The arrival of the Raul Perez wines into the US has garnered a lot of attention. Last week's offer on his Godello and Albariño was a big hit, and today we turn to his reds. Mencia is the focus in Raul's home of Bierzo, where the wines often call to mind qualities of Pinot Noir and Gamay, but with a darker and spicier fruit profile showing elements of Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The very best examples are highlighted by their elegance and ability to age. When I tasted through Raul's lineup from 120+ yr-old vines, like with his whites, I was reminded that this man is the proverbial game changer for Mencia and Bierzo.
Perez's natural focus endow his wines with an authenticity that's impossible to miss. As much as he follows the historic path of his ancestors (no herbicides, pesticides, or additives of any kind in the cellar), he's made waves with his 100% whole cluster fermentations and extra long maceration on skins. Raul completely redefines what Mencia is capable of in Bierzo.
Tempering the impact of the heat and sun has always been the area of largest concern in the more continental Spanish zones. Working with high elevation vineyards and old vines is not enough to ensure grace, subtlety, and lift are the overriding characteristics when the wine is finally poured. It's the attentive, thoughtful approach to viticulture and minimal intervention in the cellar that Perez has come to trust as the root of success. In doing so, he's become recognized only recently as a master of his craft.
In 2014 Raul Perez was named best winemaker in the world from the German publication, Der Feinschmecke. And in 2015 the same honor was bestowed by France's Bettane & Desseauve.
Raul's two wines today offer an entry into Bierzo and its native Mencia grape, as well as the towering heights it can achieve from his top cuvée.
Tinto Ultreia is sourced from 3 hectares of vines divided in two villages: Valtuille de Abajo (30%) and Valdecañada (70%), and two soil types: Clay (Valtuille) and slate (Valdecañada). The blend is predominately Mencía with small amounts of Bastardo (Trousseau), Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), Doña Blanca, and Palomino. Fermented in large oak vats, with 60-day total maceration on skins. Aging is in neutral 225-liter French oak barrels.
Ultreia de Valtuille is sourced from 1.7 hectares of vines planted in the late 1800's. Sitting at nearly 600 meters above sea level on sandy soils these old vines produce what comes across as Raul's most delicate and deeply layered wine. Incredible concentration is met with finesse and a cool-fruit quality that sandy soils are often associated with.Maceration can go as long as 90 days on skins, and aging also is in neutral French barrels. Here the blend is almost identical to the above, but tiny amounts of Godello has replaced Palomino.
Spanish authority, Josh Raynolds of Vinous found these same attributes in May when he wrote of the 2013,
"In a lithe, elegant style but in no way lacking for depth of flavor or power. Closes seamless, sweet and strikingly long; suave, well-knit tannins contribute shape."
2014 Raul Perez Bierzo Tinto Ultreia
$34 per bottle.
2014 Raul Perez Bierzo Tinto Ultreia de Valtuille
$68 per bottle.