The delicious white wines of Rafael Palacios
Regular readers will know that I am a fan of both the Godello grape and Valdeorras, the region where most of it is grown. The white wines are amongst the best, if not the best being produced in Spain at the moment (with the obvious exception of sherry). In style, with their mouth-filling fruit and excellent acidity, they have a certain resemblance to Burgundy, although usually without the oak-ageing. The quality of the wines has been recognized over the last few years, and they are now starting to take their place alongside Rías Baixas on discerning wine lists in Ireland. Yet back in the 1970’s, the grape had almost disappeared, replaced by Palomino and Alicante Bouschet. It was largely thanks to a small number of local activists, and two men from Rioja, that Godello was saved from extinction. One of those was Rafael Palacios.
Rafael Palacios is youngest of nine children. Most of the Palacios Remondo family are based in the Rioja region where they run an eponymous wine company, a restaurant and a hotel. Brother Alvaro Palacios is famous for being part of the quintet that revived the Priorat region in Catalunya, and now produces Finca Dofi and l’Ermita, two of Spain’s most revered (and expensive) wines. A nephew runs a joint venture with Alvaro in Bierzo close to Valdeorras. Rafael Palacios was always interested in white wine. On the family estate in Rioja, he pestered his father to allow him produce one; ‘I was young, I was insistent, says Rafale, ‘My father eventually allowed me to do Placet’. The white wine of Bodegas Palacios Remondo quickly became one of the most admired in Spain. ‘Then’, says Rafael, ‘In 1997 or 1998 a bottle of Godello passed my mouth. I found it completely unique as a Galician wine, a balance of Atlantic influences and richness, glycerol and body. With an altimeter in my hand I looked for the highest vineyards in Valdeorras.’
Valdeorras means Valley of Gold – the Romans mined gold here. They planted grapes when they had exhausted the mines. Over the last decade, the area has been completely revived. New plantings and new wineries abound. There are now some 2,000 growers, and 45 wineries. 90% of the wine is consumed in Spain. The climate is mainly continental but does have some Atlantic influences. The best vineyards are high up on the slopes at 500 metres, where the soils are granite and slate. The Palacios vineyards are largely in the granitic soils of Val do Bibei, one of three valleys in the D.O. They now own or farm over 100 separate parcels of vines.
All three Palacios wines are aged in oak barrels, usually 500 litres, but any oak influence is very much in the background. Louro has some Treixadura (another local grape with real potential) blended in. Sadly the entry-level Bolo which sold for a bargain €17, is no more. Reading between the lines of what Palacios said, prices are rising and growers are increasing yields as Valdeorras becomes more popular. It is difficult for him to source good quality grapes (Bolo was partly made from bought-in grapes) at a reasonable price. The 2016 Sorte Antiga is the first vintage of this wine.
Louro 2016, Valdeorras
(tank sample) Made from 17 parcels of vines, vinified separately. Nicely aromatic, with a delicious balance of fresh, lively citrus acidity and fat pure green fruits. Lovely wine. Around €22.
Sorte Antiga 2016, Valdeorras (Cask Sample)
Made from a small plot of ungrafted, gobelet-trained vines planted in 1920. It took Palacios ten years to bring the vineyard back to production –‘a very emotional wine for me’ he says. There was some skin contact in the winemaking. A quite stunning wine, with grippy, slightly pithy skins, a very saline intense mineral backbone and amazing length.
As Sortes 201, Valdeorras
Ripe rich melon and peach fruits, subtle grilled nuts, with a lovely elegant minerality and nice grip on the finish. Around €50
As Sortes 201, Valdeorras
The current vintage, and one of the stars. It has a brisker, more mineral feel than the 2015 at the moment, but still has plenty of voluptuous melon and stone fruits to back up the vibrant acidity. A great wine. Around €50
Sorte O Soro 2015, Valdeorras
A single-vineyard wine, north-facing and very windy, with vines planted in 1978. A herbal nose, hugely concentrated rich succulent fruit, backed up by that minerality finishing with a real flourish. Exceptional wine.
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