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La Senda means The Path. This has a lot of resonance in Bierzo, located along the Camino de Santiago, one of the most important paths of Christian pilgrimage in the world. The "Way of Saint James" (or, perhaps, the Ways of Saint James - there's more than one path...) deeply impacted the historical development of Northwest Spain, especially from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela. Bierzo lies in the middle of that region, at the point of transition between León and Galicia. Technically part of León, Bierzo’s vinicultural identity is both Galician and Leónese.
The climate and geography of Bierzo are worth exploring a bit, as both are essential to the identity of these wines. Bierzo is the transitional area between the dry and hot Meseta Central at the center of Spain and the cooler, wetter, and greener lands of the mountainous Galician massif. This transition is visible in division of Bierzo in Alto Bierzo (the western mountains) and Bajo Bierzo (the eastern plains). In a sense, this is the place where the dry warmth of the Meseta Central and the cool humidity of the Galician massif meet. In the best vintages, this climactic collision can be felt in the wines: the warmth lends power and density, and the cool humidity supplies lift and delicate fruit.
The soils of Bierzo are rich in valuable ores and minerals: the region was a major source of silver, gold and iron in the Roman period and onwards. This wealth is itself a product of another collision: the meeting of the granitic Galician Massif and the calcareous Cantabrian mountains. This produced complex geological formations that are famously beautiful, but also leave their imprint in the mineral structure of the wines of region: some of Diego’s vineyards are on soils rich in iron or gold.
These two collisions, climactic and geological, create a wholly unique place for the growing of grapes and the making of wine. Indeed, I believe Diego Losada’s approach (perhaps his “path”) to making wine in Bierzo allows him to produce wines that embody what is fascinating about the region and express its complexity.
Diego Losada started La Senda in the early 2010s, bottling his first wine in the 2013 vintage from 3 parcels that he recuperated. Now, his work has grown to roughly 15 parcels throughout the Bierzo appellation. Since the beginning, the focus of the project has been on organics, low-intervention winemaking, and respect for the natural environment. His rented plots are remote, low-yielding, and feature old-vines of the region’s classic varieties: Mencía, Alicante Bouschet (or Garnacha Tintorera), Trousseau (or Bastardo), Palomino, and Doña Blanca. Further, his focus on careful but transparent winemaking processes in the cellar allows the drinker to taste the soils, climate, vintage character, and varietal identity in each wine. Diego ferments and ages all of the wines in concrete or neutral barrels and does not add sulfur or other additives.
In terms of vintage, 2018 is very exciting. After a few trying years, these wines are the product of an exceptional year for Bierzo. Diego explained that the year began with a cold, wet and snowy winter that ended in March and led into a warm and rainy spring (without any issues with frost or hail). Finally, summer was mild, with a balance of rain and sun and no severe heat: the grapes ripened very slowly. The beginning of harvest was delayed until September and did not conclude (in the latest ripening vineyard) until the third week of October.
Diego Losada’s wines this year are balanced, intense, and viscerally pleasurable. All of them are outstanding choices to drink this summer or to hold for the fall or longer. Bravo, Diego!
Thank you, Diego Losada, for information, photos, and beautiful wines. And thank you Liz Fayad and Jose Pastor for information and connecting me with Diego.
1984 is a faithful expression of Bierzo Mencía from 3 organically farmed plots of old vines (around 60 years old) at around 650m in elevation in the appellation’s southwest. These are some of the highest elevation vines in the Bierzo appellation: the climate here is somewhat humid, and the soils are dominated by quartz, iron and slate rather than the clays of the valley floor. The grapes for the 2018 were harvested by hand in the second week of September, partially destemmed, and allowed to ferment and macerate on their skins for 3-4 days before being pressed into old French oak barrels for 7 months to rest. The finished wine was bottled without fining or filtering, and there was no sulfur employed in the winemaking. 1984 shows the terrific tension between power and delicacy that Bierzo wines can embody: the nose is enticing and friendly with black and red fruits and earth while the palate is all cherry and black raspberry framed with brisk acidity, gently structuring tannins, and notes of black tea, bergamot, and clove. Really lovely and an incredible bargain. Ben Fletcher
El Aqueronte is a very special vineyard of Mencía (90%) and Alicante Bouschet/Garnacha Tintorera (10%) in the northern part of Bierzo around 500m in altitude. This area’s soils are mostly clay, but here, at the top of the hill, there is a substantial portion of limestone mixed in. This is the driest and most remote of the vineyards that Diego Losada works with and one of the oldest, with vines averaging 70-90 years. In 2018, El Aqueronte was harvested by hand in early September, immediately before the grapes for 1984, and the grapes were partially destemmed and fermented on their skins in chestnut vats before resting in old French oak barreles for 11 months. As with his other wines, Diego bottles without fining or filtering, and there is no sulfur added to wines. El Aqueronte shows notes of dark berries, anise, fresh earth amid other herbal and spice notes. On the palate, there’s ripe blackberry, fresh raspberry, and a vein of chalky minerality wrapped in well-knit tannins and refreshing acid. A unique expression of Bierzo terroir that opened beautifully over an hour or two. Ben Fletcher
La Barbacana is a special vineyard of old vines (100+ years) of Garnacha Tintorera (90%) and Mencía (10%), and Diego Losada spoke of it reverentially. It is isolated: deep in the remote southwestern mountains of Bierzo, almost in Galicia, next to an old 13th century ruin and an ancient Roman mine. But it is also unique for its elevation: at 650m, Diego did not harvest until the third week of October in 2018, just as the first snow was starting. And of course, there’s the soils: lots of quartz, iron and slate, but also deposits of gold below the surface that prompted the Romans to mine the area in the first place. In terms of cellar work, La Barbacana is treated similarly to the other wines: hand harvested, partially destemmed, macerated on the skins in chestnut vats for 2-4 days, then rested for 10 months in chestnut barrels before bottling without fining, filtering, or any additions. On opening, the nose shows earthy, meaty, spicy character against abundant red cherry and overripe strawberry notes. The palate is deeply mineral and earthy with tannins that recall dusty leather and ample acidity enveloping delicate, pure red fruit notes of strawberry, cherry, and raspberry. The evolution in the glass is striking, as the wine shifts its emphasis from minerality, to earth, to fruit over the course of a few hours. Ben Fletcher
Diego Losada is very excited about Trousseau’s potential in Bierzo: he told me that he’s fallen in love with the variety and how it handles the warming climate of Bierzo. In Absentia is from vines of Trousseau (or Bastardo, as some call it) mixed in with plantings of Mencía, Godello, and other varieties in the northern part of the appellation, on clay-calcareous soils. Diego harvests the Trousseau by hand separately but simultaneously with the other red grapes in these vineyards. The grapes ferment and macerate on their skin for 2-4 days; the wine rests for 11 months in used French oak barrels before bottling without fining, filtering, or any additions. This is the only wine I have not yet gotten to try from Diego this year, so I will have to report back to you with tasting notes (needless to say, I’m really looking forward to it). Ben Fletcher