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Northwest Spain

If you haven't been to Rioja, chances are you're at least pretty familiar with the wines. The same may not be true for the northwestern corner of Spain. The area is known as Galicia--and it includes the wine regions of Rias Baixas, Ribeiro and Ribeira Sacra. Over the last year or two, I've become quite interested in the mencia-based wines of Ribeira Sacra--and I'd heard descriptions of the stark beauty of the region--so visiting was a priority. And it was worth the effort.

The effort wasn't trivial. From Rioja, it was a day-long drive across the north coast to Galicia. Extensive...but the route along the highway that threaded between the coastal mountains and the shore was jaw-droppingly lovely. And the weekend gave us time to do touristy-things, like explore Santiago de Compestela. Early Monday morning, we started the drive back east for our 10:30 appointment at Dominio do Bibei. How remote is it? Our directions were to depart a little village on a specific road, go about 3 km, and when we came around a big, U-shaped corner to look for two Range Rovers parked by the side of the road. They'd take us the rest of the way in the Range Rovers. The picture above was snapped at the point we transferred vehicles...and gives a bit of a sense of how rugged the terrain is. The slopes of the terraced vineyards range up to about 70 degrees. The area is a bit reminiscent of Portugal's Douro Valley...vineyards on steep slopse rising up on both sides of a river. Except that the Douro has wine tourists (not Napa numbers, but a significant flow) Ribeira Sacra, it almost seemed like it was just us.

At the top of the mountain, we found the winery--a project headed by Javier Dominguez. It's a "back to the future" winery...focused on biodynamic farming of old bush vines...hand-harvsting of grapes that are carried up the ancient steep steps to the winery...natural yeasts...and gravity flow from level to level as the winery follows the terrain down the steep slope. I'd been introduced to Bibei by importer/writer Terry Theise--who ordered a bottle of Dominio do Bibei Lalama at dinner and raved about it. Lalama is a spicy, fresh blend of ~90% mencia with a little garnacha and mouraton and a dash of brancellao. Really pleasant--and a great food wine. And we tasted Lalama at Bibei. But we also tasted some other wines that are considerably rarer in the US. There were two minerally whites: Lapola, a blend of godello, albariño and doña blanca. And Lapena, a pure godello. Both had personality. The Lapola had a savory character...the Lapena was intensely penetrating. But it was the 100% mencia Lacima that most captured my attention. It had depth and substance--no wimpy wine here--but it was still graceful, elegant and light on its feet. It was one of the most memorable wines--maybe the most memorable wine--I had on the trip. When I got home I launched a search for Lacima. Not easy to find--not much is made...and not much of what is made comes to the US. WIth the help of MacArthur Beverages and a distributor, I was able to find two six-packs from out of area. That's all there was on the market. Like a good boy, I shared it with other folks from the trip. My bottles are put away for a while.

I enjoyed the whole time in Ribeira Sacra...but Bibei was, for me, the standout. I did explore the other two producers in the region whose names are sometimes mentioned in the same breath. My vote: Bibei is at a different level. It was well worth the effort to find. And back here at home, its wines are well worth the effort to find.

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