Villa del Bierzo Wines, a journey to be made

28 October 2021

More and more wines are starting to represent the terroir of their origin in smaller divisions of land, units of land that seek to describe the environment in a more detailed way through wine. They do so in the belief that this will make the wine more authentic and different from others. Some important appellations have been encouraged to protect these smaller production areas more ambitiously, aware of the different artistic sensibilities that inhabit the world of wine and its different consumers. These are good times for the Spanish wine consumer, as these new regulations broaden the expressive capacities of wine, the diversity of winemaking and its potential knowledge and diffusion. Bierzo took the step towards ambitious legislation in 2017, an important change that marked the beginning of a clear commitment to territoriality in favour of its own environment. The regulation is only the first step. Now that the road has been created, it is time for vehicles to drive on it and give it the differentiating significance that it should have.

The concept of Vinos de Villa is a term whose origins can be found in France, especially in the villages of Burgundy, which has been able to give it the greatest international projection to date. Many consumers associate villages wines as mid-range, almost as an introduction to the winery, as many producers reduce the minimum unit of production to their "paraje" or plot wines, small territories that in the eyes of the winemaker have special characteristics that justify the bottling of that single plot of land. It must be said that the qualitative interpretation that the wine from a single plot will be better than the one from a village is generally correct, even when the vineyard is not particularly significant or differentiating, as the winemaker's own conviction means that he devotes greater effort to the selection of grapes and greater care in its production to this exclusive wine. However, this rule is not always followed and, as we have said, not all places express their essence with brilliance and distinction.

The category of Vinos de Villa in Bierzo is still very young and still lacks more actors, although those who are there are relevant and bring meaning to this division. Amancio Fernández, winemaker at Losada Vinos de Finca, believes that all the towns and places still have to develop and see which of them end up earning that distinctiveness that justifies a higher price for the wine. It is true that, over time, some villages and certain places will gain prominence, while others will fall into oblivion to the point that no one will want to mention them on their labelling.

Conceptually, the idea of Vinos de Villa is frankly interesting. In essence, this category seeks to describe a district, a municipality or a group of municipalities with the grapes that its specific environment provides and also with its more specific influences of soil and climate. For this reason it is possible to dive into the singularities of the different villages, although often we do not know for sure whether these differences are given by the soil or the hand of the winemaker.

If there is one place where it is worth making a zonal differentiation, it is Bierzo, especially because of the area's prevailing smallholdings, the different influences that exist depending on the area, the orientations and the layout of the vineyards in valleys, hills and slopes.

There are currently 16 bottled Villa wines in the Bierzo appellation which in their own way describe Ponferrada, Camponaraya, Otero de Torai, Valtuille (Valtuille de Abajo and Valtuille de Arriba), San Pedro de Trones, Villafranca del Bierzo, Corullón, San Pedro de los Olleros and Congosto.

Today we bring you some of these wines that have passed through the glass of the tasters of the Peñín Guide and that show excellent qualities, some of which come from their place of origin and others from their producer:

Altos de Losada Villa de Valtuille de Arriba 2019 T

93 points

Winery: Losada Vinos de Finca.

Grapes: mencía 100%.

Retail price: 17,9 euros.

Villa Valtuille de Arriba.

This house has been characterised by its work that was already segmented by specific areas before the arrival of the new segmentation of Bierzo, so it was already well developed. Their Altos de Losada Villa de Valtuille de Arriba 2019 seeks to reflect an environment that is characterised by the influence of a Mediterranean climate and the presence of clay soils as opposed to other types of soils prevailing in the area. Its creators speak of an important difference in the size of the fruit in this place as the type of soil favours obtaining a slightly larger berry and also with a thicker skin. All these differences are translated in the wine through more intense nuances and a greater volume, making the fruit and the final sensation in the mouth more full-bodied and on the sweet side.

This wine would be a good example of what Valtuille is capable of giving, and also at a very affordable price.

Valtuille Vino de Villa 2019 T Barrica

93 points

Winery: Castro Ventosa.

Grapes: mencía.

Retail price: 16 euros.

Villa Valtuille de Abajo.

