Godello wine grape

Regarded by many experts as Spain’s best white grape, Godello (goh-DEH-yoh) is still very much under the radar, especially compared to its main rival for that title, Albariño.  Both hail from Galicia, Spain’s northwest corner, but they could hardly be more different.  Albariño is lushly floral and fairly light-bodied, and thrives on the cool, wet Atlantic coast.  Godello is fragrant but in the citrus and herb spectrum, and is full-bodied and minerally on the palate.  It likes heat and altitude, and it dominates far inland in Valdeorras, Galicia’s highest and easternmost DO where it probably originated.
Smaller plantings are found in Galicia’s other inland DOs Monterrei, Ribeiro and Ribeira Sacra, though in these it is often blended with other local varieties like Treixadura.  Few of these vines are very old, even in Valdeorras.  Godello almost went extinct in Galicia in the 70s, reduced to a few hundred vines.  It was saved by Horacio Fernández Presa, a regional manager in the government’s Agrarian Service, who founded the RE.VI.VAL plan (REstructuring of the VIneyards of VALdeorras) in 1974 and recruited two of Spain’s leading wine experts, Luis Hidalgo and José Luis Bartolomé.
The two Luis determined the best rootstocks, vine densities, training and pruning systems to use for Godello, and Horacio persuaded growers to uproot their non-local varieties (chiefly high-yielding Palomino from southern Spain, which makes great sherry but dull wine) in favour of it.  As more Godello came on stream, the DO rules for Valdeorras were changed to prefer it; today it must be the dominant variety in any white blend.
As it turned out, Godello wasn’t quite that close to extinction.  DNA analysis has revealed pockets of it outside Galicia, chiefly in northern Portugal, masquerading under a variety of different names.  The grape traditionally called Verdelho in Dão is not the same as the true Verdelho of Madeira but is actually Godello.  So is most of the Gouveio in the Douro (home of port), though some of it is a separate variety more properly called Gouveio Real.  It isn’t very common in either region and is usually a minor component in blends.
Godello is often compared to Chardonnay, though it has juicier acidity and is perhaps more aromatic.  Certainly it shares Chardonnay’s malleability, responding well to oak treatment and lees aging.  If picked fairly early and unoaked it resembles Chablis, though sometimes with a tinge of Sauvignon Blanc.  If picked late and oak-aged it resembles white Burgundy, sometimes with a tinge of Chenin Blanc.  Both styles age well, thanks to Godello’s high acidity and tendency to reduction.

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