Top 10 Spanish regions to watch18th December, 2013 by Lucy Shaw
A small and remote region near Galicia in the north-western corner of Castilla y León, Bierzo continues to hit the headlines in the UK due to the irresistible charm of native grape Mencía, found to be genetically identical to Jaen in northern Portugal. Part of the ongoing interest in Mencía is the spectrum of wine styles the grape is able to produce, from elegant, fruit forward wines with supple tannins, to more powerful, concentrated styles packed with earthiness, spice and minerality imparted by Bierzo’s quartz-rich soils.
“Bierzo is a region of tremendous potential with wines that are distinctively its own that has helped usher in the exciting modern era of Spanish wines,” believes The New York Times’ wine critic Eric Asimov, who describes Mencía as “always beguiling, with exotic aromas of wild red fruit.”
Just over 4,000ha are planted across the small valleys in mountainous Alto Bierzo and on the wide, flat plain of Bajo Bierzo. Raul Perez, Descendientes de José Palacios and Bodegas Pittacum have led the way with trailblazing Parker scores, while Martin Codax’s modestly priced Cuatro Pasos, imported by Liberty, is enjoying considerable commercial success.
The region shot to fame in the late ‘90s when Spanish wine pioneer Alvaro Palacios spotted Bierzo’s potential and snapped up plots of low-yielding old vines in the village of Corullón. Adding weight to Mencía’s fine wine credentials, Palacios recently released a single vineyard example – La Faraona 2011 – priced at £500 a bottle through Berry Bros & Rudd. Made from a 0.5-hectare plot of old vines on steep slopes, the wine serves as the ultimate expression of Mencía in Bierzo, with aromas running the gamut from forest fruit and cassis to laurel and black tea.