Wining and dining in NW Spain: On a cool, early May morning, Juan Gil de Araujo González de Careaga, left, and your beret-topped correspondent, walked under his property’s 50-year-old Albariño vines, only steps away from a downtown plaza bearing the name of his family’s winery, Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes. The winery’s home is the old port city of Cambados, which is located in northwest Spain, a region known as Galicia.
The country-in-city setting is viticulturally counter-intuitive: Who would expect to find a vineyard smack in the middle of a bustling business district? Yet, there, the vines flourish behind a palace’s high walls, thriving amid 12-plus acres of formal gardens and thick forest glades. Our host, the palace and vineyard’s owner, who discretely allows he is a marquis, clearly treasures his family’s diminutive, but still productive vineyard.
As proprietor, Juan, as he prefers to be called, is head of the family-owned company that markets a line of well-respected white wines, all grown and vinified in the Rias Baixas (pronounced ree-ahs bay-shus) DO (Denominación de Origen). Juan also proudly serves on the board of trustees of the regional wine board of Rias Baixas, which is comprised of both privately owned labels as well as wines produced by cooperatives encompassing all five sub-regions of the DO appellation. In fact, besides his ambassadorial, administrative and marketing activities on behalf of the DO, including spending time with interested journalists and bloggers like yours truly, Juan says he sources most of his grapes for Fefinañes from some 60 growers in Rias Baixas DO, blending their grapes with those harvested from his “palatial” vineyard.
These spicy, fragrant wines are the veritable fruit from one of Spain’s smallest, but most romantic DOs. Windswept and green like the western reaches of Ireland, Galicia and its Rias Baixas wines have a charm all their own.
Perched along the Atlantic coast, Galician cooking features an immense array of exotic seafood and shell-fish; yet, further inland, chefs are also afforded the riches of wild game as well as grass-fed beef, goat and lamb. Pork, hugely popular here as in the rest of Iberia, is also served throughout Galicia, from tapas bars to Michelin-starred establishments. Galegos (as the citizens of Galicia are called) thrive on hearty, rustic dishes that rival any region in Spain, or for that matter, those of France (Gascony) or Italy’s (Puglia) most celebrated cuisines.
As the guests of Juan, we feasted on fresh shellfish from d’Berto, the renowned seafood restaurant in O Grove in Galicia, Spain, which is located near Cambados; from left to right, crayfish, oysters, cockles (white shells), scallops (two kinds: zamburiñas [chlamys varia] and volandeira ), razor clams, and Percebes (upper right, also called Goose barnacles), the latter extremely rare and dangerous to harvest even by the most skilled divers. With this meal, we enjoyed the vintage 2011 from Juan’s winery; see below for tasting notes.
On that overcast morning, Juan welcomed my wife, Bess Reynolds, and me at the winery and took us on a brief tour of the vineyards, gardens and modern winery housed in the ancient stone palace. (Bess is the talented photographer who captured these images during our recent vinous and culinary adventure across the Iberian peninsula.)
Then we enjoyed a splendid tasting of four of his wines: two from the winery’s most recent vintages, 2011 and 2010; plus two other innovative selections, relatively older vintages given over to aging on their lees. (“Lees” in wine speak are natural sediments and yeasty organic matter thrown off during the fermentation process; in the case of Fefiñanes, for two other vintages we tasted — see below for tasting notes of all four –an extended contact with its lees, or short contact with oak barrels, yields, in each bottling, a wine subtly enriched by the intrinsic flavors of the Albariño grape.)
Tasting Notes, Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes:
Vintage 2011, Albariño de Fefinañes, 100 % Albariño, 12.5% alc. – To the eye: Bright, golden yellow hue; on the nose, floral & citrus aromas; on the palate, crisp spice and lemony flavors, with good acid balancing its minerality and, on the finish, not-quite-ripe white peachy savors on the finish. Terrific with fresh oysters, cooked seafood or as an aperitif! Drink up now.
Vintage 2010, Albariño de Fefinañes, 100 % Albariño, 12.5% alc. – Slightly deeper yellow, golden tints vs. 2011 vintage above; immense floral, lemony nose; bigger flavors of ripe honeydew and lemon on the palate, and more spicy complexity in the finish. An above-average vintage. Go for oysters, and also perfect with mild cheeses, goat and sheep’s milk; and ideal with baked or broiled fish, seafood stews and soups. Delicious! Drink now; good for 1-2 more years.
Vintage 2007, Albariño de Fefinañes, III Año, (“Third Year”), 100 % Albariño, 13% alc. – This wine is aged a total of 30 months in stainless steel tanks, including an initial six months on its lees. Deep autumnal gold tints; some mild oak notes on nose dominated by rich, attractive floral aromas; lemon confit, cooked peaches on palate with lingering mineral flavors; complex, longer finish vs. 2010 and 2011 vintages above. Great with sauteed sole, grilled monkfish, lobster; also good with creamy cheeses or even with a sweet flan for dessert! Drink now; will mature 2-3 more years very nicely.
1583, Albariño de Fefinañes, 100 % Albariño, 12% alc., vintage 2009 – This wine, which pays homage to the family’s 16th century builder of the Palacio, who actually began construction in 1583, is a most atypical Rias Baixas wine: It is aged in a combination of French and American new and formerly used oak casks for five months. Deep golden tints; honeyed fruit and wild rose floral aromas; rich, zesty citrus and mineral flavors intermingle; long finish with cooked pear, white peach fruit. Great with cooked shellfish, cod, swordfish, tuna and baked or roasted poultry. Drink now; will mature and evolve well for 3-5 years, more of a ‘curiousity’, as it is not a traditional Rias Baixas wine, but if you find it, it is eminently drinkable.
In the U.S., at present, the 2010 vintage is in wide distribution, and you should expect to pay about $18-$22 per 750 ml. bottle; if your favorite retailer does not have this label, ask him or her to order it! And be sure to try other 100% Albariño wines from Rias Baixas, they are perfect for summer bbqs.
To find Fefinañes, and other Rias Baixas Albariños, check out: http://www.wine-searcher.com/
For more information about the wines of the Rias Baixas DO, log onto: www.riasbaixaswines.com
Photographs by Bess Reynolds are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.