We continue to explore the parajes of Bierzo, a denomination that sets the standard in Spanish wine.
La Cova de la Raposa was the first plot developed by pioneer Raúl Pérez. It is a southfacing 0,2 hectare paraje with 6 owners, located in the outskirts of Valtuille. The soil is sandy and somewhat clayey with steep slopes. Some of the vines are over 100 years old. This paraje is known for making mineral wines.
The producer here is Castro Ventosa, which is Raúl Pérez’ family bodega, and where his nephew César Márquez is also involved in the winemaking.
Mencía is here complemented by 10% garnacha tintorera and 5% others. The harvest was manual. It is often the first plot to be harvested in Bierzo. Whole grapes were deposited in open 500-litre barrels. Fermentation was carried out naturally without adding yeast and without temperature control. The wine macerated inside the barrels for 60 days, soaking the hat once a day by gravity, without the intervention of pumps. Then it was taken out, pressed, and the wine was resting for a couple of months. It was aged 12 months in used 500 liter barrels (as opposed to 225 liters in the past).
La Cova de Raposa 2019(Castro Ventosa)
Dark cherry. Open, aromatic and concentrated, with red and dark fruits (cherry, raspberry, blackberry), mineral notes. Medium-bodied, with fine tannins, earthy hints and a marked acidity.
Bierzo is divided according to the so-called Burgundy model, with a classification pyramid. The highest level is parajes, that means specific sites, like a vineyard. Verónica Ortega’s wine Kinki is made from the paraje called La Llamilla in the commune of Cobrana. The vineyard has an altitude of 750 meters, and a soil composition of blue slate combined with some clay. The vines are 90-100 years old. Like most bierzo wines the main grape is mencía, here assisted by small percentages of palomino and godello, both white grapes.
The grapes were destemmed and poured into stainless steel tanks for spontaneous fermentation with native yeasts and a short maceration of about 10 days. The wine was then aged in a combination of French oak barrels and an 800 liter clay amphora.
Kinki 2020(V. Ortega)
Light red. Intense aroma, complex with red fruits (wild strawberry, raspberry), currants and menthol. Fresh in the mouth, with a light texture. Electric, uplifting, elegant and saline.
Grégory Pérez was educated in Bordeaux, and came to Bierzo, where he has his roots, in the early 2000’s.
His steep vineyards are situated by the river Cúa in Espanillo, ranging 600 to 850 meters above sea level. Pérez only grows local varietals and native yeasts, and the work is strictly organic. He plows and aerates the clay and decomposed slate soils to enhance the health and biodiversity of the earth, he strongly limits the use of fertilizers, and he never uses herbicides.
The grapes for this wine is exclusively godello, that have grown on calcareous-clay in Valtuille and Villafranca vineyards, stony soils in Carracedo – and on slate in Espanillo (the latter around the bodega). The age is 25 years, trained in goblet. They were harvested manually, pressed with whole clusters and fermented in 4,000L foudres. Then followed 7 months in foudres on fine lees with weekly stirring. Very light fining and filtering.
MengobaGodello Viejo Sobre Lías 2020(Grégory Pérez)
Light yellow. Mature pear, yellow apple, hay and herbs on the nose. Good volume in the mouth, with mature fruit, a pleasant acidity and a salty touch in the finish.
César Márquez Pérez is one of the young winemakers who contributes to make Bierzo a dynamic area, and it’s easy to predict that he will become a far more well-known name than today. He is the nephew of Raúl Pérez, who has mentored many producers in their initial phase.
César started his own project in 2015, and works with a number of plots, several of them with over a hundred year old vines. He has 2 hectares in the Valtuille de Abajo, at the moment he also uses purchased grapes from 3 hectares, where he works closely with the growers. It is mostly mencía for the red wines, but also around 10% garnacha tintorera, most often grown in the same fields.
