The four friends who run this small, yet hugely exciting winery in the hills of Ribeira Sacra specialise in hunting down tiny vineyard plots and turning them into refreshing, refined, palate-cleansing reds. This is potpourri of at least five local grapes – Mencía, Mouratón, Garnacha Tintorera, Caiño and Bastardo – and is a like a Spanish take on Beaujolais mixed with a little Syrah and Cabernet Franc, albeit with a personality that is all its own. Scented, peppery and elegant, it has notes of rose petal, tangerine and red berries with crunchy acidity, granular tannins and a long, spicy finish. Utterly delicious.
Red Varietal: Mencia
2017 Verónica Ortega Versión Original, Bierzo( €22.50, 13.5%, Cuvee 3000, Decantalo )
Spanish retailers appear to be on the 2016 vintage of this wine at the moment, which I haven’t tasted, but this is well worth waiting for and needs more time in bottle in any case. VO used to come from the lower part of the ROC vineyard, but because of the frost in 2017, Verónica Ortega sourced the grapes from an old parcel at 650 metres on slate and sand soils in Villabuena instead. Fermented with 100% whole bunches, it’s an intense, well-structured, very lightly wooded red with notes of fresh tobacco, incense, liquorice and black cherry, impressive focus and the concentration and structure to age further.
2017 Verónica Ortega ROC, Bierzo( €27.25, 13.3%, Cuvee 3000, Decantalo )
ROC was the first wine Veronica Ortega ever made, back in 2010, and comes from two old-vine parcels at 400 metres in Valtuille de Abajo. It’s firmer, riper and more structured than her other reds, with more colour, backbone and extract. Showing the very low yields of the first-hit 2017 vintage, this is dark and grippy, with damson and blackberry fruit, plenty of tannin and some added texture from 50% whole bunches.
2018 Verónica Ortega Cobrana, Bierzo( €26.75, 12.5%, Cuvee 3000, Decantalo )
Verónica Ortega worked in Burgundy (at Domaine de la Romance-Conti, no less) before she set up her own winery in Bierzo in 2010. This hauntingly delicate wine isn’t made from Pinot Noir, but it wouldn’t look out of place in a line up from Chambolle-Musigny. Sourced from seven parcels at 750 metres on slate soils, it sees no wood (only amphoras) and is wonderfully poised and balletic. Raspberry, tobacco pouch and wild strawberry flavours are complemented by rose petal aromas and a nip of sinewy tannin. You may have trouble tracking this down right now, although I’m assured that UK agent Vine Trail will have some next spring.
2019 Verónica Ortega Kinki, Bierzo( €21.80, 11.2%, Cuvee 3000, Decantalo )
The intriguingly named Kinki is a very unusual Bierzo for several reasons. First, it’s a co-fermenteation of Mencía with Alicante Bouschet and 30% white grapes (Godello, Palomino and Doña Blanca); second it has only 11.2% alcohol; and third it is fermented and aged in a combination of amphoras and larger barrels. Pale, delicate and elegant, with some clove spice from 100% whole bunch fermentation, flavours of watermelon, wild strawberry and pomegranate, racy acidity and a hint of reduction. Bierzo meets the Côte de Beaune.
2019 Verónica Ortega Quite, Bierzo( €11.90, 13%, Decantalo )
Wonderfully fresh, juicy and appealing, Quite is a reference to Verónica Ortega’s father, the famous bullfighter Rafael Ortega (the term is used when someone lends a helping hand in the bull ring), and is all about perfume and fruit. There’s good underlying concentration here too – the vines from which it comes are all over 80 years’ old and combine Mencía with Alicante Bouchet, Palomino and Doña Blanca – with notes of violet, raspberry and black cherry, a hint of stony reduction and a bright, mineral-edged finish. Aged in amphora and old wood.
2017 Losada Vinos de Finca, Bierzo( £13.98, 14.5%, Jascots )
Sometimes called Pájaro Rojo because of its distinctive red bird label, this entry-point Mencía from Losada’s winemaker Amancio Fernández Gómez is a wonderful example of a distinctive Spanish grape. Produced from old vines on clay soils – not the slate that’s more common in Bierzo – this is plush, lightly oaked and comparatively ripe, with softer tannins and lower acidity than many of its competitors, but showing the variety’s classic red berry fruit and herbal undertone. Appealingly refreshing for a wine with 14.5% alcohol.
2011 Guímaro Mencia, Ribeira Sacra( £10.95, 14.5%, The Wine Society )
Made entirely from the Mencia grape (think Tempranaillo crossed with Cabernet France in style) this is a perfumed, refreshing red that carries its 14.5% alcohol without any apparent struggle. Pepper spicy and aromatic, with notes of wild thyme and lavender, this unoaked, faintly chewy red is a delight. Great with roast lamb.