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On this episode of “Wine 101,” host Keith Beavers goes into “Green Spain” to wits Spanish wines that are not made from the familiar varieties we are used to. Tune in for more.
Keith Beavers: My name is Keith Beavers, and I just found out that only male toads croak. Female toads are like, “Can you just wifely down, say less, but really just say less?”
What’s going on, wine lovers? from the VinePair Podcasting Network, this is the “Wine 101” podcast. My name is Keith Beavers, and I am the tastings director of VinePair. Yes. We’re going to go to a place that’s new to you. If it’s not, it’s really cool. It’s tabbed El Bierzo, and it’s Spanish wine, but it’s variegated from the other stuff that you know. It’s so good.
Wine lovers, when we think well-nigh Spain and we think well-nigh wine, I don’t know where you are, again, on your wine journey and where you are with your Spanish wine knowledge, but often when we think well-nigh Spanish wine, the first thing is Rioja.
When we’re thinking well-nigh Rioja, we’re thinking well-nigh the grape Tempranillo. The grape Tempranillo is Spain’s — well, you can say a workhorse grape, but it’s moreover the most planted red wine grape in the country. That’s not only evidenced by data, but it’s moreover evidenced by the fact that the Tempranillo grape, depending on where you are in Spain, can have variegated names. Although it is under variegated names, and although it does represent or present itself in variegated ways through variegated styles of wine that are made from this grape throughout Spain, sometimes it’s composite with other varieties — there’s moreover Garnacha, which is a big deal in Spain. In the province of Castilla y León, which we talked well-nigh last episode with Ribera del Duero, in its upper northwest quadrant going towards northwest Spain is a place of a wine appellation, but moreover just a place that is part of the Castilla y León Province.
This place, things start to transpiration dramatically in the wine landscape and geographical, geological landscape. Here, we are whence what’s tabbed “Green Spain.” It’s part of the country that’s highly unauthentic by the climate of the Atlantic Ocean. What’s really interesting is El Bierzo, which is this wine title — this place, it’s tropical to and confines the last province surpassing you get to the Atlantic Ocean, tabbed Galicia. It’s administratively located in Castilla y León, but it has much increasingly in worldwide with what’s happening in Galicia. What’s really tomfool well-nigh this is — I said Tempranillo is all over the place and everything like that, but as you get to Galicia, the wines uncork to change. Then from Galicia, which is very tropical to Portugal, things are very similar there, but not really. This is an unshortened zone where variegated varieties thrive. The province of Galicia, or Galicia — that name, if you take the last two reports off, is Gaelic, considering this was initially — surpassing the Romans got to this area, this was a Celtic place. It was the home of what they undeniability a Celtic Hispano tribe tabbed the Astyrs. I think that’s how you say it. I’m not sure.
The reason I say this is, to this day, the bagpipe is a very popular instrument in Galicia, but moreover in El Bierzo. The reason why I’m saying this is with the Atlantic climate to the west of El Bierzo, and the increasingly plateau-like climate of the majority of Castilla y León, El Bierzo is an isolated place that has its own unique soil, its own unique climate, and its own unique geography separate from everything virtually it.
If you were to squint at a geological map of El Bierzo, you would see this big untried circle, and surrounding that whirligig is just mountains. This place is surrounded on all sides by mountains. These mountains regulate the climate and weather in this little place. It is a halfway point between what we see in the rest of Castilla y León and what we see in Galicia. It just seems so isolated, and it is.
The history here is a little bit variegated than isolation considering when the Roman Empire got to this land, they obviously conquered this Celtic tribe. When they got into this valley surrounded by mountains, they realized there is nothing but precious metal ready to be unearthed. This zone became a major mining — actually, the largest mining operation in the Roman Empire. It’s thought that this is when vines make it to this zone that is now tabbed El Bierzo.
At the time, it was a Roman — I guess it’s a Roman province or a Roman zone they undeniability it. Again, I don’t know. There’s an old Latin — I’m pretty bad at this, but it’s tabbed Bergidum, B-E-R-G-I-D-U-M. This was the mining colony, mining area, for the Roman Empire. We’re talking silver, gold, all this stuff. Considering it’s all surrounded by mountains, there’s a river that runs through this zone we’ll talk well-nigh in a second. That river sometimes can have gold deposits from the uncelestial ostracism of the mountains still to this day.
