Tasting and Tapas: Mencía

DECEMBER 17, 2020

As we entered the season of giving, we raised money for two wonderful charities important to us, Reach Out to the Community in Manchester and Fiet Gratia in Madrid. We hope you will be able to join us and help two very worthy causes, while also enjoying some Mencía wine from El Bierzo and a tapa!

El Bierzo is a region located in Northwestern Spain in the autonomous community of Castilla y León. Though a somewhat lesser known wine region, winemaking has a lengthy history in El Bierzo, with roots stretching back over 2000 years. With the arrival of the Roman’s, vines began to be planted and a rudimentary wine, needing assistance from sweet components such as honey, started to be produced.  Raúl told us El Bierzo is also home to one of the Roman’s most important gold mines, Las Médulas, a stunning, must see site to visit on a trip to the region.

After flourishing for 1000 years thanks to Roman influence, Raúl tells us El Bierzo became somewhat forgotten over the last 1000 years, not being spoken of much outside of its borders and losing its reverence in the viticulture community. It is not fully understood why this happened but one theory is that, being poorly connected to the rest of Spain, with its location within a deep valley and no major roads in or out, people were simply unable to reach the region with ease and, therefore, were unaware of it.

This all changed, however, a few decades ago with the influence of El Bierzo native winemaker, Raúl Pérez, better known as “the Magician of El Bierzo”. In the chat with our own Raúl, MAGIC was truly the magic word! Firstly, if you recall from our tasting a few weeks ago of Albariño from Galicia, you will remember that Galicians have a deep connection to their celtic traditions and magic is an important element in many of their customs. Though El Bierzo is technically located in Castilla y León, it is right on the border of Galicia and more geographically similar to its neighboring province, lending to its people feeling more galician than castillan.  In fact, many refer to El Bierzo as the 5th province of Galicia. If you are not already aware, our Insider’s 8-day journey through Galicia and Spain, exploring the Camino de Santiago, makes a stop in El Bierzo where we are given a tasting of wines from the region from our local sommelier. Sign up for the upcoming journey this Spring! 

Raúl explained to us that the real magic of El Bierzo lies in its location. El Bierzo is essentially a valley with an extremely hot central zone containing clay soil and surrounding slate slopes that absorb a lot of heat during the day and release it at night. Two climates, Continental and Atlantic, meet here and mix together, creating a perfect environment for wine making. The region is practically synonymous with Mencía, the grape that makes up 75 percent of the grapes grown here.  The other red grapes grown in much smaller quantities are Garnacha, Tintorera, and Merenzao and white grapes Godello, Doña Blanca, Palomino and Malvasia.

Despite having such divine land and climate yielding a fabulous product, the work of Raúl Pérez was not easy. Like his contemporaries in Priorat, René Barbier and Álvaro Palacios, Raúl had to coax the closed off people of El Bierzo, who saw winemaking as a very personal, private endeavor, to begin to share ideas with each other and gain trust in their neighbors, whom before they had little contact with. This exchange of ideas led to a key realization that created a revolution in El Bierzo: Each individual plot of land, or “paraje” in Spanish, is distinct and therefore is responsible for a wine that is completely unique. Thus was born the idea of making each paraje its own appellation, following in the footsteps of wine region titan, Burgundy, where there are hundreds of thriving appellations within one region. El Bierzo would be unique from other major regions of Spain, such as Ribera del Duero, where over 130 kilometers of diverse land is all lumped into a single appellation. The plan to increase the value of the land by distinguishing each plot from its neighbor was further pushed forward with the arrival of another wine magician, who had previously transformed the wine region of Priorat, Álvaro Palacios. With these two visionaries at the helm, El Bierzo was put on the fast track to becoming one of the most well respected wine regions in Spain. Today, El Bierzo boasts 19 declared parajes with many more to come, according to Raúl. 

– by Meg Emmitt

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