He applies a similar production method for all red wines, thus they are suitable for showing differences in vintage and vineyard conditions. The grapes are always grown organically, they are partially destalked and fermented in open old barrels. The maceration time is normally quite long, but with careful extraction. And the use of sulfur is always careful. The result is very fresh, vibrant and expressive wines.
We are in the vineyard of El Rapolao, located in the paraje Valtuille de Abajo (which in turn is located in the municipality of Villafranca del Bierzo). This is a very important vineyard, 3.5 hectares with 20 owners, of which 10 make wine that will potentially have the name on the label. It is the coolest of the fields César has available. Ricardo Palacios also buys wine from here for his tax-free bestseller Pétalos.
El Rapolao 2018 is, as we have heard, a single field wine from one of the coolest corners of the Valtuille de Abajo, but not higher than 540 meters. The exposure is north-facing with a clay soil. Dark color, cherries, slightly reductive, some smoke and spices, fine-grained tannins. A very elegant wine.
El Rapolao 2018(C. Márquez)
Dark purple colour. Intense aroma of red fruits (cherries), cloves, some spices. Fleshy, yet fine-grained tannins and decent acidity. A powerful and smoky mineral wine. It’s slightly reductive at some point, thus changes in the glass.
Here is the last account in this round from A Emoción dos Viños, 10th edition. There were a number from outside of Galicia, from Portugal, even from France – and Titerok-Akaet from even further away, Lanzarote (in the same country though). Here are some great wines from very reliable producers.
Ismael Gozalo is nothing less than a legend within the natural wine world, and famous far outside the borders of Spain. From Nieva (Segovia), Castilla y León, he disposes of centenary pie franco verdejo vines that has been used for the wines of Viñedos de Nieva, and later Ossian. Now he is “travelling alone”, with two lines, one called MicroBio, and the other bears his own name. Well, centenary is here an understatement: Some vines are no less than 280 years old. I have written about his wines many times, so you can search through this pages, and you will find a lot more information. I didn’t taste all the wines either, because I have done so several times. A short post about one of his lovely Nieva York pét nats was published in late May this year (read here).
Ismael is a very hardworking, dedicated bloke. But he also like to play with the rock’n’roll myth. Correcaminos is a lovely unpretentious wine, light, unfiltered, open, “mature grapefruity” and thirstquenching. And naturally enough, because of the name (“roadrunner”), it gave name to his “coronavirus tour”. I guess because of the virus there has not been too much touring, but it’s a cool nod to the rock merchandise business anyway. La Resistencia 2019 (an amphora wine from two different parcels and 4 months on the lees) is also slightly turbid, vibrant, with a lovely acidity. MicroBio 2019 (whole clusters, aged in old barrels): Very light in colour; aroma of green apples, flowers; full, rich, juicy, and tasty with a slight touch of sweetness. Sin Nombre is a favourite, and a house wine by me (when available). The 2017 vintage had some colour, golden with green; aroma of stone-fruit, yellow apples, a touch of cinnamon; it’s creamy, a bit buttery, cidery, juicy, and just lovely. I also tasted a Rufete (don’t remember if it was the Rufian or a sample), delicious anyway, a light red wine, packed with red fruits, before I moved on.
Marc Isart was there, both on behalf of himself and Bernabeleva, where he is co-founder and winemaker. I have followed Bernabeleva for some years. They are located in San Martín de Valdeiglesias in the Madrid part of the Gredos mountains. They work the land according to biodynamic principles, and in the cellar they use whole bunch fermentation and ageing in neutral wood. They generally use low extraction, and I would say their wines are among the most elegant in the area. For the records: They also make white wines, mostly from albillo. Highly recommended. But because I know them well, I chose to concentrate on Marc’s own range this time.
His own project is further east in the DO. Vinos de Madrid, in the subzone Arganda del Rey. Here he grows both tinto fino, or tempranillo, and the white malvar between 700-800 meters of altitude, on calcareous soil that contains gypsum and clay.
