2017 Raul Perez Bierzo Tinto “El Rapolao”
There are three kinds of winemaking genius. There are the classicists, the innovators, and the savants. The third of these, as described by Master of Wine Pedro Torres, “are those rare geniuses who act upon intuition.” They encrypt their wines with the message of terroir, along with the imprimatur of their own personality. Their wines charge you with their passion. They impart you with their vision. Raúl Pérez is the archetype of the savant, the intuitive winemaking genius.
Raúl’s intuitive winemaking and its extraordinary results have won him acclaim as the world’s best winemaker by publications around the world. His began receiving accolades as soon as he began making wine. At the age of 22, in 1994, he produced his first vintage for his family’s winery in Spain’s northwestern Bierzo region. He was quickly baptized the leader of a renegade wine movement called The New Spain. In 2005, he left his family’s business to strike out on his own. He created Bodegas y Viñedos Raúl Pérez, which became the reference point for the Bierzo appellation. Since then, he has expanded his sphere of winemaking activity to include the appellations of Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, and Tierra de León. But Raúl’s heart and his home have always been in Valtuille de Abajo, the village in Bierzo where his family has been tending vines for over 300 years.
Raúl’s winemaking philosophy begins with a guiding principle: exert as little influence as possible on the grape. He understands every soil type and microclimate of each of his vineyards, but his knowledge of how his grapes ripen dictates how he makes his wine. The genius of Raúl’s knowledge allows him to turn his grapes — without chemical additives or systematized techniques — into what he calls “non-standardized wines.”
Each of these four wines bears the inimitable stamp of Raúl’s rare genius. They’re wines which show as much freshness, character, and complexity today as they will in 20 years. Year after year, I have the pleasure of drinking a lot of great wine, but none are more enchanting than these:
2018 Bierzo Tinto Ultreia St. Jacques Mencia: With floral and spicy aromas, the wine shows juicy red fruit, great vibrancy, and length on the palate. The 2018 vintage received 93 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, which describes it as truly impressive, transcending its price category. “The palate reflects a fluid wine of pleasure, a red of thirst. This is the wine where they have invested more, and 2018 has to be the finest vintage to date.”
2017 Bierzo Tinto La Vitoriana: Made with Mencía and Bastardo grapes from one of the best plots in the Bierzo appellation of Valtuille. (The plot is 130 years old, with three different orientations to the sun and vines planted on their own rootstocks.) This is a powerful, structured, and long wine, with spiced apple, ripe blackberry, roasted chestnut, and black liquorice. The 2017 vintage received 94 points from Wine Advocate, which cites the wine’s “depth and power, inherent to the vineyard.”
2017 Bierzo Tinto El Rapolao: “El Rapolao is part of the most important area of Bierzo today,” says Raúl. “It represents our future.” That area is the Valtuille de Abajo, where Raúl grew up, where he makes his home, where he has tended vines since he was a boy. Made from Mencía, Bastardo, and Garnacha Tintorera, the wine is spicy, mineral, and super expressive, with seasoned red fruit aromas and warm, firm tannins. A big, serious wine from a top vintage, with 95 points from Wine Advocate.
2018 Bierzo Blanco La del Vino: Also from the Valtuille de Abajo, La del Vino is an aromatic, expressive, and seductive white wine made from Godello grapes. Aromas of ripe peach, honeycomb, and white flower lead to roasted almonds and Fiorello pears on the palate. La del Vino is lively and spirited, from its very beginning right through to the end of its long finish. The 2018 vintage received 95 points from Wine Advocate.