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Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra

bierzo.jpgLocated in far northwestern Spain, just above Portugal, the mountainside regions of Bierzo and neighbouring Ribeira Sacra are breathtakingly beautiful.  Vineyards have been planted here since Roman times, yet it's only in the last 15 or so years that quality wine production has taken hold - the region for decades being a source of cheap, unaoked, inferior red and white wines.

However Bierzo is today arguably the most exciting and interesting of all regions in Spain, with a handful of makers prepared to push the boundaries and produce wines of uncommon complexity, purity and refreshment.

One of the most striking features of these regions is the multitude of vineyards and owners, yet the relative paucity of wineries.  In Bierzo alone there are more than 4,000 vineyards, most one hectare (2.5 acres) or less, yet at last count there were just over 50 wineries.  The wines from the mountain vineyards (known as Alto Bierzo) at altitudes between 500 and 950 meters are far more interesting than those from the valley floor (Bajo Bierzo).

The soils in these mountainside vineyards are steep, often frighteningly so, on quite poor soil rich in slate and quartz and some ironstone.  Reds are sold as Mencia, but in reality (and especially in the older vineyards) other indingenous varieties, especially Palomino and Alicante Bouschet, are co-planted, generally contributing around 20% of the blend.

Stylistically, I particularly like the description of Alvaro Palacios, who suggests the wines are something between those of Burgundy and the northern Rhone.

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