Bierzo is a wine region in the northwest of Castilla y Leon, Spain, close to the region’s borders with Galicia (to the west) and Asturias to the north. The Bierzo viticultural area consists of two parts: Bierzo Alto (high Bierzo), a mineral-rich and mountainous terrain where terraced vineyards are sewn into the slopes, and Bierzo Bajo (low Bierzo), a wide and verdant plain. This area was once inhabited by the Romans, who extracted many tons of gold, and relics of their presence remain dotted throughout the region. The Sil River was an importany waterway back then and remains so today, although other minor streams also wend their way through the region. There is a local saying that “el Miño lleva la fama y el Sil le da el agua” (“the Miño carries the fame, but the Sil gives it its water”).
Bierzo was accorded DO status in 1989 and in the past few years has experienced a surge in popularity thanks to the high-profile winemaker Alvaro Palacios of Priorat fame establishing vineyards there. Bierzo’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean has a profound effect on its overall climate, with average temperatures during the growing season much cooler than in Castilla y Leon’s more inland areas, making it rather mild. Average rainfall is around 28 inches (720mm). Nevertheless, the Cordillera Cantábrica mountain range in the north provides the vineyards with adequate shelter, ensuring that the local Mencia grapes achieve optimum ripeness to produce lively, fruity and often intense red wines. Like many other Spanish wines, these are categorized by the length of their maturation (including the time spent in oak barrels). Garnacha is another important red grape variety here and is primarily used in blends.
Bierzo’s soil is different from that found in other parts of Castilla y Leon in that it contains a predominance of slate and granite. This favours the Mencia vines and helps them to produce wines with a distinct mineral character. The wines tend to be lighter in terms of alcohol and more refreshing than those from other parts of Castilla y León. White wines are also produced in Bierzo, predominantly from Dona Blanca, Godello (Verdelho) and Palomino grapes. Rosé wines may also be produced, although a minimum of 50 percent Mencia is required.
The titles Crianza and Reserva may be added to wines that meet certain criteria. Crianza wines from Bierzo must be aged for a minimum of two years, with six months in oak barrels of a capacity of less than 264 gallons (1000 liters). Red Reserva wines must spend 12 months in oak barrels and 24 months in bottle, a total of three years.
All the above is relevant because the winery Descendientes de J.Palacios in Corullón (Bierzo) has earned, for the first time in its history, the maximum score of 100 points by Robert Parker for its label ‘La Faraona 2014’ . Among other labels that J.Palacios has placed at the top of the list are La Faraona 2015, with 99 points and Moncerbal 2014, with 98. Another producer from Valtuille de Abajo and the best winemaker in the world, Raúl Pérez (another of Parker’s favourites in the region) has also achieved a very high score of 97 points for his Ultreia 2014. Several other wineries from El Bierzo have managed to score above 95 in a new proof of the consolidation of Bierzo wines as high quality products.
Congratulations to Alvaro Palacios and Descendientes de J.Palacios.
At The Game’s Afoot I’ve tasted the most humble labels: Encanto, Petit Pittacum, Pago de Valdoneje, Dominio De Tares, and Pétalos del Bierzo.