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A couple of weeks ago, the legendary Raúl Pérez was in town and I had the chance to taste some rarities and "core classics" with him at the Skurnik Wines office. It was the best and also the most comprehensive tasting I've had with him, and though many of the wines were not available yet in the US market, I have put together an offering of some of the greatest hits from this intimate tasting.
I was already a fan of the reds from Raúl, which I find to be some of the most compelling wines available from Galicia, showcasing local red grapes like Caiño, Trousseau* (known as Bastardo or Marenzao), Mencia, and Alicante Bouschet, which are often growing together in the old vineyards that Raúl tends in Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra. *Trousseau has been in the area for at least 2 centuries, but lineage suggest that it is not from Iberia. There is a rustic charm and a spine of acidity to each of his red wines. Black and red fruits, earth (not barnyard, rather rich aromatic soil), and above all else, balance. As good as the reds were, the whites stole the show for me. Raúl works with flor and with various aging vessels with such a natural talent (maybe it's his decades of experience too!) and a deep understanding of the history of the area, in his search for texture and aromatic complexity.
Clearly these are some of the most memorable whites from Spain, and Raúl Pérez is one of the most memorable winemakers! He is engaging and passionate, always happy to discuss the decisions he makes with his winemaking, the unique locales of the vineyards that he either works or sources from, from bush vines in lower altitude hills to his very special high elevation Valdecañada project.
History-wise, Raúl was born in Valtuille de Abajo, a small village in Bierzo, and his family was involved in winemaking and grape growing for many generations. He first started working wtih his family at the Castro Ventosa estate, and then in 2003 he started his own project, "Ultreia," in Bierzo. In addition to taking over the family winery in 2020, he also started a side project in Bierzo in 2011 in partnership with his nephew César Márquez, called "La Vizcaína." Did we mention that he took over a small estate in Navarra (Lupier) just a few years ago and has just started producing delicious reds from local Graciano and Garnacha grapes? Let's just say the man is busy! Clearly known across Spain and in the wine world as a prolific winemaker, Raúl has been a mentor for many young winemakers in the area and beyond, and is always collaborating with someone! For anyone who wishes to read more about Raúl, we recommend the travelogue style biography from the Skurnik Wines website.
The wines from today's offer will all be available after Tuesday, 5/23. We will hopefully have a chance to offer new reds that will be headed to New York later this year, so consider this "Part 1" of a series that we are very excited to present!
Raúl Pérez 2020 Bierzo Ultreia Godello
This is a lovely "village level" Godello from about 7 different plots that Raúl tends in Bierzo. Fermentation is mostly in barrel, with some fermentation in steel tank, and aging is all in barrels. Raúl uses a mix of 200L, 500L and 5000L barrels, with the youngest barrel at 4 years old. Impressive minerality here, with fresh flowers and a hint of herbs. Very clean finish and a lovely mid-palate. -EL
Raúl Pérez 2021 Bierzo Blanco 'Ultreia la Claudina'
La Claudina is from a sandy plot in Bierzo, near the vineyards that make up Raúl's "village level" white, the Ultreia Godello. This is a tiny 0.3 hectare site (really small) that Raúl is very fond of. Though he is not the owner, he is clearly connected with the spot and honored to be able to make wine from these old vineyards. Fermentation and aging was in one single 1000L foudre. It was a new barrel in 2021, but Raúl works closely with the barrel-maker to ensure that the toast is very light. The Godello grapes he harvests here have a higher level of potential alcohol, so he says the wine can handle a big new foudre. Clearly he was right, because the nose and palate do not suggest any of the predictable "new oak" notes. All I got was stone fruits, and a long mineral finish. A beautiful white that sees a very limited production.
