A Wine Trip through Spain, Volume I

Above: A view of the Adegas Cachin estate. 

I love travel and wine. In June, I had the great fortune to experience both in the great wine country of Spain. It was an east to west, 10-day ‘wine march’ across the northern part of the country. I was one of a dozen wine industry denizens from around the USA who were invited to experience this journey, hosted by one of the top Spanish wine importers in the country, Classical Wines of Spain. From Penedes and Priorat to Rioja and Ribera del Duero, we visited some of the most prestigious wine regions in all of Spain, meeting great producers, tasting incredible wines.

I could write for days about every place we visited; but, for this month’s article, I’ll introduce two wines from one producer, who hails from one of the most beautiful wine places on earth, the heroic viticulture region of Ribeira Sacra, in the northwestern reaches of Spain.

What is heroic viticulture? A symbolic, yet well-defined term of grape-growing practices, heroic viticulture refers to the growth and distribution of vineyards on terraced hillsides, with a minimum 45 (often up to 100) degrees in gradient terms, making the use of any mechanization virtually impossible. With the rare exception of a vertical track here and there, for transporting crates of grapes, winegrowers and use their hands, arms and backs to do ALL of the work; just maneuvering their way through vines themselves requires a gymnastic skill that often defies gravity itself. Hence the appropriate term, heroic viticulture…

There are only a few recognized wine regions in the world where heroic viticulture practices are employed; one in Germany, two in Italy and two in Spain, including Ribeira Sacra.

Ribeira Sacra is a Spanish Denominación de Origen (DO) for wines grown and produced in the region of Galicia, Spain. It is believed that Ribeira Sacra (Sacred Shore) took its name from 18 monasteries that date back to the early Middle Ages and were located in virtually inaccessible river valleys. It was the monks themselves who replanted the vineyards for their own consumption, maintaining the grape-growing and wine-producing tradition until modern times. The Miño and Sil rivers wind through the steep vineyard valleys, creating unbelievable canyons. The two main types of varietals produced there are the red wine grape mencía and the white wine grape godello. Other local grapes often used as blending components are albarino and treixadura for whites, and trousseau (often called merenzao) and brancellao for reds.

Godello (go-DAY-oh) is a white wine varietal grown almost exclusively in northwestern Spain, primarily in Galicia, and the first plantings date back to the 19th century. The finest expressions of godello are found in Valdeorras, but Ribeira Sacra is certainly right there as well, quality-wise.

Mencía (men-THEE’-uh) is the dominant red wine grape found in the northwestern part of the country, primarily in the Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras regions. Although it shares no DNA relationship with cabernet franc, mencia does possess some characteristics of that varietal, as floral and red fruit notes complement the medium bodied wine.

RdS Vineyard Slope

Well into the second half of our trip, we arrived in Ribeira Sacra, at the rugged estate of Adegas Cachin. As our host writes of their partner, “The César Enriquez family is among the core group of founding growers of the D.O. Ribeira Sacra, reconstituting their vineyard site and woodlands estate, taking its name from the Kings of León, for whom it served as an income source and private hunting retreat. Within the extant, albeit crumbling medieval walls are twelve acres of vertiginous, single-row slate terraces forming a perfect south-facing amphitheater on the Edo River tributary of the Sil…”I can vouch, this place was stunning.

A jovial man, Cesar welcomed us with glasses of his Galician wines. We then hiked up a gravel road and over the hill to his vineyards, descending to a small ancient stone hut where more wine (and cake!) awaited us. We took in the inspiring views, hiked up and down the watch-your-step slopes and absorbed with complete imagination the centuries of people and wine that have passed through this majestic land. It was a fantastic few hours that culminated with a gathering at a local tavern, overlooking the Edo River…perfect ending to a perfect wine day.

As for the wines themselves…

The Peza do Rei Blanco 2018 is an outstanding representation of a great Ribeira Sacra wine. Hand crafted and stainless steel vinified, it is comprised of 70% godello, 20% treixadura and 10% albariño. Blanco 2018 is an aromatic wine, with highlights of the herbal and mineral characteristics of godello. Citrus and tropical fruits come from the albariño, while the treixadura unifies the wine as a whole. It’s clean, crisp and tremendously refreshing. It’s priced under $25.
As for the principal red wine of Adega Cachin, Peza do Rei Roja/Mencia 2018 is of equal stature to the Blanco. Despite the ageing capabilities of Mencia, I’ve always enjoyed it as a younger wine, with the vitality that makes for a great warm-weather red. It is 100% mencia and is filled with bright red fruits, a touch of slate and an acidic line that sets up a well-timed finish. It’s aged in new French oak for about 3 months. Winemaker Julio Ponce Mouriño, cellar partner to César’s vineyard work, is careful to make sure that in both wines, the terroir is fully expressed through the varietals themselves…line priced with the Blanco, Roja 2018 is an equal value and an equal wine.

What’s indisputable is that César Enriquez is a shining figure and example of what heroic viticulture winemaking is all about; a native son, conquering the arduous conditions of hillside grape-growing and vine-tending…
As mentioned, this trip was a writer’s paradise; and in various issues ahead, I’ll be sharing more adventures with you, introducing you to great producers and outstanding wines, from the great country of Spain. I hope it’s been a great summer for all of you and until next time, Happy Vino’ing!

Mark Luna
About Mark Luna 19 Articles
Mark Luna is a Portfolio Rep for Roanoke Valley Wine Company. He has a Level 3 Advanced Certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and is a member of the prestigious Wine Scholar Guild, where he’s finishing his Italian Wine Scholar post-nominal accreditation. Through and beyond his work for RVWC, Mark writes, teaches and guest-speaks about wine in a variety of both industry and privately held events. He lives in Nokesville with his family. For events, Mark can be reached at mluna96@gmail.com.

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