This is a wine that, although it is from a particular village, its style is more defined by its winemaker than by what we might guess from the area. We have just left behind a wine from Valtuille, in this case from Valtuille de Arriba, like Altos de Losada, and we move on to the lower part of the region. There are no major differences between the upper and lower parts of Valtuille, apart from the differences in ripening which are significantly higher in the lower parts and the greater presence of water in the subsoil in certain plots due to the slope of the vineyard. However, we are dealing with radically different wines. In this case we can glimpse the hand of its creator Raúl Pérez, who has been characterised by the production of wines generally with little colour, a lot of freshness and medium mouthfeel. Wines where extraction is left aside to show subtlety and finesse. All interpretations are valid, but this would be an example of how complex it often is to elucidate the style of a certain place or village when the hand of man leaves important stylistic marks.  This wine has rich fruit and a medium tannin that will make it extremely pleasant and drinkable on the palate. Valtuille Vino de Villa 2019 would be the freshest vision of Valtuille de Abajo. A vibrant and very pleasant wine.

De los Abuelos Viñas Centenarias 2020 RD

92 points

Winery: Pago de los Abuelos.

Grapes: mencía 100%.

Retail price: 20 euros.

Villa San Pedro de Trones.

The personal project of the oenologist Nacho Álvarez, brings us closer to a philosophy based on the value of the old vineyard and the terroir of the wines. His wine Villa De los Abuelos Viñas Centenarias is a rosé wine from a Mencía vineyard planted in 1902 and recovered in 2016. It is located at an altitude of 600 metres above sea level, on slate soils, with a slope of 51% and a north orientation. It has been labelled as a Vino de Villa to offer an image of the area of San Pedro de Trones, a town in the municipality of Puente de Domingo Flórez that borders Galicia to the west. It is a rosé wine with complexity and floral and herbal nuances that bring us closer to its origin. The fruit is the protagonist and its ageing of 3 months in 600-litre French oak barrels is merely a vehicle to give longevity and structure to a wine that seeks the complexity of a good rosé.

Villa de Corullón 2019 T

94 points

Winery: Descendientes de J. Palacios.

Grapes: 94% mencía, 6% others.

Retail price: 43,70 euros.

Villa de Corullón.

Ricardo Palacios is probably one of the great catalysts of the regulatory change within the apellation. His wines have managed to take a whole region to the top of the qualitative ideology of wine thanks to singular, identity-based wines that are closely linked to their origin. Wines such as La Faraona are among the most select Spanish red wines produced today. Its creators have spread the message of the excellence of Bierzo-based single plot wines around the world, helping many other producers in the area. Villa Corullón is a true reflection of what a village wine should be. It is made from a selection of around 200 small plots located in the municipality of Corullón. Corullón is characterised by the presence of slate (slate schist) in its soils, a rugged area where vines of very different orientations coexist. The grapes on this side of the Bierzo are slightly smaller, perhaps because of the soil and the altitude, which can reach 950 metres. We are entering a place with a continental climate influenced by the Atlantic, a character that is well reflected in this Corullón 2019. In this wine, as in all the wines of this winery, the work of the winemaker is oriented towards expressing the place. This is a principle of its creator and a good thing for the consumer, as the elements that form part of its winemaking process are focused on distorting the landscape as little as possible and not interfering in the dialogue between the land and the consumer. Corullón will undoubtedly be, thanks to this winery, one of those villages highly valued by wine lovers over time, if not the most valued. Although the price of the wine may seem high, the truth is that it is very far from the prices that the great wines of the world manage, so allow us to say that it is a good buy.

Cobrana 2019 T

94 points

Winery: Bodegas Verónica Ortega.

Grapes: mencía.

Retail price: 32 euros.

Villa de Cobrana (Congosto).

Verónica Ortega is from Cádiz and in the last few years she has managed to create her own distinctive style in Bierzo through very sincere and direct wines. She is not a friend of over-intervention, she makes wines that express themselves in accordance with the identity of their origin. This way of working allows her to transfer her environment to the wine, in this case the Villa de Cobrana, located in Bierzo Alto, at an altitude of 750 metres above sea level and with very degraded slate soils with red clay. It also happens that in this place there is a tradition of making wines for self-consumption, vinifying all the varieties together, red and white, in the same way as its creator does. Cobrana is a sharp wine, made with mencía and a small percentage of white varieties such as godello, palomino or doña blanca.

The grapes come from very small, old vines over 100 years old. It is made with 100% of its stems in open vats and is aged in amphorae and barrels. This is a fresh wine, rich in red fruit, with good acidity and tension, a characteristic style in the area and a good example of a Vino de Villa.

    Written by Javier Luengo, director editorial de Peñín