Dominio do Bibei, Lalama 2006 Ribeira Sacra


From £18.95, €12.54, 24.70 Swiss francs, $29.9, 229.80 Swedish krone, 219 Norwegian kroner

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I first heard about the magical landscape of Ribeira Sacra ('sacredLALAMA riverbank') in Galicia in north-west Spain from Simon Loftus when he was running Southwold's famous brewer and wine merchant Adnams. He retired four years ago, so this small wine region has hardly burst onto the international scene. Indeed it exports only about 10% of what its 1,200 hectares of vines (about half the size of little Cigales) produce according to the Peñín Guide to Spanish Wine. But the terrain looks captivating: steep terraces of vines embedded in slate up to 650 m altitude on the banks of the slow-moving river Sil and the upper reaches of the Miño, the river that goes on to form the frontier between Spain and Portugal.

Dominio do Bibei is the thoroughly modern, but stainless steel-free, project of owner Javier Dominguez, originally from the region, with input from Sara Perez and René Barbier Jr, whose base of operations is far to the east on the slate terraces of Mediterranean-influenced Priorat in Catalunya. In RIbeira Sacra, on the other hand, the dominant influence is from the Atlantic, specifically often inconveniently high rainfall. But the summer of 2006 was unusually warm and dry so that Lalama 2006 is that rare thing, a fully ripe wine packed with flavour but only 12.5% alcohol.

The vines responsible are densely planted on west-facing slopes and are between 15 and 100 years old, producing just 500-1,500 g of fruit per vine. The final blend is 85% of the dominant local red wine grape Mencía (responsible for so many fine wines from the now rather better known wine region of Bierzo to the east), 7% Garnacha and the rest made up of the local Brancellao and Mouraton varieties. As in Bierzo, it seems to be the combination of old Mencía and the slate, supplemented by some clay, presumably closer to the river, that is responsible for the swish of raspberry fruit underlain by a solid mineral base, with seriously refreshing acidity. This is a thoroughly energetic wine that really does express its very distinctive homeland.

Lalama 2006 is also a good example of a wine made using larger and older oak than used to be the norm (see Oak as shoulder pad). After fermentation in wood, the wine was aged on the lees for 21 months in a mixture of 35% in large wooden foudres and 65% in 300-litre French oak barrels being used variously for the first, second and third time. It was then aged for a further 18 months in bottle, perhaps to tame the acidity. It is certainly drinking very well now but I would happily follow it over the next four or five years. It is already a versatile partner for food and even stood up to kippers, I found, although I'm not sure I would advocate them as the perfect match for the wine.

For a wine from such modest origins, it is impressively well distributed around the world, being sold all over Europe, including by the Swedish and Norwegian monopolies. In the US it is imported by Michael Skurnik and in the UK by Carte Blanche. Retail stockists in the UK include Ballantynes Direct, The Butler's Wine Cellar of Brighton, Caviste stores in Hampshire and Berkshire and

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