from Spain’s most famous grape Tempranillo, having a higher acidity, yet fleshy and juicy when young, but with potential for hugely rich deep satisfying wines especially when from ancient vines. And this region has some of the most ancient anywhere, many up to 120 years old or more. Juan Merayo is the highly passionate and affable boss, who gave up an extremely high falutin’ job in Madrid to follow his heart and come back to his roots and run the bodega.
After the winery tour we went out into the vineyards – the wonderful powerful landscape that he loves, and we could see why. Then off to dinner, walking through the old town of Ponferrada and past its 12th century Knights Templar castle for a superb dinner matched every step of the way with Merayo’s superb wines.
Day 3 and a fairly early if none too bright start, we were eager to see the last wine producing region on the trip – Rueda – and the bodega Isaac Cantalapiedra. The region is almost entirely covered with vines, virtually nothing else apart from the occasional solar farm. We were met by the owners Isaac and Manuel Cantalapiedra – the exuberant and friendly father and son head honchos of this estate. A tour of the bodega and a tasting of partially fermented juice straight from the tanks, then a walk around the arid vineyards. Here again there were vines of spectacular vintage, way more than 100 years old. Then lunch in the sunshine with excellent charcutería and sardines, all washed down with truly stunning wines of incredible purity, character and depth. A great way to round off a brilliant trip.
Muchísimas gracias to all the passionate wine-makers who gave us such an insight into the land through the lens of the vine. And enormous thanks to Alliance Wines’ Matt and Simone for driving us and being constantly cheerful and upbeat on a helluva trip – a truly superb experience that will stay in the mind for years to come.