Note: I haven’t written one of these wine tasting posts in a while. It isn’t that I’m not drinking wine (perish the thought!) but we have been consuming a lot of the Baron de Ley stock we have. It has become my wife’s “go-to” wines of choice. However, we finally broke out of that “rut”, but we still haven’t left Spain. Instead of Rioja Tempranillo, we moved to Mencia grape wine from Bierzo region with the Raul Pérez Bierzo Ultreia St. Jacques.
Bierzo Region of Spain
Raul Perez is a passionate and prolific Spanish winemaker. Perez makes his wines in Bierzo, located in the province of Leon (in the region of Castilla and Leon). Bierzo is ideally situated between the coast and the interior of Spain. Vineyards in this region tend to be planted in terraces in areas of low inclination, such as rivers or hillsides, with a typical elevation of between 450 and 1000 meters.
The primary grapes grown here are Mencia and Granacha Tintorera for red wines, with some white varieties (Godello, Dona Blanca, Palomin and Malvasia) as well. Nearly 75% of grapes here are Mencia. In fact, Bierzo is known in Spain as “the Land of Mencia” for this reason.
Mencia vines in Bierzo tend to be low-yielding, planted on poor soil but at elevation. Grapes produced in such a fashion are intense and concentrated, with an earthy, berry character and nuance.
Paul Perez Ultreia St. Jacques
Ultreia comes from medieval Latin meaning “Onward”. It was used by pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela and the crypt of James the Apostle (St. James). This pilgrimage originates in France, and “St. Jacques” is French for St. James. “Ultreia St. Jacques” was used by the pilgrims to encourage each other as they traveled to the site of the tomb.
Wine-making and Aging
The wines in the Ultreia series follow the Burgundy model. There is a pair of entry-level “village” wines from multiple sites and then a collection of single-vineyard expressions. The majority of these vineyards are located in the village of Valtuille de Abajo, where the Pérez family has lived and worked for generations. This particular wine comes from a small vineyard originally planted in 1889.
Raul’s intent here is to showcase the fresh, vivid side of the Mencia grape. After hand-harvesting the organic grapes, the best bunches are fermented in large, 5,000 liter vats of neutral oak. 100% of the clusters are kept whole (with stems.) Pigeage, or punching down, is done once a day until fermentation is complete. The wine then macerates post fermentation for 70 days, far more than the normal 12-15 days of other wines. Upon completion of fermentation, the wine is transferred to 1,500 liter vats. (About 7 times the size of a normal wine barrel). The result of these painstaking efforts is an incredibly complex wine that pleases both the senses and the intellect.
Not aromatic to start, but opens up with a little aeration, with red cherries and a hint of strawberry on the nose. Medium bodied with ripe cherry on the tongue. Quiet finish but surprisingly long. Nice tannins and low to medium acidity. Not bold but stays with you. Mild, yet nuanced; this is one of those rare wines that should appeal to both novice and experienced wine drinkers.