Bodegas Mengoba in Bierzo

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Nature And Nurture: The Wines of Bodegas Mengoba and Bierzo

Every week, we shine a light on either a region or producer that we feel is making exceptional wine and make them our Featured Wines of the Week.  This week, we're putting the spotlight on Bodegas Mengoba, a low-yield hand-harvested winery in Bierzo. What's the deal with Mencia? What does terroir really do for a wine? How does a hot-shot from Bordeaux become one of the most highly regarded producers in Bierzo? Read on.  This sale runs from 4/1/18-/4/8/18.

In the Spanish province of Leon, situated northeast of Portugal lies the Spanish region of Bierzo.  In the wine world, Bierzo is a relatively recent DO (established in 1989), but more accurately its a place that has lingered through time, almost forgotten by modernity.  It's eye-opening in a historic sense, many of the 375 villages that make up Bierzo offer glimpses to the past. Most prominently, the Bierzo remains on the path of Camino de Santiago ( known as The Way of Saint James), a religious pilgrimage that ends in Santiago de Compostela.  

  A closer look at the  Castilla y León  sub-region of Spain. Bierzo lies at the northwestern border between Castilla y León   and Galacia.

 A closer look at the Castilla y León sub-region of Spain. Bierzo lies at the northwestern border between Castilla y León and Galacia.

 

That attachment to old ways is representative of the wine-making from Gregory Perez, a Bierzo producer by way of Bordeaux, and his preference for natural terroir driven wines that he makes for Bodegas Mengoba.

Perez has been behind this winery since its start in 2007, and the name Bodegas Mengoba is a reverential acroynm for the wine of Biezo. "Men" from Mencia, Go from "Godello" and Ba from the local dialect for "Dona Blanca". All the wine produced for Bodegas Mengoba is hand-harvested, the vineyards are ploughed by cows, and there are absolutely no herbicides allowed to tend to the crops. Perez wants to have as pure of an expression of Bierzo as possible. 


A Note on Pronunciation:

In this part of Spain, when "c" comes before an "i" or "e", the letter is pronounced with a th sound. So Mencia is "Menthia". The use of "z" follows the same pronunciation, and doesn't require an "i" or "e", thus Bierzo is "Biertho".  Contrary to rumor, this was not due to a Spanish ruler with a lisp, but more likely do to the influx of a variety of cultures and languages present through Spanish history.


Fitting of the old ways, there's no direct flight to Bierzo.  To reach it, you must fly into Madrid, and make the passage northwest. The three hour journey offers a slowly unfolding landscape of rolling hills and valleys,  Once within the confines of Biezo, the mountains wrap around like a protective shield, and the soils within are rich with mineral deposits.

Just a Little History:

The Romans were familiar with the mineral riches of central and northern Spain, including Bierzo (the name deriving from the city Bergidum). They tamed this area to work the land to their advantage, leaving behind the remnants of Bierzo's first viticulture and a  wonder that still stands today, Las Médulas.

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When the Romans came to the region, they harnessed the natural resources to make a lake and then used the power of the water to wash away at the cliff faces, exposing the rich mineral deposits and using a complex water channel system to transport the material downstream to waiting miners below. Over a span of two hundred years, the Romans were able to extract over 800 tons of gold, and the weathered cliffs that remain are a testament to the rich soils and rich history of this region.  

There's no homogenous soil type in Bierzo. Depending where you find your vineyards, the soil could either be made up of rich red clay, slate, or chalky grounds, the lands range from 400 to 900 meters above sea level, and the climate blends the cool influence of the Atlantic with the heat from the Spain's inland meseta (or plateau).  The result is a wine-making region that is not only unique to Spain, but unique to the world. 

Bierzo is most known for two wine varietals, Mencia, and Godello, but there is no unifying style behind the two varietals, only touchstones of what both grapes offer. To properly understand what Mencia is capable of, we first should examine aroma compounds. Without going full bore on the scientific nature of hydrocarbons and essential oils, Mencia is a grape that has a whole lot of terpenoids, which gives off lovely floral aromas, and hints of ripe forest fruits.  Terpenoids are also responsible for the resinous smell of pine, which is why terpenoids are also highly sought in beer making.  Combining these intense aromas with the distinct soil and terrain of Bierzo makes these wines truly expressive of their heritage.  