In the La Maldición line we tasted the Cinco Legua Malvar 2019 from calcareous soil, with 40-50 days skin-contact, made in neutral barriques. Malvar is related to airén, but is more aromatic and has more acidity. This wine is technically an orange wine, but is light golden in colour, has a flowery nose (roses), also nuts, lightly textured and full in the mouth. I also liked the clarete of the same name and vintage, made with 15% tempranillo. The majority of the rest is divided between malvar, airén and various other white varieties. The wine is light red;, with aromas of raspberry. In the mouth it is lightly textured, with fruit to the end. The red version, again with the same name and vintage, has 85% tempranillo and 15% malvar, and was blended in the cellar. Cherry red; dark fruits (blackberry), some spice; very clean fruit, and good structure. Gleba de Arcilla 2018 is a wine only from this local form of tempranillo, with one year in used oak. It’s dark red; again with blackberry, some spice and coffee; round in the mough, with a touch of wood, that will easily be integrated.
Germán Blanco makes wine in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. You can read more about this here, in a report from the Simplesmente Vinho fair in February. Albares de la Ribera, just outside the boundaries of the DO Bierzo to the east. Casa Aurora is a tribute to his great-grandmother who handed down the first vineyard. Albares is in a transition zone between the valley and the Bierzo Alto at 850-900 meters of altitude.
Germán grows three hectares of own vineyards. He also buys grapes from two local farmers. These go into the Clos Pepín, a straightforward red fruits-fruity wine that is pure joy, also in the 2018 version that he presented here. Most wines contain many grape varities, including white ones, and I don’t list all of them here. Poula 2018 is a village wine, a mencía blend from various plots. I found it quite fine and elegant, juicy in the mouth with fine-grained tannins. La Galapana is the vineyard handed down from his great-grandmother, almost 1.000 meters altitude. In the 2018 vintage this was darker, with more menthol, but also red fruits, and in the mouth more structure than the previous wines, with an amount of tannins, though very fine-grained. More structured is also Valle del Río 2018, a 60-65% garnacha tintorera: Deep red, blue tinge; red fruits and forest fruits (blackberry), solid tannins and with a vivacious acidity. The most obvious wine of guard among these.
Alfredo Maestro and his wines I have known for some years now. Originally from Peñafiel in the heart of Ribera del Duero, where he has his bodega, but disposes of magnificent vineyards in both Segovia and Madrid provinces. This time I took the opportunity for an update of some of his wines. There is a lot about him on this blog, but I recommend this article as an introduction. El Marciano is a high altitude (1.150 meters) wine garnacha and albillo land, where Alfredo is doing a great job on behalf of the Gredos community. It’s a fresh red-fruity wine, a bit earthy with some texture, generous in the mouth and lovely, lively acidity, and the 2019 is no exception. El Rey del Glam, now in 2019 vintage also, is his take on carbonic maceration. The grapes come partly from the high Gredos vineyards, partly from Peñafiel. There is no pressing, nor destemming. Carbonic maceration is carried out in steel tanks, then malolactic in the same tanks. This wine is also very fresh, with cool, red fruits, and a touch of carbonics in the mouth. It has just a bit of structure, and can be served slightly chilled.
A Dos Tiempos 2019 is from Navalcarnero, a high altitude village in the province of Madrid and the name refers to the fact that the grapes are harvested twice. Alfredo explains that the idea is that the first harvest gives a lot of acidity and low alcohol, while the harvest one month later gives less acidity and a richer alcohol. Then the two are blended and one gets a fresh wine with balanced, ripe fruit and tannins and just enough structure. It was aged six months in used barrels. Here the garnacha is complemented by tempranillo. By the time I got to his table it had been a long day of tasting and accumulated tannins, so Alfredo recommended a taste of his Brut Rosé to rinse the mouth. A delicious strawberry and red fruit-driven sparkler, by the way. Then I tried his classic ribera del duero Valdecastrillo 2018, from various plots between 750-1.000 meters of altitude. This wine had been ageing in half French oak, half chestnut for one year. A super, classic, yet individual ribera; cherry red, potent aroma of berries with a touch of dried fruit (figs), and a long, fruity finish. After this I had decided to leave, but I couldn’t resist tasting a long-time favourite, the lovely fruity, non-oaked Viña Almate. A really interesting one is the white Consuelo 2018, a full-bodied, citric albillo mayor from more than 100 year old vines in Valladolid and Burgos, with 7 days of skin-maceration and fermentation in French oak.
