GODello’S LITTLE ACRE…
By AJ Linn
Ever heard of Arribes, Bullas, Méntrida, Pago Guijoso, Valles de Benavente, Monterrei, Cangas, Finca Élez? No real reason why you should, except they are all first ranking wine regions with their own Regulatory Committee (Consejo Regulador) that exercises the same authority in its respective area with as much power as that of Rioja and Ribera del Duero.
Producers have to pay for the regulating committees, usually on the basis of a royalty per bottle each bodega sells. If you are lucky enough to be appointed to a plum job on one of these committees it really is an agreeable career move; you decide which grapes can be grown, how the wines can be labelled, etc., and you also get to attend a lot of official functions that usually consist of four-hour lunches – and you get paid well for it.
Valdeorras is a typical mini-DO wine producing area, so small in fact it could almost pass unnoticed if it were not for its one blessing – the Godello grape. It consists of a tiny slip of land in Orense province sandwiched between the Galician wine-producing areas of Rías Baíxas (formerly Albariño) to the west and north and El Bierzo to the east.
The Romans are credited with planting the first vines, and the red variety was popular until the phylloxera bug wiped them all out in 1911. Only in the 1970s did some enterprising winemakers from outside the zone decide that the future was to return to the Godello and Mencia grapes that were native to the area, for white and red, respectively. By that time there were only around 200 Godello vines remaining, but fortunately these were saved before it was too late and the rest, as they say, is history.
It is the Godello grape that makes this region famous, and, love him or hate him, the contentious Robert Parker wrote that Godello is one of his favourite white grapes anywhere. Nevertheless you cannot assume that anything with Valdeorras on the label is made from the magic Godello grape, so check carefully, and the lower price will usually give away the inferior variety.
Official figures indicate that the production is split equally between exports and home sales, though I confess to never having come across a bottle of Valdeorras wine in a supermarket. Very low key, a bit like the region itself: beautiful and not too visited. Neither is it for gastronomes either, featuring that mainstay of what Spain’s inland areas produce in their back yard – pork. One of the typical dishes is a speciality during the winter period when pigs are killed domestically in what is known as the matanza. Blend the pig’s blood with milk, salt, flour and eggs, and in a frying pan greased with pig fat fry the mixture and serve with sugar and honey. Mmm…
The wines are quality personified. You can find ValdeSil’s regular Godellos locally in Hipercor and stores such a Marbella’s Vinacoteca La Cartuja, (starting around €14). Pezas de Portella, another outstanding wine made from the fabulous Godello grape, can be bought for around €24, and the superb Guitian at about €12. Málaga’s Ordoñez family has a Valdeorras bodega within its group, and its highly recommended Avancia goes almost entirely for export.
Make no mistake, these are great wines, possibly some of the best whites you have ever tasted, and the very small production keeps the prices high, but diligent searching is rewarded. The Pagos de Galir range includes an excellent young Godello for around €8 and a crianza for €12. Both are cracking value for money, and even the reds (the Mencia grape is not everyone’s favourite) are exceptional at between €6 and €10.
(Stop-press: it is rumoured that Lidl now stocks a white Godello.)