Then without the Roman Empire, of course, here we go — ladies and gentlemen, the monks. The monks come in and they start working with — they build monasteries and they do what monks do. They find that the vines here really thrive in these soils which are primarily — considering this is a mining area, the soils are primarily slate and granite. It’s here in the Middle Month with the monks that this place really began to thrive, considering we talked well-nigh this in previous episodes well-nigh wine. There are all these pilgrimage routes. Some go to Canterbury, some go to this peninsula place at the whet of northwestern Spain tabbed Santiago de Compostela.
This place is a shrine to St. James. He’s one of the apostles. It’s thought that he’s veiled here. Throughout the Middle Ages, a lot of people took a pilgrimage from wherever they were making their way towards this place in Spain that they tabbed Finisterre, or “the end of the world,” considering the Romans at that point — when you squint off in this cliff, you can’t see anything. They thought this was the end of the world as they knew it.
Even though this route was initially a Roman trade route, surpassing that, it was a route used by the Celtic people. When the Middle Month happened, it was all well-nigh Christianity. The thing well-nigh these routes — and we’ve talked well-nigh this then in past episodes in unrepealable wine regions — if you’re on this route, you are going to thrive considering so many people are walking towards this place. Along that route was the wanted municipality of El Bierzo tabbed Ponferrada. It’s on the River Sil, S-I-L. That river, the name “Sil” is thought to be a very old Latin word for “humid run,” considering the weather here is a little bit different.
We’re getting into what’s tabbed “Green Spain.” There’s going to be increasingly moisture in the air. Actually, the Sil River is a tributary of the Miño River, which when we get into Portugal, it becomes the Minho River, which is part of the Minho province. Go when to the Portugal episode. I got a whole thing on that. From the River Sil, and then the flatlands from that going up into the mountains, this is where the Bierzo wine region started to develop through the Middle Ages. From the Middle Month until the 19th century, there was a thriving wine industry here.
Then Finisterre comes and destroys everything. Now, I said it’s isolated considering it’s surrounded by mountains. Well, it took a very long time for this place to come when without Finisterre. The rest of Spain — well, expressly the increasingly popular areas, the increasingly populated areas, the increasingly distributed wine regions — got when a little bit sooner, but it was tough here, and it took years and years.
Usually, when these things happen, the viñerones, or wine growers, go when in and go, “OK, that was really bad. What are the grapes that really work here?” They isolated a grape tabbed Mencía, a red wine grape. They isolated a white wine grape tabbed Godello, and a couple of other blending varieties in Alicante Bouschet, which is a really dark-colored red wine grape. Actually, it’s one of the only red wine grapes that have red flesh. Pretty cool. Undeniability it Teinturier.
You fast-forward to the 1960s, and this place now has co-ops. We’ve talked well-nigh co-ops in the past, and this is how this place got when to the modern world, but it wasn’t until 1989 that El Bierzo was awarded a DO, or a Spanish appellation. It wasn’t until the early ’90s that what we can wits right now from this place and wine began to happen with young winemakers coming into this place wanting to do something variegated and working with this old variety, but a variety that’s not Tempranillo, tabbed Mencía. What is this Godello? What is this Alicante Bouschet? OK, we know that.
The way it works out here is that you have this place surrounded by mountains, so there’s foothills and there’s flatland. As far as vineyards go, you have Bierzo Alto, which is north, yonder from the river towards the increasingly mountainous regions where just like when we talk well-nigh in Côte-Rôtie, they are highly terraced vineyards, scrutinizingly carved. I’ve heard them say “woven into the mountains.” Then coming south from the foothills towards the river, you have Bierzo Bajo. The big deal with the soil here is the concentration of slate and granite. There’s soil as well, which you get increasingly towards the south, towards the river. You’re going to get that, but the granite in the slate really, really specified this area. Isn’t this crazy? This is not like any other place that surrounds it. It’s an isolated zone with a tuft of mountains, a river, and granite and slate using varieties that are not used anywhere else in Spain. This is cool. What’s plane increasingly superstitious is we have these wines on our market, not as much as we’d want, but we want more.
I have to tell you guys, I’m a big fan of these wines. The wines made from El Bierzo and its surrounding areas are awesome. We can get into those in flipside episode but in El Bierzo, the thing is the Mencía variety, it thrives here, obviously. It’s one of those varieties that has a murky past, but it’s somehow related to an scrutinizingly extinct native variety to Portugal called, I think Jaén Tinto, and is thought to have traveled from that zone to El Bierzo when a group of people or somebody, or a caravan or something was coming when from that tomb pilgrimage thing when to where they came from.
