Let’s just say that I have a grande amor for the wines of Bierzo. This small, historic area sits smack on the Camino Santiago---the most famous Christian pilgrimage route in Europe. I walked part of this illustrious Camino last year, however, my love affair with Bierzo began <10 years ago when this obscure wine region's wines came on the world wine scene like gangbusters. Many of these wines were extremely well-crafted and their quality/price ratio was superb. Unfortunately, their rise to fame was halted with the global recession. While Spain's economy is still struggling, Bierzo continues to turn out some terrific wine values. Unfortunately, relatively few wine lovers still do not know these wines. It's time to change that.
Bierzo is major red wine country. Nearly 70% of the grapes are from a vine that only grows in this tiny corner of Northwest Spain. The varietal is Mencia (pronounced men thee ah). While tannic Tempranillo can be bold and brash, delicate Mencia is a red that offers finesse and style. At one time Mencia was thought to be a clone of Cabernet Franc brought with Camino Santiago travelers centuries ago, however, DNA testing has disproved this. When looking at Mencia's qualities it is easy to see why the two were thought to be related: both are aromatic with raspberry and cherry flavors. Mencia, on the other hand, offers beguiling mineral notes such as mint and sage. Because of its acidity, Mencia is a food-friendly wine.
Rural and remote, Bierzo is the kind of region wine lovers dream of discovering. The vineyards in Bierzo are some of the most beautiful in Spain. Many are planted in post-card perfect terraces on the steep slopes of a river valley, sometimes climbing up to elevations of >3,000 feet. The Camino Santiago further adds to the charm. Picturesque villages, undisturbed by time, dot Bierzo's landscape along with medieval monasteries and convents---all of which sprung up to support the pilgrims who were walking to Santiago de Compostela. Bierzo also offers a UNESCO World Heritage site located in an ancient Roman gold mine.
Bierzo should float to the top of your list for new wines to try. Two seats have just become available on the 2016 tour to Spain and Portugal that will visit this area. Come join us for a trek to this exciting rising-star. For more info on next year's harvest trip, check out www.WineKnowsTravel.com.