The wine world is full of secrets. Some are well-kept, some less so. Among the world’s myriad wine regions there are many, many fascinating secrets. And likewise among the world’s wine varieties there are mysterious and exciting secrets. Wine experts trade in these secrets. Sommeliers share these secrets. And for wine journalists, these secrets are their stock-in-trade. As with all types of secrets, there are well-kept secrets and badly-kept secrets. Sometimes a wine region is so remote that it remains relatively unknown. Or it exports very little product and so remains shrouded in mystery. Sometimes a wine region or wine variety just hasn’t quite caught the public’s attention yet. The region or variety may be excelling and crushing quality but just hasn’t hit the big time. Spain has a LOT of great wine regions and wine varieties so there are many secrets to be discovered. Sometimes we find these wine secrets on the Camino de Santiago.
El Bierzo (or just “Bierzo”) may still be one of Spanish wine’s secrets (both in terms of the region and in terms of the wine varieties) but that is changing. El Bierzo has a terrific ring to the ear so once you’ve heard it you tend to remember it. Still, there are many wine drinkers that have not yet had a wine from Bierzo. Similarly, the wine varieties of Mencia (red) and Godello (white) have names that tend to grab your attention. But again, many wine drinkers have yet to taste them. Let’s go for a road trip in El Bierzo and see if we can raise the profile of the place and its wines!
Why Bierzo Is A Great Wine Destination
El Bierzo is a relatively compact area, chock full of wineries scattered along the beautiful hillsides. The wines here over-achieve in quality and, while they have wonderful unique character, Mencia and Godello are delicious and approachable. Mencia is a red wine that Pinot Noir or Nerello Mascalese drinkers will immediately love. It is medium bodied with ringing fruit flavours underpinned by cracking, bright acidity. There is some herbal earthiness to give it a slightly rugged personality but overall it remains very lively and elegant. Godello is a very modern, dry and crisp wine with lots of flavour. Rescued from near-extinction, Godello has the ability to exhibit a whole range of fruit flavours and so expresses itself in distinct ways in different places.
A Traveller’s Guide To The Wine Roads Of Bierzo
Getting to Bierzo involves a bit of travel but it is beautiful travel. How would you like to get here? By air via Madrid? Barcelona? Or by road? It’s about a 3 hour drive from Madrid. The better way might be to come from the cultural centre Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia. This is my choice as the scenery and the gastronomy travelling through Galicia to El Bierzo is astounding. In fact, you could even walk this route in reverse direction and make it part of a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. After all this is one of the established routes of the famous Camino de Santiago – the Camino Frances! The relationship with the Camino adds an additional facet to Bierzo’s appeal as a wine destination – the wine secrets of the Camino de Santiago!
Bierzo is very well set up for visitors. Partly this is because it is an important area for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. You can base your Bierzo wine travels out of the beautiful, larger centers of Ponferrada or Villafranca del Bierzo. There are also a number of pretty villages like Carracedelo and Pieros. But let’s start our tour from the very heart of the place – the wine town of Cacabelos. All around us is some of the best wine country in Bierzo while the road we travel on is likewise one of the most evocative portions of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Like the pilgrims we meet walking we will be travelling through a series of river valleys. The valleys create the beautiful, green, rolling contours of this region and vineyards dot the hillsides. Many of the vineyards are terraced and the winemakers of Bierzo are justly proud of the range of slopes, aspects and soils that give each vineyard its own character.
Tune In To Shanyn Ward Taking Us On A Whirlwind Tour Of “The Wine Regions of Spain” – Parts 1 and 2.
As we leave the village of Cacabelos going west we find a stretch of road densely populated with wineries. Luna Beberide is located right on the edge of town. Then shortly after that is the winery of Godelia Bodega y Viñedos. Godelia embraces the youth and technological discipline of Bierzo, making fresh and compelling wines from three different “fincas” or farms. Almost next door on the outskirts of Piero is Losada Vinos de Finca, one of my favourite Mencia producers. They push boundaries but in a respectful way, resurrecting important vineyard locations and taking a non-interventionist approach in the cellar. A stone’s throw west we turn left into the village of Valtuille de Abajo. We are going to visit Castro Ventosa to taste their excellent terroir-driven wines. Raul and the Peréz family are dedicated to protecting the old vines that have been part of the family for generations and to expressing vineyard specific wines from different plots. The immediate area is the home of many other exceptional small winemakers like Viños Valtuille, Estévez Bodegas y Viñedo and Bodegas Peique.
Not far away, at the southern edge of Villafranco del Bierzo is the site of Descendientes de J. Palacios. This is a bit of a pilgrimage destination in itself. Here is where the now-legendary Alvaro Palacios decided to parlay his huge success bringing Priorat (and the Garnacha grape) to international attention into doing the same for Bierzo and the Mencia variety. From this important stop let’s hurry along and get to a few more wineries. Let’s go towards Ponferrada and stop in at Bodegas Estefania. Estafania is part of the Familia Miñano Gomez group and is known for making some very high quality Mencia wines. From here we will travel a short distance north on the LE 4211 to Bodegas y Viñedos Pittacum, part of the large and prestigious Terras Gaudas group. As we return to Cacabelos we can still make at least one more stop. The women of the family manage the winemaking of the Ribas del Cúa winery. Located on the Camino a Arganzo and looking over Cacabelos from the north, this is a great winery to wrap up a busy day of wine touring.
Who Are The Winemakers From Our Wine Pilgrimage to El Bierzo
Here is a quick rundown and set of links for the wineries we have visited on our whirlwind tour of El Bierzo:
And near Ponferrada, don’t forget Merayo Bodega y Viñedos!
Learn More About Wine Travel In Bierzo
Authentic Bierzo is a terrific site with links to many of the winemakers we have highlighted here. It also publishes an excellent series of videos with the winemakers and first-hand insights into Bierzo’s wine culture.
Bierzo Wine Tourism is a spectacular site with loads of information for planning your travel
España – Spain’s Official Tourism Site is a useful source for general information about just about everything
Follow The Camino is a great website for pilgrimages on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela
Camino Ways is another great website for planning a pilgrimage on the Camino
IFC Spanish Courses in Santiago de Compostela – why not study Spanish for a week while you are in the region?