Santiago de Compostela in the province of Galicia in northern Spain is bordered by Portugal in the south. Because of this close proximity, most wine connoisseurs liken the style of Galician wines to Portuguese wines. On our visit to Santiago de Compostela where we later on boarded El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, RENFE’s tourist train, we had the pleasure of trying some of the local wines. In one of our meals at a restaurant, we met the owner, a delightful man from Uruguay. He made us sample scallops and some of Galicia’s delicious seafood dishes. We also learned from him that Galicia has always been Spain’s provider of white wines, normally consumed with fish and seafood meals. Amongst these is the famous Albariño, regarded as the most outstanding grape of the Rias Baixas, a Spanish Denominación de Origen (Denomination of Origin – established only in 1988 although wine cultivation in Galicia is said to have originated in Roman times) for wines located in the province of Pontevedra and the south of the province of A Coruña in Galicia. He encouraged us to visit some of the town’s wineshops so the next day, we ventured to search for the right bodeguero, (cellarman) which we found in the old part of Santiago. However, it was really the Galician liqueur that caught our interest when we went to browse at this particular bodega or wineshop (or wine cellar) in Santiago.
Earlier on, I read somewhere that this liqueur has something to do with Galicia’s Celtic past. This was enough incentive to blatantly enquire about the Orujo.
“So, you have heard about our Galician Aguardiente or Orujo?” The charming bodeguero graced us with a cheeky smile. He said: “Orujo is the alcoholic spirit that is produced by distillation of fermented grape skins from the residue of winemaking. It is infamous for its use in making a potion- our version of punch. It is called Queimada, and is a product of a tradition that dates back to Celtic times. This ‘magical’ drink is believed by many Galicians to purify the soul and the ritual that surrounds its preparation is intended to ward off evil spirit. According to convention, the Aguardiente is poured into a traditional earthenware bowl, flavoured with herbs or coffee, plus sugar, lemon peel, coffee beans and cinnamon and then set alight. Whilst the alcohol is burning a Conxuro, a sort of a spell or incantation is read out to ward off demons, evil spirits, and witches; in particular, las meigas, the famed Galician witches said to haunt our region’s men and women… and then more brandy is added. This ancient drink is usually savoured late in the evening…..the dead of night when anything is possible.” Flashing his pearl white teeth as he grinned, I was already enchanted by the good looking cellarman.
The golden liqueur on the shelf looked harmless and my curiosity was sparked. He must have sensed this as he continued to educate us with this particular alcoholic beverage.
“But you know sometimes it’s okay to drink the Queimada during the day. Here in Galicia, we get a lot of rain and when we don’t see the sun, sometimes, we have la melancolía ; el blues, you know?”
“So, the Queimada is the potion to help get rid of the melancolía?” I interjected, hoping for an excuse to savour the drink.
“Well, the importance of the preparation ritual is to protect the drinker from the bad spirits but now, we think all occasions are good for a queimada: a party, familiar meetings or gatherings of friends.”
Well then, no need to wait for sundown. Cheers! He said with a twinkle in his eye.
More on: Railway to Heaven (On board the luxury train in Spain) ISBN: 9781468970203