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Anyone who tells you that they know all about Bierzo is lying. Quality winemaking there is too new for us to know exactly what will happen with this area’s occasionally remarkable wines. High–quality winemaking, led by certain estates, has lent to the area the status of “hot property.” Because of the hand labor involved in working the difficult and steep slopes of some of these vineyards (some of which would be classified as “Double Diamond” if they were snow–covered), the wines from these elevated properties will never be cheap to produce or consume. But lower elevated, less favored sites are the source of increasing amounts of less expensive Mencía-based wines as well. The top vineyards are found as high as 2,300 feet, with a mix of chalk and clay in the elevated vineyards and alluvial soils in the lower vineyards.

The Mencía bush vines grown on these mountainsides are protected from the cold northern weather and neither lack for rain nor suffer from excessive humidity, yielding grapes that are ripe but retain their taut acidities. The flavors and aromas are similar to those of Cabernet Franc: red cherries and cranberries with a dusty, dried note. The bushes of rose hips that pop up along the roads and vine rows suggest a nearly identical aroma too. The usual difficulties of mountain viticulture are partially mitigated by reliable, moderate rainfall, and the occasional frosts tend to hit the lesser, lower vineyards than the great ones higher up. But elevation is a relative term here; the highest vineyards can reach 2,500 feet; most are much lower down the slope, and they almost all enjoy a relatively mild climate, neither cool and wet like Rías Baixas nor hot and dry, as further inland.

The intensity of these wines, which range from light and fruity/herbal to powerful and almost brooding/spicy, is surely a product of elevation and the availability of old vines, and the slate and quartzite seams that pop out here and there are believed to be a critical factor as well.

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