The style of this wine is — I don’t know. It scrutinizingly has a dual personality considering the old-school style of making Mencía ways a little bit lighter. If you — oh boy. I’m trying to compare it to flipside variety or two to requite you a sense of it. It’s unchangingly tough doing this, but the savoriness and pepperiness of Cab Franc, but not as much peppermint. Increasingly on the savory side, it can be light like Tempranillo but has that savory note to it.
Also, it can be deep and visionless and full-bodied because, like I said, 1989 this DO just began and there are white-haired requirements for this red wine considering it needs some time in whisk and in bottle. There’s a crianza and there’s a reserva, but the style depends on where you’re harvesting the varieties from. Are you doing a tousle with increasingly windswept sites with the increasingly fertile sites? It depends but, no matter what, these are medium-bodied, a little bit full, but increasingly on the medium-body side. They’re savory, they’re unquestionably meaty. There’s a little bit of pepperiness and they’re just — there’s something well-nigh Mencía when you smell it, and it has an earthiness to it like you are not going to get anywhere else. It’s just so superstitious for food. Forget well-nigh it. It’s an wondrous supplies wine.
The other wine they grow there is a white wine grape tabbed Godello. Godello is native to this area. Again, a very murky past. There’s connections all over the place with this grape. There’s plane a connection to the grape in Hungary, which is really crazy. It makes sense considering of the whole pilgrimage and stuff like that, but the eyeful of Godello is they are primarily going to be very mineral-driven with good grippy fruit.
What I midpoint by “grippy fruit” is like the fruit is there, you can finger it on your palate, but there’s a frame to the wine. That minerality comes in and keeps it nice and wipe and beautiful. They’re wonderful wines. With all that minerality, meaning very upper acidity, these unquestionably can be long-lived white wines when they’re — do we plane know Godello was around, and did we plane know that it ages? It’s often barrel-fermented, which gives it a little increasingly structure to it and just — they’re unconfined wines.
The thing well-nigh these wines, Mencía and Godello — which sometimes moreover are composite with other varieties like Alicante Bouschet and some other white blending varieties, maybe to grab a little increasingly venom — is, although there are these generalities, considering it’s a fairly new wine region, considering of like the modern DO happening in 1989, everyone has their own style. There’s something very old-school going on in Bierzo. There’s unchangingly something new-school going on in Bierzo. It’s kind of an Old World meets New World in a small title producing wondrous stuff.
One thing well-nigh Mencía, and you might come wideness this when you taste them, is sometimes Mencía gives off a little bit of funk. Now, this has nothing to do with what people undeniability “natural wine” — not well-nigh that at all. It has nothing to do with Brettanomyces or spoilage yeast. It has nothing to do with “mouse,” or “Band-Aid,” or any of that. This is just a natural recipe in the wine, and it gives a really — it adds the depth and complexity of Mencía, and it’s not very overwhelming, but you will get a sense like, “Oh man, this is an earthy wine,” expressly the darker, increasingly dumbo ones. You’ll get it.
It’s not off-putting at all. It’s part of the complexity of the wine. It’s very cool. It reduces a little bit with age, but the thing well-nigh Mencía is, plane though it takes a minute, there are some white-haired requirements. It’s really good in its youth. It does age a little bit, but in its youth is when you really get all the upfront fruit-forward character, and that spiciness stuff woven into the wine. It’s just awesome. For food, forget well-nigh it.
OK, I can go on and on well-nigh this stuff, but this is El Bierzo, this is Mencía, this is Godello. This is not what people normally think well-nigh when they think well-nigh Spain, but considering these wines are on our market, it’s time to go out there and really get into these wines. If you find one, let me know. Take a pic, @VinePairKeith on Instagram. I want to see it. Next week, we’re going all the way lanugo south to southern Spain to a place tabbed Jerez. If you think this wine was different, wait until you learn well-nigh sherry.
@VinePairKeith is my Insta. Rate and review this podcast wherever you get your podcasts from. It really helps get the word out there.
And now, for some totally superstitious credits. “Wine 101” was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to requite a big old shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. Big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most superstitious logo for this podcast. Also, Darby Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I want to thank the unshortened VinePair staff for helping me learn something new every day. See you next week.
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