After all these Castilians something from Catalunya: Can Ràfols dels Caus I visited in the Garraf zone of Penedès many years ago, when Carlos Esteva was turning his family estate into one of the most dynamic properties of the region. But they have somehow been neglected by me for many years now, for no particular reason. It’s not that I haven’t tasted any wines, but it was nice to get the chance to meet present manager Rosa Aguado for a real update here. The estate comprises 90 hectares of vines, and other crops in addition. The oldest vineyard is one with xarel.lo from 1948. It was in 2008 that they went organic, and at present biodynamic practises are introduced too.
Here is a brief account of some of the wines: Gran Caus 2018, xarel.lo 50%, chenin blanc 30, chardonnay 20:The colour was light golden, citric on the nose, with yellow apples, and quite fat in the mouth. Xarel.lo Brisat 2019: Brisat is a Catalan name for orange wine, and as the name implies this is deeper gold; it has an aroma of flowers, lemon, wax and honey; full on the palate. El Rocallis 2016, from manzoni bianco: Light golden, greenish; aroma of mature apples, aromatic herbs, lime, mothballs; lightly textured, good acidity, long aftertaste with some nuts. Rosa had brought two vintages of their merlot rosé. Gran Caus Rosat 2019 was very light cherry red; raspberry, some vegetal hints in the aroma; very juicy, with a fresh acidity. The 2018 was more towards peach colour; more forest fruits on the nose; and it showed some evulotuion, some “positive oxidation” we could say. Sumoll 2017: “Fine like pinot, rustic like nebbiolo”, I think this was how Rosa described the sumoll variety. The wine showed cherry red colours; red fruits (raspberry, cherry) on the nose, a little spice too; and surprisingly structured in the mouth. Finally Caus Lubis 2004, 100% merlot, one parcel, oriented towards the mountain: Good colour, a bit brick; good evolution, plums, dried apricot, some cinnamon and tobacco; round, complete, still some fruit and acidity. In good shape. “Pomerol del Mediterráneo”, she called it. Not bad.
João Roseira of Quinta do Infantado I met for the first time in the late 1980’s, after he had become the first one to break the monopoly of the Porto/Gaia shippers and exported directly from his estate in the Douro. I started this series with Antonio Portela, organizer of this fair. And I round it all off with João, who runs what we can call a “sister” event in Porto, the Simplesmente VInho, where Antonio also participates. (Look around these pages for many accounts, you can maybe start here with a report from this year’s fair.) João admits that it’s difficult to sell port wine these days. But while you are thinking that port is out of fashion, I assure you: Quinta do Infantado is different. The Roseiras, João and now his nephew Álvaro, who has taken over as chief winemaker, want a dryer style. They ferment longer than usual, so there is less residual sugar and more alcohol. Therefore less addition of alcohol is needed, and it is also added gradually. This makes them more dry, and the alcohol is balanced with the fruit.
I visited his farm in February, so I just tasted a few wines this time. I simply had to re-taste their fabulous organic Ruby Reserva, that you can read about here. Then I sipped to some of the standard reds and ports (among them the organic tawny) while chatting with João about the times, especially with reference to the coronavirus and the destiny of port in general. Other than that I tasted the wines João had brought from 2010, the year. Quinta do Infantado Colheita 2010, the first ever vintage dated organic port, did not disappoint: Red fruits, figs, dried fruit, a vibrant acidity, balanced alcohol.
