Making wine in Ribeira Sacra is not an occupation for the faint-hearted, or indeed for anyone in search of easy money and a quiet life. In this remote corner of Spain's northwest, vertiginous slate slopes thrust upwards through the Atlantic fog. It feels like the edge of the world, and just driving a Land Rover up here can be a terrifying challenge. Vineyard workers willing to stick around and farm vines which are irregularly planted and up to 100 years old are a rare commodity. Aside from the occasional homemade pulley system, everything is painstakingly done by hand. It is not surprising that until recently the vineyards had fallen into obscurity, many abandoned or worked only by old-timers to make simple local wine.
So how has Ribeira Sacra become one of the world's most exciting wine places? The answer is in the bottle. Thanks to a handful of adventurous winemakers, excited by the potential of these old vineyards and undaunted by the challenges of working here, the wines of Ribeira Sacra are at last available more widely, although still in relatively tiny quantities. And they are as thrilling as you could hope for.
Dominio do Bibei is one such pioneering producer. Their vineyards are steeply terraced and at altitudes of up to 670m. There is little topsoil; the vines have to fight their way down through the rocky slate. The main grape is Mencía, and the winemaking is hands-off, with natural ferments and no stainless steel, only big, neutral oak barrels and concrete vats.
They make several wines, but the pick for us is Lalama. It is 90% Mencía, the rest being Mouratón and Garnacha Tintorera. It is a joyful, delicate wine which is wonderfully floral and aromatic. On the palate it has the softness of Burgundy and the freshness and minerality of Loire Cabernet Franc. Somehow, it evokes the landscape it comes from. The latest release is 2015, and although it already has four years of bottle age behind it, there is no rush to drink up.
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