Godello is a varietal that has come into vogue, and often gets heard listed out among its Spanish sibling, Albariño. In Bierzo, however, Godello becomes a spirited white wine, and in Perez's hands, it's a illuminating experience.  As esteemed natural wine critic Alice Feiring said: 

“Gregory Pérez is one f***ing talented winemaker - just buy every white he makes. These are whites to decant, think Savennières.”

While we encourage diversity of opinions, we're not really in disagreement here. Thankfully, you don't just have to take our word for it.

Gregory Perez, son to a French mother and Spanish father, worked as a teenager at Cos d'Estournel and Grand-Puy-Lacoste, two highly esteemed Bordeaux producers, before moving to Bierzo in the early 2000s.  After regaining his roots working for Luna Bebride, he wanted to make wines that were true to themselves and Bierzo.

The Manifesto:

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We're thrilled to have four of his wines in stock, two from his Brezo line -- for his work as a negociant-- and two from the Mengoba line -- from his own personal small vineyards. For his Brezo Godello y Doña Blanca, Perez sources the grapes from six small plots scattered across the Bierzo region, for the Godello, the vineyards are located in  Carracedo, Valtuille and Villafranca del Bierzo. For the Doña Blanca, Espanillo, Carracedo and Valtuille. This "cuvee of sorts" is further complicated by the three different soil types, calcareous-clay, stone, and slate. The Brezo Tinto is vinified from two small plots in Horta and Villafranca del Bierzo at 550 meters.  As so happens with old vineyards, true single varietals are a rare feat, and there is a touch of Garnacha Tintorera.

Better known internationally as the French varietal Alicante Bouschet, Garnacha Tintorera is prized in Perez's words, for its brightness and crunch.  The varietal is present in both of the reds we feature from Perez.

What separates the Mengoba wines from the Brezo line is a more refined approach.  For the Mengoba Tinto, Perez blends 85% Mencia with 15% Garnacha Tintorera, sourced from two plots. The first plot (more or less 60% of the cuvee blend) is located in Espanillo from 700 to 850 meters, the average age of vines is 80 years old, while the second one (accounting for about 40% of the blend) is located in Valtuille at 550 meters of altitude. In Espanillo, the soils are made up of sand and slate, while Valtuille features more clay and sand in their vineyards.  The result is a lovely, juicy, medium bodied Mencía; fresh, juicy and supple, with the Garnacha T. adding drive, perfume and powdery tannins.

All of these wines are beautiful, but the Mengoba Godello Sobre Lias may well be a masterpiece.  Sourced from 30-40 year old plots in Cacabelos, Valtuille and Villafranca del Bierzo; on river stones, sandy loam and some slate soils at 550 meters elevation, this singular wine undergoes fermentation with wild yeasts before being raised on lees for 10 months in 4,000 liter wooden oval vats.  The aging of this wine enhances the smoky minerality, and overall complexity of this wine--by turns sweet or savory.  

We find that expressive whites like this tend to impress us more, maybe because we think we've got whites more figured out, but this Godello puts that whole concept on its head.  Simply put, Gregory Perez and Bodegas Mengoba are bringing Bierzo to great heights, with a beautiful alchemy of nature and nurture.

The Fine Print:

Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Godello y Dona Blanca - $̶1̶9̶.̶9̶9̶ $16.99

Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Tinto - $̶2̶1̶.̶9̶9̶ $18.69

Bodegas Mengoba "Mengoba Tinto" - $̶2̶9̶.̶9̶9̶ $25.49

Bodegas Mengoba "Godello Sobre Lias" - $̶3̶9̶.̶9̶9̶ $33.99

Further Reading:

Eric Asimov Article in New York Times featuring Bierzo

Recent feature on Biezo

Bodegas Mengoba

More about Las Médulas