There’s gold in them hills. At least there was gold in Bierzo when the Romans founded the Empire’s largest open-pit gold mine in the mountains of Las Médulas. As we know, alongside gold, the region is famed for another precious resource—a legacy of Cistercian monks who cultivated Bierzo’s vineyards when they settled here in the middle ages.
Bierzo’s history maybe steeped in wine, yet it remains a comparative youngster on the contemporary global wine map. To echo the comment above, before the arrival of the Palacios cousins and the two Pérez namesakes (Raul and Grégory), few could have imagined this remote, ancient region would help usher in the exciting modern era of Spanish wine we are witnessing today.
A Bordeaux native with Spanish heritage, Grégory Pérez launched his career with Grand-Puy-Lacoste and worked at Cos d’Estournel before travelling to Bierzo in 2001. Initially expecting to perform a single harvest, Pérez fell hook, line and sinker for both the region’s culture and the tremendous potential of its vineyards.
Twenty years of unfaltering work later, the forward-thinking Perez has cemented his style, and today produces a lyrical and refined suite of high-country wines from the slate-rich hills of the Alto Bierzo. Following organic principles, he farms a patchwork of old vines on the hillside vineyards of Valtuille, Villafranca del Bierzo and Carracedo. Yet it is Pérez’s tireless work restoring the isolated, old-vine vineyards of Espanillo (pictured above) for which he is most famous. The sit at an altitude of upwards of 750 metres (placing them among the highest in Bierzo), the vines are old and the vineyard is managed in the traditional way—by hand and often using an ox-drawn plough. The winemaking, already artisanal, is progressing as Pérez seeks to refine his technique with each vintage, integrating the lessons he has learnt with the varying seasons on the mountain.
Pérez lives life to the full, both in and out of the vineyard and his vivid, flavoursome wines reflect this bountiful energy. The Godello-based Brezo Blanco is the textural yet chiselled entry-level white, and is full of freshness and salinity derived from Bierzo’s rocky, mineral soils. The corresponding Mencía is deliciously fleshy, with lingering floral and spice flavours. In both cases, they shine with an uncommon sense of purity and elegance and in doing so reflect their instrumental role in the spectacular revival of this ancient wine country.
“Most wine drinkers, I suspect, have never heard of Bierzo, but word is getting around. And if you get the opportunity to taste a good bottle, with its haunting, exotic wildflower, licorice and fruit flavors, you can't help but remember it.” Eric Asimov, The New York Times
“Gregory Pérez is one f@#$ing talented winemaker...” Alice Feiring, The Feiring Line