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Details for Rafael Palacios, Louro

AppellationValdeorras DO
Treixadura / Trajadura
(click to find out more)
Rafael Palacios
(click to find out more)


Galicia is the northwest corner of Spain, lying between the northern border of Portugal and the Bay of Biscay.  Cooler and wetter than the rest of Spain, this is largely white wine country.  There are five Galician D.O.s: Rías Baixas, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei.
Rías Baixas, on the Atlantic coast, is the largest and best-known.  The fragrant Albariño dominates here, producing bracingly sharp but lushly aromatic whites perfectly matched to the local seafood.  It rains a lot here but the sandy granitic soils drain well and the vines are trained high on pergolas to keep the grapes away from the damp ground and to benefit from the drying winds.
Further up the Miño river from Rías Baixas lies Ribeiro, where the dry whites also feature Albariño but are usually blends with Treixadura (the main grape here), Loureiro, Torrontés and Godello.
Further inland still, the breathtakingly steep terraced vineyards of Ribeira Sacra produce potentially the best reds of the region, mainly from Mencía, as well as fine Godello whites.  Mencía also features in Monterrei, the smallest and warmest DO, located in the southeast corner of Galicia where it gets warm enough to ripen Tempranillo.
Valdeorras is the easternmost and highest region.  This is the heartland of the Godello grape, which suits the slatey soils particularly well.  Younger unoaked examples resemble Chablis, while late-picked oak-aged versions are Spain’s answer to white Burgundy, and Albariño’s only real rival as Spain’s best white.

Rafael Palacios

The youngest of nine siblings, Rafael (Rafa) Palacios was born into a noted winemaking family that own the Palacios Remondo estate in Rioja.  His brother Alvaro is one of the five winemakers who revived the Priorat region in Catalonia, and Alvaro’s top red from there, L’Ermita, is probably the most iconic and expensive in Spain.
Rafa wanted to make wine, but had a rather un-Spanish fondness for whites.  After studying in Bordeaux and working for Southcorp (Penfolds et al) in Australia, Rafa returned to Rioja and persuaded his father to let him try his hand at a white wine.  The result, in 1997, was Placet.  Very different to the traditional oaky, oxidative style of the region, this fresh and herby white became one of the icons of new-wave white Rioja.
While creating Placet he first tasted Godello, which at the time was largely unknown even in Spain, at a 1996 wine show in Madrid and was promptly smitten by the variety.  He moved to Valdeorras and began to buy up Godello vineyard plots in the high and rugged Bibei valley, in the O Bolo municipality.  Galician vineyards are highly subdivided, with a tradition of inheritance determined by drawing lots (sorte in Gallego, the Galician language) out of a hat.  Rafa’s first Godello was released in 2004 and called As Sortes in honour of this custom.  It was an immediate success, with some influential wine critics going so far as to declare it Spain’s best dry white.
Rafa continued to acquire vineyards and now has 26 plots totalling 24.5 hectares, either owned outright or on long-term lease.  They range between 18 and 94 years old, and lie at elevations between 600 and 720 metres on the right bank of the Bibei as it winds northwards to join the Sil.  Most Valdeorras vineyards are on slate soils ‐ Valdeorras is the slate-mining capital of Europe ‐ but these are on granite.  They drain so well that Rafa often uses a straw mulch to lock in moisture.  He doesn’t use pesticides or artifical fertilisers but isn’t certified organic.
He now makes three main cuvées: As Sortes is the top one, with Louro (formerly Louro de Bolo) in the middle and the unoaked O Bolo as the entry-level wine.  In the best vintages he makes a single-vineyard Sorte O Soro.

about this wine About this wine

The grapes for Louro are sourced from 16 to 18 of Rafael (Rafa) Palacio’s 26 different vineyards, depending on vintage conditions.  Vineyards here tend to be tiny, sub-divided by inheritance, and Rafa’s painstakingly acquired plots average less than a hectare each.
Though the oldest and best sites are reserved for As Sortes, the Louro plots are still respectably mature by Godello standards, at between 21 and 32 years.  Godello nearly disappeared in the 70s, and its revival was sufficiently slow that the first unblended varietal Godello of modern times was released as late as 1986.  Older vines are very rare.
Though all these plots lie on the western side of the Bibei river, they are sufficiently high up (600 to 720 metres) to have a variety of different aspects: they don’t all face west.  Most are quite steeply terraced and surrounded by dry granite walls, making then effectively unmechanizable, so they are worked and harvested by hand.
The soils are sandy and not very deep, with pure granitic subsoil beneath – something of a rarity in Valdeorras.  They drain extremely well, to the point where Rafa often has to cover the ground with straw during summer to slow evaporation.  On the plus side, lots of sunshine and little moisture mean there are few problems with rot and disease, allowing him to do without pesticides and other chemical treatments.
The dry conditions and poor soils suppress Godello’s natural vigour, forcing the vines to concentrate their energies on ripening grapes.  Cold nights at these altitudes slow down ripening and preserve acidity and aromas, although late spring frosts can be a threat to Rafa’s already low yields.
Though I’ve been talking entirely about Godello, one of these plots contains another fine Galician grape, Treixadura.  It makes up just 8% of the blend for Louro, making this the only one of Rafa’s wines that isn’t pure Godello.  Valdeorras DO regulations (and EU wine laws generally) allow up to 10% of another grape variety without having to declare it, so the bottle label says simply “Louro Godello”.
After a rather too cool and unusually wet 2014 vintage, 2015 was a hot year which suits these particularly high vineyards.  Cooler weather in August was welcome after a baking July.  It was also very dry which reduced yields, keeping the grapes small and concentrated.  Rafa picks much later than most (which can be seen in this wine’s 14% alcohol), relying on altitude and the cool nights to preserve acidity.  Despite that, Godello is such a green grape that the juice running from the gentle pneumatic presses looked “like kiwi juice”, even in 2015.
Louro is fermented in very large (3000 litre) temperature-controlled oak foudres using the natural yeasts from the grapeskins, and then aged on its fine lees in the same barrels (along with a few smaller 500 litre ones) for 4 to 5 months, during which time malolactic fermentation takes place.  This converts sharp malic acid into softer lactic acid, creating complexity and a rounder, fuller mouthfeel.  The ‘malo’ is standard practice for reds but many winemakers avoid it for whites, especially unoaked ones like Sauvignon Blanc that are meant to be sharp and fresh.  Rafa’s Godello has plenty of natural acidity and he’s aiming for a more complex style akin to white Burgundy, which always goes through the malo.
Lees-aging (lees are the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation) is another technique that adds creamy complexity and stony weight to the finished wine.  Most foudres are oval in cross-section, taller than they are wide, but Rafa uses round ones so the lees aren’t as deep and expose a bigger surface area to the wine.  He has them made, unusually, of Normandy oak, which being from a cooler climate is denser and has a tighter grain, imparting less of the obvious vanilla oak flavours.

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