2019 Fento Wines "O Estranxeiro" Ribeira Sacra ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
2019 Fento Wines "O Estranxeiro" Ribeira Sacra ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

A Potent Reminder of Ribeira Sacra’s Grace

375 Words (Or So) on a Luscious Red from Northwest Spain

3 min read

Europe’s borderlands consistently yield some of the continent’s most compelling, idiosyncratic wines. Think of Alsace, Roussillon, French Basque country, Friuli and Alto Adige; it is in this grayscale of nationalities that we often find fascinating viticultural practices, difficult-to-pronounce labels, oddball grapes, and landscapes that either underline the isolation or underscore the crossroads nature of the place.

Spain’s Galicia captures a bit of both. Because of the Camino de Santiago, the region’s capital is a crossroads at the end of the line — a spiritual Land’s End. Viticulturally speaking, Rias Biaxas and its Portuguese counterpart, Vinho Verde, represent two sides of the salty-floral coin that is Albariño/Albarinho. The border between the two means little.

But up in the river canyons and hills of Galicia, another wine region beguiles with its improbability: Ribeira Sacra.

Straddling the Miño and Sil Rivers, the Ribeira Sacra DO embodies everything I love about wine. Grape growing has an ancient storyline to the past here, stretching back to the Roman Empire. However, it was the Middle Age monasteries that truly furthered the cause of libation and preserved it for contemporary times. Indeed, it would take a monastic devotion to penance and suffering to cultivate the steep slopes of these canyons. One taste of these wines and the effort is usually verified.

The ultra-steep vineyards along the Miño and Sil Rivers in Ribeira Sacra constitute a new level of viticultural insanity. (Stock photo)
The ultra-steep vineyards along the Miño and Sil Rivers in Ribeira Sacra constitute a new level of viticultural insanity. (Stock photo)

Let’s focus on just one example: Fento Wines’ Ribeira Sacra Tinto called “O Estranxeiro,” which means “the stranger” in Portuguese (borderlands, baby). Fento is based in Rias Biaxas, closer to the coast, and they are perhaps better known for Albariño. But up along the Miño and Sil Rivers, they source from a mixture of old-vine plots ranging from 20 to 80 years in age.

The valleys’ granite and slate soils seem to give this wine a polished edge on the finish, lending it to perpetual sipping. Fermented in chestnut casks and then transferred to a variety of vessels for aging (concrete, small and large French oak casks), this complex wine is a wonderful gateway to an area not often stealing the headlines like it ought to.

2019 Fento Wines “O Estranxeiro” Tinto Ribeira Sacra

2019 Fento Wines "O Estranxeiro" Tinto Ribeira Sacra ©Kevin Day/Opening a BottleRibeira Sacra DO (Galicia)
Grapes: Mencia (100%)
Alcohol: 14.1%
Opinion: ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)
Food-friendliness: Selective
Value: As Expected


A beginner might like … trying to triangulate where this wine fits in with others you’ve tried. The red wines of Ribeira Sacra are distinctive and deserve their own course of study, but one can’t help but think of cool-climate, maritime Pinot Noir with its red-tea and eucalyptus notes, or Cabernet Franc from the Loire with its inherent spice-meets-violets sensation.

A wine obsessive might like … the noteworthy intensity of this wine’s palate expression. Even after that brooding and deep nose, I was expecting a lighter, more agile frame, but instead, “O Estranxeiro” is built like an Olympic swimmer — robust and powerful, but without any excess from tannin, alcohol or extraction.


Note: This wine was purchased with funds raised from subscriptions like yours. Thank you!

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