What's New in February

A Drink From The Porron

The Crossroads of Northwest Spain

Bierzo is a mild oasis for viticulture nestled in the crossroads of Northwest Spain. To the east lies Castilla y León, dry and characterized by extreme diurnal variation. To the west lies Galicia, a region that is decidedly Atlantic: cool, rainy, and verdant. Between these two extremes, Bierzo is a fairly moderate climate. Grapes thrive in this climate and with minimal effort, it is possible to make wines that are 15-16% alcohol, highly extracted, and intense. While this is the defining characteristic of wines from Ribera del Duero, for example, Bierzo lacks the almost desert-like cold nights to refresh the grapes after the intense heat of the day. The challenge here is to go back to the land and find truly unique sites that express the potential of the DO’s terroir. José Antonio Garcia is a young winemaker doing just this.

Working carefully in the vineyard to define and shape the expression of each site’s terroir, José farms 22 hectares, mostly in Valtuille de Abajo at 500-600 meters in elevation with some small parcels in Corullón at 800 meters elevation. The majority of these plantings consist of old vines, with a parcel of 120 year old Godello. At harvest, José decides when to pick grapes based on the vintage and the site. Phenolic ripeness and extraction are not the goal. Most often, he begins picking much earlier than typical in Bierzo. In the cellar, each site is vinified separately using only indigenous yeasts.

Unculín is a blend of old vine Mencía from different sites, fermented in tank. El Chuqueiro is tank fermented Godello from younger vines that like the Unculín spends 4 months on the lees. Both of these wines are delightful in their fresh, primary expressions but have a subtle nuance that provokes interest without being overly complicated.

José's oldest vines and best parcels are blended to make his Aires label. These wines are fermented in barrels that are not topped off and left to rest with extensive lees aging. Eventually, an almost flor-like canopy develops on top of the Godello, protecting it from oxidation and creating savory aromas and flavors. These wines steadily develop in the glass, allowing the opportunity for surprise without overpowering the palate or conversation.