This was a much too short report over three articles from this initiative in the wonderful Atlantic environment. Watch out for small reports, wines of the week and other stuff. See you again!
Just before leaving Spain this time I had the chance to visit the wonderful wine bar-restaurant Angelita Madrid just off the Gran Vía. This is an all time favourite, but I realized that this post is the only one on these pages so far. They have a bodega with more than 500 references, and always some 50 on offer by the glass. Add to this a high level kitchen, moderate prices and a highly competent staff, and you understand that the place is recommended.
This time I started with an albariño from Meaño, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Altos de Cristimil 2018, from the bodega of the same name. It showed a light yellow colour with greenish tones; aroma of yellow apples, flowers and with a certain lees character; quite slender in the mouth, with a good acidity, a bit almondy and with a salty finish. Very appealing.
La Flamenca 2018 is a new project of Mario Rovira, of bodega Akilia in Bierzo. This is however in Alella, Catalunya, just north of Barcelona. It was listed under skin-contact wines, but the contact is limited with only five days of maceration with skins and two more days in spontanous fermentation after pressing – thus the light colour. 2018 is his first vintage here. Macabeu and pansa blanca are grown near the sea in granite soil. Aging was in ceramic egg, manzanilla barrel and steel tank. I would say the colour is light straw; a fine and discreet aroma with white flowers and lime; lightly textured, just a hint of peel, and with a salty finish. Really cool.
I tried Massuria 2009, a specialty in that it’s a developed red Bierzo wine. This dish however, called for something fresher. Guímaro Finca Meixemán 2017(Pedro Manuel Rodríguez) could provide that. It’s a single plot wine from the middle of a hill in the Amandi subregion of Ribeira Sacra. Dark colour with violet hints; despite a hot vintage the aroma is quite cool, with red berries and some balsamic, or herby, notes; super fruit in the mouth, a natural, integrated acidity, and just the faintest touch of barrel.
Valderiz 2016 was also tried, and is not bad at all. But I had already selected the Yotuel Selección 2015. The family bodega Gallego Zapatero is one of three in Ribera del Duero that Alsatian winemaker Sophie Kuhn was in charge of before she left a couple of years ago. From nine hectares in Anguix, Burgos province, they have a selection of wines, some of them single-plot wines. This is the quality between the entry-level wine and the single vineyard wines. It’s a varietal tinta del país (tempranillo) from two plots, both with more than sixty year old vines in bush training, grown in mainly clay and sandy soil. 2015 was a hot year with a short growth cycle. Fermentation was carried out in inox and concrete, and the 14 month ageing in French oak and concrete. Dark red with violet hints; aroma of forest fruits (blackberry), herbs (mint, rosemary) and pepper and some coffee,; it’s a potent wine, but the tannins are not overwhelming, and it has a good balance between the richness and the acidity, a hint of toast, and stylish in spite of 14%.
Bordeaux native Grégory Pérez is the driving force behind Mengoba in Bierzo. He is found by the river Cúa, in the municipality of Espanillo, where he makes brilliant terroir-focused whites and reds from steep vineyards.
Brezo is a second label for the wines that he makes as a négociant, still following the same principles.
This wine is made from mostly mencía, but with some 15% alicante bouschet. It’s made from vines planted in 1985, 550 meters above sea level. The soils are clay with some sand. The grapes were destemmed and crushed, followed by a traditional vinification with pumpovers. It was then raised in steel, only lightly fined and filtered, and it comes with a low alcohol (12,5%).
Brezo 2018(Mengoba, Gregory Pérez)
Dark cherry colour. Young blueberry, violets and dark fruit aroma. Juicy, round, delicious, with natural, integrated acidity.
A few weeks ago we brought a brief introduction to Verónica Ortega’s wines, and the wine of the week was her clay and sand soil wine called Quite (see here). This week the turn has come to the older brother.
