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djp-cellars.jpgDescendientes de Jose Palacios, or DJP, is without doubt making some of the most exciting wines in the world at the moment.  But few have heard of them, and what makes DJP so special?

Bierzo is located in western Spain, about an hour's drive inland from the Atlantic, towards the Portuguese border.  In qualitative terms, it is centred around the ancient medieval villages of Villafranca del Bierzo and Corullon.  Upon extremely steep hillsides (the towns are themselves on hillsides, but despite altitude, appear more like valley floor situations in aspect).  More accurately, despite the villages altitude, they are surrounded by very steep, old-vine covered hills.

The grape variety - at least predominantly - is Mencia.  In some plots, especially the older ones - there are other indigenous varieties co-planted, with Palomino being the most significant.  The vines are old, gnarled, bush-pruned vines, that yield small quantities of intense, bright fruit.

DJP was established in 1999 by Alvaros Palacios and his nephew, Ricardo Perez-Palacios.  Seeing an opportunity to work with old-vine, mountain-grown, indigenous vines that were unappreciated and under-utilised, the pair set about establishing DJP.  Not contend with just producing wine from such incredible vines, Ricardo and Alvaro put in place their strong beliefs in biodynamics as well as 'community', responsible viticulture.  Not only are all of their vineyards (both owned and leased/utilised) farmed organically and biodynamically, they have also instilled a holistic approach to their wine growing, establishing a farm and school to train local workers (especially youth) in traditional techniques and skills.  Moreover, complimentary horticulture is encouraged, with orchards of hazelnuts, almonds, peaches and other stone fruits co-grown (having been co-planted many years ago). This natural, balanced, harmonious approach is undoubtedly a more balanced means of working the land.

Winemaking is similarly 'hands-off', with minimal intervention and traditional techniques utilised.  The proportion of new oak is being decreased most years, indigenous yeasts employed, minimal handling, no fining or filtration, and gravity used rather than juice being pumped.  Everything is done by hand.

The wines themselves are very bright, lively and fresh, which is especially surprising given that Mencia is a relatively low-acid variety.  However high altitude vineyards harvested early (at full phenolic ripeness) and natural winemaking imparts a much fresher, balanced vibrancy and crispness to the wines. Large oak vessels are employed alongside barriques, again to retain freshness and purity of vibrant fruits.

Aromatically the wines are explosive, with compelling, beguiling scents of red and blue fruits, fresh herbs, minerals and a little spice, which all follow through on to the palate. The wines are very complex, with ripe, rich fruit matched by dense, mineral-laden flavours.  There are firm yet very fine fruit tannins, near-invisible oak influence, and surprising freshness and vibrancy (despite the low-acid nature of Mencia).  Certainly this accounts for the large proportion of Palomino being co-planted in many of the old vineyards (although not necessarily - or officially - being included in the wines of DJP).

They're certainly not inexpensive wines, although in my opinion they are brilliantly well-priced and offer tremendous value.  They are wines for those who like to think about their wines, as well as those who merely enjoy a delicious drink. Whilst it's all well and good to liken them stylistically to a hypothetical cross between the best of Burgundy and the northern Rhone, reality is they are a beast unto themselves.

Whilst DJP draw fruit now from well over 200 individual sites (many tiny) over more than 40 hectares, it is their three single-vineyard expressions that really turn up the dial. These are some of the rarest (450-600 bottles of La Faraona are made each year) and most spectacular wines being made anywhere in the world.  Although expensive, I urge anyone with an interest in the wines of Burgundy or northern Rhone to experience these.

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