In the hands of Bierzo's vintners, Mencía grapes produce complex wines that are fruity but still subtle and expressive, with silkiness to balance their earthiness. Common designations include joven (young), crianza, reserve and gran reserve [source: Apstein]
By all accounts, Alvaro Palacios is the Bierzo winemaker to watch. Since the 1990s, Palacios and his family have been a driving force between the resurgence of the region, with at least one commentator proclaiming: "Palacios is Bierzo" [source: Apstein].
Palacios's 2005 Pétalos Bierzo is one in the growing number of biodynamically produced wines. Biodynamics treats the soil as a living being, and biodynamic farmers devote themselves to practices, such as crop rotation, designed to preserve the health of the soil. The Pétalos ages for just four months in oak. But it's a dark, full-bodied wine, plumy, spicy and warm [source: Garr]. Also pay attention to Palacios's 2005 La Faraona, rare San Martin (a small-batch, single-vineyard wine), edgy Moncerbal and richly floral, fruity Las Lamas [source: Apstein].
Dominio Tares produces several big-flavored Mencía wines: the unoaked Albares; the creamy Baltos; the earthy Exaltos; and the smoky, exotic Bembibre. All are rich and expansive, warm and fruity, with hints of minerality and tar providing contrast [source: Apstein]. Dominio Tares also produces a notable white from Godello grapes [source: Parode].
Paixar produces only about 9,000 bottles a year. If you can find it, wine writer Michael Apstein suggests that you make the purchase. Of particular note are the 2001 and 2003 Paixar Bierzos. Both clearly reflect the vineyard's slate soils with mineral-accented, black cherry and other fruit flavors [source: Apstein].
The wines of Luna Beberide are rarely included on Bierzo's DO label, because they incorporate non-native grapes, such as Cabernet and Merlot. Nevertheless, vintner Bernardo Luna has been another of the major forces behind the area's recent renaissance, and his wines deserve mention too. Also worth noting: Luna produced one of the few solid contenders to emerge from the scorching summer of 2003. Try the 2003 Tierres de Luna or the 2004 Reserva [source: Apstein].
Other Bierzo producers to watch for include Pittacum and Castro Ventoso, as well as the Vega Montan Bierzo Godello.
With so many exciting contenders, Bierzo may well emerge as the little wine region that could. In fact, some observers expect it to surpass Priorat. Now is definitely the time to discover the splendid, unusual Mencía grape.
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