The wine region of Bierzo (or El Bierzo) is a small, rural and
remote ancient region in the north-western corner of Castilla y
León, touching the eastern border of Galicia. Up until recently,
it remained unknown to the international wine markets. However, thanks to the
wave of investment and innovation that swept many parts of Spain in the late 1990s, the
wine region of Bierzo now counts as one of the country’s rising
stars, on a par with other wine hotspots, such as Rueda, Penedès, Toro
Mencía is the region’s primary grape and
undisputed star, covering nearly two-thirds of the vineyards. This red grape
variety is grown almost exclusively in north-western part of Spain
(especially in the DOs of Gallicia, Valdeorras, Monterrei,
and Ribeira Sacra). Mencia ripens early, by mid-September, and is well
suited to the maritime climate of Bierzo where autumn rains are quite
Mencía has only recently come into spotlight as a quality,
potential-laden grape variety. When properly made, it offers fascinating
wines across a contrasting spectrum of styles; On the one end are fruity
and forward wines with supple tannins and succulent fruit. On the other
end are more concentrated, powerful styles with an exotic earthiness, smooth
tannins and an enviable reflection of the minerally-rich Bierzo terroir.
Mencía is capable of making excellent wine on its own,
with no need to sacrifice its unique character in blends with Cabernet
Sauvignon or Merlot that are commonplace elsewhere in Spain.
Other grape varieties planted in Bierzo include the red Garnacha
Tintorera, and the aromatic whites Godello, Doña
Blanca and Malvasía.
The region received its DO (Denominación Origen) from the Spanish
wine authorities only in 1989. Today it is home to approximately 60
wineries and over 4,000 growers, which means that Bierzo remains a highly
fragmented wine region where the average holding is miniscule.
The wine region made its breakthrough in 1999 when Alvaro Palacios,
teamed up with his nephew, Ricardo Pérez, to establish Descendientes
de J. Palacios. Alvaro Palacios is recognised as one of
Spain’s most talented and visionary winemakers, having revolutionised the
wines of Prioriat
in the late 1980s (he was one of the “founding 8” of Priorat
winemakers who brought international fame to the region)
Descendientes de J. Palacios remains one of the best wineries
of the region, focusing on the Mencía grape, with some of its
vineyards planted on steep hillsides and are 50 or even 100 years old.