I was having a very pleasant day indeed exploring the wines of Spain on my diploma course a few months ago when the name of Bierzo first came to my attention. At the risk of sounding like a work-shy commitment-phobe (I’m not, honestly), I apply myself much more conscientiously to learning about new regions when there’s a glass or two of something delicious to be found at the end of it to make it worth my while. Shallow? Moi? Perhaps, but the way I see it is this. There are more grape varieties and wine regions in the world than you can shake a very large stick at and you can easily spend decades accumulating encyclopaedic knowledge of such things. At the end of the day, there are plenty of dull/revolting/poorly made/not to my taste wines in this world and I wish to avoid as many of them as possible and drink lovely wines that give me a lot of pleasure. To this end, I am prepared to do a lot of work. I’m slightly less industrious with things I don’t love. Anyway, I digress. The Bierzo was good. The name has been filed in my brain in the worthwhile-knowing-about-for-drinking-purposes section rather than the examination-only theoretical section.
Bierzo is to be found in NW Spain, just on the other side of the mountains from Galicia. The main red grape is Mencía (pronounced men-see-ya) and the main white is Godello. The reason people are getting interested in Bierzo is that there are rumblings of this becoming the next big thing. A chap by the name of Alvaro Palacios, one of the founding fathers of the very successful Priorat region, has established a winery there with his nephew. This is the wine equivalent of Apple bringing out a new gadget. Suddenly everyone is interested and thinking it might be worthwhile developing their own version. The wines from this more northerly part of Spain are lighter and fresher than a lot of Spanish wines and really great with food. Mencía seems to me to have something in common with Pinot Noir – possibly because of the aromatic quality of the fruit, relatively low tannin and refreshing acidity.
As an entirely unrelated coincidence, the boss was in Spain and Portugal recently and visited Bierzo where he met the team at Dominio de Tares. This happens to be one of the region’s most widely respected wineries. It also has some of the oldest vines on some of the greatest sites. They use only these traditional grape varieties, but employ modern winemaking practices to create top quality, eminently drinkable wines. Most importantly, they impressed the extremely selective Mr Nicholson and the wines have made their way across the seas to Crossgar.
Dominio de Tares Godello 2012
The only white in their portfolio. Godello is light and aromatic with a deliciously grapefuity finish. This wine spends a little time in oak to give an extra smoky, more savoury character.
Dominio de Tares Baltos 2010
The lightest of the red wines, from vines that are a mere 40 years old on average. This is a great introduction to the Mencía grape with its attractive nose of ripe red fruit and violets, refreshing acidity, and elegant structure. Notably excellent barbecue wine.
Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas 2009
A step up from the Baltos, from older vines (60 years) and with longer barrel ageing for more structure and body. This wine is more intense with cherry, raspberry, violet, liquorice and spice on the nose. Smooth, full bodied and elegant with a long finish.
Dominio de Tares Bembibre 2007
An even more intense wine from vines of over 80 years of age. The wine benefits from longer oak ageing resulting in a more concentrated, rich wine that will age beautifully for another decade. The wine shows deeper flavours and aromas of black cherries, black plums, floral notes of roses and violets and underlying tobacco and sandalwood. It is full and smooth with persistent length, refreshing acidity and perfect balance.