Every year, the World Road Cycling Championships are held in a different part of the world. Luckily for fans of cycling and wine like me, this year they are being held in one of the most exciting wine regions in Spain. The events start Sunday the 21st of September with the team trial events, and run all week until they conclude next Sunday (the 28th) with the elite men’s and women’s road races. TV coverage is spotty, but a link to a live stream can always be found at cyclingfans.com.
The base for the events is Ponferrada, the capital town for the DO Bierzo. The road courses are tipped to be ideal for an open race- perhaps too testing for the sprinters, perhaps too fast for the climbers. Strong teams like Italy and Belgium will certainly have an advantage, but the world championships are always full of surprises- and maybe one of our Americans like Megan Guarnier for the ladies or Andrew Talansky for the gentleman can pull something special off.
The DO of Bierzo was established in 1989, but wine has been made here for millennia, the first written history going back to Pliny the Elder in the 1st century. These wines are a new phenomenon in the US market, and they have been embraced for their freshness, drinkability and excellent value here at K&L. Bierzo is just north of Portugal on the inland side. It sits on the frontier between the warm, dry region of Castile and the moist, cool region of Galicia and enjoys a moderate 28 inches of rain and 2200 hours of sunshine on average.
The reds, which dominate the export market, must be composed of at least 70% Mencia, a grape that is the same as the Jaen do Dao of Portugal. Alicante Bouschet is also allowed, and Cabernet, Merlot and Tempranillo are tolerated as “experimental” grapes for red wine in this region. The roses are allowed to dip down to 50% Mencia. Wine writers used to believe that Mencia was Cabernet Franc, and the wines do bare a resemblance to some of the riper Chinon’s that I have had, with great blue fruit, low tannin and brisk acidity. I think the reds make a good stand in for Pinot Noir on the table- these are flexible wines for pairing with a wide variety of foods.
Here is what we have from the region, with notes from our Spanish Wine Buyer Joe Manekin:
2013 Armas de Guerra Mencía Rosado Bierzo $12.99: Juicy, red berry fruits abound, with a creamy texture that is unusual for rosé wines. This should be deliciously paired with all the usual rosé inspired fare, as well as perhaps some more substantial foods given this wine's excellent fruit intensity and palate presence.
2012 Losada "Pajaro Rojo" Mencía Bierzo $14.99: The Pajaro Rojo is produced from Mencía grapes in predominantly clay soils west of León. Interestingly, the Losada family believes very strongly in the quality of these heavier clay soils, as opposed the to the prevailing notion that slate based soils create superior wines in the region. Given the high quality of the fruit and a judicious four months in French oak barrels, this is a tasty, freshly fruited Bierzo that seems to have just the right balance of juicy fruit and complexity, all over a supple textural frame. It is a delicious, well made example of a region that should continue to get more attention for its excellent terroir and potential to produce very good, unique reds.
2011 Raul Pérez "Vico" Bierzo $39.99: Produced from 100% old vine Mencia vines in the Bierzo sub-zone of Valtuille (the village where Raul grew up and home of his family's winery), this is impressive wine from the excellent 2010 vintage. Given that these vines average nearly 100 years old and the winemaking is as small scale, personal and quality focused as it is, this could be the best value produced from this iconic Spanish winemaker. Some more winemaking details: 30% whole cluster, aging for 9 months in 2 year-old French barrels of 300l, extended post-fermentation maceration on skins for 60 days. This wine typically is dark fruited, spicy, slightly floral and better each vintage as the barrel program matures.
I’ll be drinking all of these this week and watching the racing. I’ll be watching the junior’s with particular interest as my good friend Billy Innes is coaching the team this year. Our guys are in with a chance since Billy is in the car. Go team USA!
A toast to you!