Valdeorras: a hint of Burgundy
In the western foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains, under the influence of the cool air of the Atlantic, wholesome white wines with seemingly Burgundian finesse have been produced for several years. The basis for this white wine wonder in the small but beautiful Valdeorras wine-growing region is the Godello variety. Thanks to new plantings and the restoration of old parcels, the quality of wines here has only increased in recent years. The top crus are increasingly aged on the fine lees.
White wines from Valdeorras
Two legendary winemakers from Rioja had a hand in the spectacular ascent of the mostly white wine-producing region of Valdeorras: Telmo Rodríguez, who produced select wines throughout Spain, and Rafael Palacios, the brother of the Priorat vintner Alvaro Palacious. They both began to restore old terraces around the turn of the millennium, some of which date back to Roman times. They also established new vineyards, and turned towards the long-established quality variety Godello. On sparse granitic soils in particular, Godello yields refreshing and fruity wines with great radiance.
New selections from old vines
The dominant wine type is Godello, which is trimmed to primary fruit, reductively aged in steel tanks and sold relatively early. But top producers such as Rafael Palacios are increasingly astonishing the wine world with selections from terraces with vines over 80 years old that are then matured for a long time on the fine lees, often in barriques or wooden barrels made from French oak.
A typical “cool climate”
While the majority of the vineyards in Valdeorras lie only 200 to 350 metres above sea level, some prime locations are at elevations from 600 to 800 metres. With the influence of the cool Atlantic, the grapes here ripen in a typical “cool climate” area, with relatively high levels of rainfall, up to 1,000 millimetres per year per square metre. The soils are diverse. While sand and gravel often dominate in lower elevations, the steep slopes are marked by slate and granite layers. With a total cultivation area of 1,400 hectares, Valdeorras is among Spain’s smaller wine regions.
Vintners turn to native varieties
Besides the main Godello variety, other white varieties such as Loureiro, Treixadura, Dona Branca, Albariño and Torrontes are cultivated here. After phylloxera destroyed a large part of the vines in Valdeorras over 100 years ago, the non-native Palomino variety was preferred during replanting, as it guaranteed yields. Today, vintners have clearly turned towards native varieties. The red Mencia variety is also experiencing a renaissance; unlike in neighbouring Bierzo, here it yields rather light wines with subtle aromas of red berries and herbs.