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Ribeira Sacra at De Maison Selections

Tucked away inside of eastern Galacia, in northwestern Spain, sits D.O. Ribeira Sacra (Sacred Banks), which runs along the River Miño and the River Sil.  Located between neighboring DOs Ribeiro and Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra is home to ancient vineyards of impossible steepness whose terraces were originally excavated by the Romans, 2,000 years ago.  An area that’s been “off the grid” for perhaps just as long, Ribeira Sacra produces wines that were rarely exported, until André Tamers of De Maison Selections came along.

A champion of artisanal producers from Spain and France, André explains how he came to the wines of Ribeira Sacra.  “I had been traveling through the area for many years, on the way to western Galicia and saw these incredible vineyards…I questioned why no one was working them. It’s one of the most beautiful viticultural regions in the world.  Today it is still raw without craziness from outside money…that will change soon I’m sure.”

Importing the wines of two producers from Ribeira Sacra into the U.S., De Maison Selections works with D. Ventura and Dominio Do Bibei, both of which grow the region’s red varietal Mencía.  Able to yield both light wines and deep wines of great complexity, Mencía was replanted post-phylloxera, throughout this Galacia region.  Ribeira Sacra, says André, is “one of the greatest viticultural areas for [this] previously known grape (Mencia), without marginalizing other grapes that may come to the forefront in the future, such as Bracellao.”  Why is Mencia so successful in this region?  “The micro-climates in the five sub-zones are all really distinct and this, combined with good fluctuations between day and nighttime temps create vibrant Mencias,” says André.

Working with three vineyard sites: Caneiro and Pena do Lobo both of which are in Amandi along the River Sil, and Viña do Burato, which is located in the north along the Miño River, D. Ventura is a new project run by Ramón Losada.  Working with family holdings that’d been farmed for hundreds of years, Ramón learned the art from his grandfather, until he himself took over in the 1990’s, when he began to commercially sell his wines.

Working with an organic approach in his steep vineyards, where all farming is done by hand, Losada works a soil of pure slate, known locally as Losa, in Caneiro (3.7 acres), where steep terraces line the river.  Cooling the vines by day, the River Sil is closer here than it is to Pena do Lobo, where the terraces are less steep, and further from the water with soil that’s a mix of slate and granite.

Using only indigenous yeasts to start his wines’ fermentations, Losada also doesn’t filter or cold stabilize.  When André was in town the other week, we tasted through these wines.  D. Ventura Pena do Lobo 2010 shows bright, lush red fruit with acidity to match, that’s tempered mid-palate with minerally tannins.  D. Ventura Caneiro 2010 is funky and slightly smokey with mineral notes and bramble wood fruit.  Rising up from the bottom mid-palate, the red fruit here bursts forward with great bravado.

Vineyards at Dominio do Bibei

Located in the Quiroga-Bibei sub zone of Ribeira Sacra, Dominio do Bibei is a 125ha estate with 45ha under vine.  With vineyards at 300-670m on soil of loam and clay that lies on a base of granite and slate, Dominio do Bibei is an experimental place, says Andre, “they’re still trying to figure out the region.”  Arriving to the region in 1999, Javier Dominguez has been working with his team to restructure and replant ancient vineyards with cuttings from old vines.

In addition to his efforts to revive the land, Dominguez also constructed a gravity winery in the hillsides.  Working with wood or cement, instead of stainless steel tanks, winemaker Laura Lorenzo engages biodynamic techniques as a way to return to the land and to the wines that were here before her time.  Of the Dominio Do Bibei Lalama 2007, André says, “It’s got everything you want, but no alcohol.”  With great minerality and bramble fruit, Lalama (at 12%) is made with indigenous yeasts from vines that are 15-100 years old.

In addition to Mencía and a host of other grapes, Dominio do Bibei also grows Brancellao, an indigenous grape.  “It’s a grape that could be very interesting,” says André.  “You have top winemakers who are playing around [with it].”  Perhaps more typically employed as a blending grape, Brancellao stars front and center in Dominio Do Bibei B 2005, which is 100% Brancellao.  “It’s a symbolic wine,” says André, “it gives you an idea of what Dominio do Bibei is doing.  They’re setting the standard.  The difference with [their use of] grapes like these are the vessels.  The 3-5 year old barrels make it.  You put wood on it and it’s finished.”  Super earthy and a bit tight out of the bottle, the fruit is wild and the wine is contemplative.

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