Raúl Pérez 2020 Bierzo Ultreia St. Jacques
Raul Perez has become one of the best known and most celebrated oenologist-winemakers in Galicia and Bierzo. His Ultreia wines are beautiful expressions of the terroir and indigenous varieties of Bierzo. Primarily Mencía, with small amounts of Bastardo (Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera from organically farmed vineyards near Valtuille de Abajo, the grapes for the Ultreia St. Jacques are hand harvested, and fermented mostly whole-cluster in large oak vats before being raised in large barrels, foudre, and some cement. This is a classic wine of Bierzo, with vibrant violet floral notes on the nose and chalky minerality, medium body and delicate tannins.
Raúl Pérez 2018 Bierzo Tinto 'Valdecanada'
From Raúl's high altitude Valdecañada project, this is his very special Bierzo Tinto. Comprising most of the red grapes from the 6 hectares on schist and slate soils, Raúl makes has about 9 barrels total, and he allows all of them to develop flor in the barrel. The blend, like most of his reds is mostly Mencía with small percentages of Trousseau and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet). A really impressive red, with luscious concentration, rustic herbs and brambly overtones. It seemed at tasting to be enjoying a nice moment in it's evolution, though it could clearly age for many years to come. -EL
Raúl Pérez 2021 Bierzo Blanco 'La del Vivo' La Vizcaina
This beautiful white from Raúl Pérez should not be missed. Tasting this wine cemented in my mind the feeling that Raúl's whites are clearly some of the most memorable and fine white wines of Spain. Mostly Godello here (85-90%) with some Dona Blanca. The Godello is from 2021, and the Doña Blanca is from 2020 vintage. There is lovely mid-palate weight from the Godello, but the fascinating element is the subtle use of flor that Raúl employs. The Doña Blanco spends a year in anfora and a year in barrel, and developed a thin layer of flor in the anfora. By no means an oxidative style, the lifted aromas from the small percentage of Doña Blanca are exquisite, and the balance of the wine is ideal. I'm hesitant to compare it to a good White Burgundy, mostly because the wine is so special and really doesn't need to fit a mold. Any fan of fine white wines will appreciate this local expression from one of Spain's most visionary and accomplished winemakers! - EL
Raúl Pérez 2018 Bierzo Blanco Erial de Valdecanada
The Valdecañada project comes from high altitude parcels at about 900m, on schist terroir. It is Raúl's top project for which he produces a very limited amount of highly coveted white and red wines. This white is not actually from a single parcel, rather from all of the Godello plants in a 6 hectare area, which he says totaled about 300 plants. Aging was in one single barrel, and flor was allowed to develop over a period of about 3-4 months. This is a breathtaking wine, albeit pricey, but well worth it for one of the most limited and remarkable Spanish whites available in the US.
Raúl Pérez 2020 Ribeira Sacra Tinto Joven 'Castro Candaz'
A collaboration between Raúl Pérez and Rodrigo Méndez, this is a little side project in Ribeira Sacra, focused on the Mencia grape. The vineyards here are about 120 km from his winery in Bierzo, mostly within the Chantada and Ribeira do Miño zones of the Ribeira Sacra appellation. As with many of Raúl's reds, this is mostly Mencia, with small percentages of Alicante Bouschet, Trousseau, and Caiño. Fermentation is with whole clusters in foudre and aging is all in used barrels. Peppy, with some crunchy red fruit and fresh acidity.
Raúl Pérez 2020 Bierzo Tinto 'El Rapolao' La Vizcaina
'El Rapolao' is a single plot in the village of Valtuille de Abajo. Raúl was purchasing fruit for many years from this plot and is now the owner as of 2021! Of his three Vizcaina single vineyard reds, this was the one still available to us. What was funny to Raúl is that it is always the one that sells out first in Europe, because it is the most famous vineyard site out of the three! Though it is typically a blend of mostly Mencia along with other local grapes, the 2020 is 100% Mencia. Raúl uses whole clusters, and aging was in 500L neutral barrels. A beautiful wine, and a fine opportunity to explore the flavor profile, fine tannins and rusticity of Mencia from such a special plot.