After much research on the internet, we selected the “One day Rias Baixas private tour” offered by Tours of Galicia, and we could not have done better. Juanjo Cuenca is an expert tour guide, and more. He is a fount of knowledge, well-prepared, flexible, and knows how to read his clients. My wife and I have done winery tours in the United States, like Albariño, and we both speak Spanish. Our conversation with Juanjo shifted back and forth seamlessly between his excellent colloquial English and Spanish, as the situation required. We were picked up at our hotel in Santiago, on time, and proceeded to the Salnés valley for a tour of four wineries in Juan’s comfortable SUV, which had bottled water and rechargers for our phones.
We visited two small and two medium-sized wineries. We learned about the grape, the vineyards, the harvesting, and differences in wine production, and creative ways wineries in Galicia are making the most of the Albariño grape. All offered tastings with snacks. In one we bought a surprisingly good sparkling Albariño (who knew there was such a thing?!!!), cosmetics, and a wine reduction jam. In another, we bought a bottle of delicious Galician grappa called “Orujo.” In a third, we bought three bottles of phenomenal Albariño.
For lunch, Juanjo offered a couple of options, and we opted for a “furrancho,” an informal family-run eating establishment where the draw is the home-made Albariño. The food was excellent, the atmosphere was homey (a family came in all dressed as cowboys and girls, as it was carnival season), and the Albariño served in traditional saucers/cups was surprisingly good.
Along the way, we talked constantly about the history and culture of Galicia, the topography, land tenure, economics, etc. Juanjo would point out salient features and sites, and he offered a few stops that were great: the “lonxa” at Cambados, where we were able to see the fishermen’s catch before the daily auction and the church of St. James in Padrón (where St. James’ remains arrived in Spain).
We were very lucky, as the church of Santa María de Iria Flavia, where Nobel Price literature winner Camilo Jose Cela is buried, happened to be open. We were also lucky, as the weather was sunny and cool—not what you’d expect in late February. Having said that, it was Juanjo who made the day. We had high expectations, and they were exceeded in every way.