Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Spain: hot regions to watch


Bierzo is the emerging region garnering the most attention in the UK press, largely due to its native Mencía grape – believed to be a cousin of Cabernet Franc – which has got wine writers rhapsodising about its bright fruit, refreshing acidity and elegant tannins. According to Olly Bartlett of Indigo Wine: “Mencía from Bierzo is the most important ‘new’ style to emerge from Spain in the last decade. It’s the red Albariño: a fresh style, indigenous to its area, that shows great varietal typicity when treated right.”

Made a DO in 1989, today nearly 4,000ha are planted across the small valleys in mountainous Alto Bierzo and on the wide, flat plain of Bajo Bierzo. Descendientes de José Palacios, Raúl Pérez 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. Mencía shot to fame when Spanish wine pioneer Alvaro Palacios, spotting Bierzo’s potential, bought plots of low-yielding old vines in the village of Corullón and embarked upon his Pétalos project with nephew Ricardo Pérez Palacios.

“We saw the potential of the old vines and slate soil in Bierzo and set about making a wine that had a delicate balance of freshness, roundness, a touch of bitterness and a silky, approachable style,” says Ricardo Palacios. “But the beauty of Mencía is that while it’s approachable young, it also ages incredibly well. Our 2001s are magical now – the freshness is still there.” Ten years ago, while Spain was still seeking power and ripeness, Pétalos was an instant success in the UK, while the French also, somewhat surprisingly, embraced it.

“Palates have changed,” argues Palacios. “People are looking for lighter, fresher styles, and winemakers in Spain are adapting their wines to suit this trend. There’s a new philosophy of freshness in Spanish winemaking.” In recent years, more complex, concentrated, old vine wines are being produced by a new generation of winemakers. Mariola Varona Bayolo, export manager for Martin Codax, says: “Mencía is a very special Atlantic grape with bags of character. You get wonderful, bright red fruit from the old vines and minerality from the schist soils. It’s got fantastic acidity, good body, soft tannins and enticing spicy notes. Bierzo could be the next Napa Valley.”


Kissing Bierzo to the west is Valdeorras – the gateway to Galicia in the east of the region. Like Mencía in Bierzo, white grape Godello is causing a stir among the UK wine press, and has been tipped for great things. Champion of obscure Spanish grapes Telmo Rodiguez is enjoying commercial success in the UK with his Gaba do Xil Godello, represented by Adnams, named after the river Sil, whose gorge divides Valdeorras from Bierzo. He also makes a Mencía in the region.

Godello has a similar stone fruit and citrus character to Albariño, with notes of apple, peach, apricot and honey, but is creamier and more lusciously textured than its northwesterly cousin in Rías Baixas. Godello gurus still seem to be experimenting with oak, and the better examples are invariably the lighter, less oaked styles. Martin Codax’s Mariola Varona Bayolo says: “Valdeorras is where Rías Baixas was 15 years ago. Godello is the new Albariño. Albariño will always be queen, but I’m excited about Godello. It makes clean, approachable whites with white flower, peach and hay aromas. The fruit character is easy to understand – they’re incredibly attractive wines.”

Bodegas La Tapada, owned by the Guitian family, is one of the leaders in Godello’s resurgence, and a winery to watch in the region. Meanwhile, near the 12th century monastery of Xagoaza, home to the acclaimed Bodega Godeval – the first winery to make a 100% Godello in Galicia – Rafael Palacios (above) has set up shop with Bodegas Rafael Palacios, where he makes a pair of premium Godellos: the barrel-fermented As Sortes, and Louro de Bolo, both of which are available in the UK through The Wine Society.

“I believed so strongly in Godello’s potential, it’s one of the reasons I left Rioja in 2004,” says Palacios. “It has the Atlantic influence of Albariño, and the creamy texture of Chardonnay. I began by experimenting with oak and lees ageing, but my winemaking style has changed a lot over the past eight years. I’m achieving more freshness, fragrance and terroir expression in my wines by moving away from oak and letting the terroir speak for itself. I’ve found my way.” Palacios’ wines are enjoying commercial success in Spain and the UK, along with Russia, Scandinavia the US and South America.

1 comment:

  1. Bierzo is a wonderfull place ! Great wines.
    I tok a few pictures of the amazing light that you can find there in winter.
    (text is in French, but the pictures speak for themselves)