Roc is made from 80-100 years old mencía, organically farmed on slate 530 meters above sea level, but also on clay and sand. The grapes were harvested by hand, pressed with 50% whole clusters, fermented with indigenous yeasts in vat with regular pigeage. The maceration lasted for 20 days, and the ageing went on for 14 months in French barriques.
Roc 2015(Verónica Ortega)
Dark cherry colour. Dark fruits, stone fruit, tar, with a background of roast and caramel. Solid tannins (but not overdone), rocky minerality, and with a cool freshness also.
Verónica Ortega, born in Cádiz, has her formal training from New Zealand. She came to El Bierzo after having worked with famous winemakers like Álvaro Palacios (Priorat), Dirk Niepoort (Douro), to name just a couple. In Bierzo she worked several years with local master Raúl Perez, before opening her own cellar in 2014.
She has in total around 5 hectares of 80 year old plants in Valtuille de Abajo. These are so-called field blends, but clearly dominated by mencía. The soil here is a mix of sand, clay and limestone.
In the beginning there was only one wine called Roc (read a later post about it here) from Verónica’s newly acquired plots on sand and clay near Valtuille de Abajo. But after a while she started to realize that the more sandier vineyards were apt for more floral and elegant wines. Quite was then born in 2012. With time she cut down the time in barrel (Quite is typically 4 months in 2-3 year in used oak, while Roc has 6 or 7). In the beginning there was only partly destemming, now 100%. Likewise she has found new ways to make this wine more elegant, like fermentation in tank, shorter maceration (12 days for this vintage) in neutral oak – and from this vintage on she also uses 800 liters amphorae for 50% of the wine.
Quite 2016(Verónica Ortega)
Cherry red. Aromas of youthful red fruits (cherries), stone fruit (plums), with a slight balsamic note. Very fresh, natural acidity, juicy and appealing, and with a mineral touch.
For 2019 my New Year’s resolution is to dive deeper in the “Mar de Mencía”. This grape variety is by no means new to me (just do a search on these pages and see). I have long since recognized its ability to show differences in terroir and its susceptibility for reduction. It has many faces. But not least, it can be an absolute delight. And I think it has the potential to be a lot more popular, recognized and appreciated than it is at the moment.
Through a series of short Wine of the Week articles I will show many sides of it (through wines that I have not yet tasted). I think there is a lot to learn through focusing on its homeland, El Bierzo (a ‘comarca’ in the province of León), that shall also be presented as we go along. But we will also meet it in neighbouring Valdeorras and Ribeira Sacra, in Portugal (most often called jaen) and elsewhere. I have a strong suspicion that its white sister godello will follow once in a while. We will see.
Mencía covers nearly two-thirds of the region’s vineyard. It ripens early, often early September, and likes the maritime climate of Bierzo with its usual wet autumns. It’s very versatile and capable of expressing the mineral-rich soils of the region.
Bodegas Estefanía, part of the MGwines group since 2014, is one of the emblematic wineries and one of the bigger ones, with 40 hectares with more than 100 years old vines. The majority is bush vine mencía (“en vaso” in Spanish) on steep south facing slopes. Winemaker is Raúl Pérez (read a little about his personal project here), from Bierzo. He has become one of the most famous of the travelling oenologists, but Estefanía is still one of his favorite projects.
Tilenus is named after the Teleno, a Celtic god of war, spelled this way to pay tribute to the Roman era in the Bierzo. There is also an old Roman coin on the label, a coin that was once discovered in the vineyard. The grapes were sourced from the bodega’s organic vineyards in Arganza.
Tilenus Ecológico 2018(Bodegas Estefanía)
Cherry red, some purple. Aroma of red berries (cherry, raspberry). Quite smooth on the palate, with fine tannins, and good fruit all the way.
Food: A variety of meats, probably super for the local roasts, salads and hard cheeses