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Importer scales new Spanish heights with Ribeira Sacra wines

Craig Gandolf has opened the door to select Spanish wines at importer Cynthia Hurley French Wines. He’s shown with Ribeira Sacra Mencia.
Craig Gandolf has opened the door to select Spanish wines at importer Cynthia Hurley French Wines. He’s shown with Ribeira Sacra Mencia.

I’m fortunate to have a wine expert living in my neighborhood.

Caino rose is crafted with sophistication.For more than 20 years, Craig Gandolf was the wine director for Jorge Ordonez Selections, one of the largest U.S. importers of Spanish wines. In May 2018, he was named national sales manager for Cynthia Hurley French Wines, based in Needham.

While French wines remain the priority, Craig has used his Spanish connections to expand Hurley’s portfolio. Joining the fold are two family producers, Adegas Moure Abadia da Cova and Noella Bebellia, representing the country’s two “hottest” appellations — Ribeira Sacra, Rias Baixas, respectively.

The appellations are located in Galicia, a remote, wet, mountainous region in northwestern Spain. Vineyards are planted on steep valley slopes formed by the rivers Mino and Sil.Today, the focus is on three outstanding 2018 Ribeira Sacra (“sacred bank”) wines produced at Abadia da Cova – Cain`o rose, Mencia (red) and a white blend.

The Moure family has been working the mountains for years, growing grapes in terraced vineyards high along the river valley’s steep cliffs. Called “heroic” viticulture (because mechanized vehicles can’t work the narrow spaces), each grape must be handpicked, placed in baskets, and carried down the mountain.

“Producing these wines is a labor of love and respect for the land,” said Craig, a Lowell resident, noting the winery’s reluctance to employ chemicals in the planting-to-production process.

Abadia da Cova also boasts one of Spain’s top wine consultants, Nacho Alvarez. “Nacho is very patient in making wine,” said Craig. “He won’t release them early. He wants them at their best so people can enjoy their full aromas and flavors.”

The wines sampled below each sell for $30 and are available at

Albarino is the primary grape in Ribeira Sacra White blend.

“Caino” Rose: This rare rose — only 200 cases made — takes its name from a native red grape and is one of the most luxurious I’ve tasted all summer. What sets Caino apart is a creamy texture that massages the palate, and intense, harmonious flavors of strawberry, orange and clove. I couldn’t help swishing this liquid in my mouth for up to 10 seconds before swallowing. Craig saw my reaction and remarked, “It’s a more sophisticated rose — not a pool pounder.” Indeed. Even the color — poached salmon with copper hues — shows special attention from extended skin-juice contact. The wine is fermented in French oak barrels and sits sur lies for three months gaining deeper character.

A Fuga White: “A Fuga” means “to escape” in a whimsical way, and one whiff of this aromatic, three-grape blend helps transport the imagination to a pleasurable frame of mind. The wine’s backbone is built on plump fruit (Albarino, 65%), bright acidity (Godello, 25%), and floral notes (Treixadura, 10%). United, they provide rich, delicious expressions of apple, peach and lemon notes. The smooth, straw-colored wine is a cool Spanish pairing with shellfish, seafood and paella dishes.

This 100% mencia is fresh and fruity with dark cherry and plum notes.

A Fuga Mencia: Mencia is a native red grape that depends on near-ideal conditions to grow in the mountainous granite and schist soils. For the unfamiliar, Craig compared Mencia’s traits to Cabernet Franc — violets, dark cherry, plum and green bell pepper. I enjoyed its fresh, fruity taste. A vein of slate minerality arrived mid-palate and eased the garnet-colored wine into a long, drier finish. A nice, medium-bodied and versatile red than can add spice to most ethnic cuisine dishes. “Nacho has taken this wine three steps higher in quality,” said Craig, noting the grape’s need for precise handling. The wine is fermented in steel tanks and is best enjoyed within two years of release.

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