2017 Bodegas y Viñedos Raúl Pérez, Mencia, Ultreira Saint Jacques, Bierzo, Spain.
Raúl Pérez, one of the world’s great winemakers and one of the influential in his native Spain, is the godfather of Mencia and is known around the globe for his wines from the Bierzo region. Pérez, who is humble and down to earth in person, is thought of in the same regard as Salvo Foti, who has a similar cult following on Sicily and is known for his work with native grapes including Nerello Mascalese. Raúl started making wines in his childhood and even took over his family winery at 19 years old and he is a legendary figure for his beautiful and authentic wines that radiant with exceptional purity and balance, including his wonderful entry level Mencia, this Ultreira Saint Jacques. In 2005, as noted by Pérez’s importer Skurnik Wines, he left his family business to strike out on his own, creating Bodegas y Viñedos Raúl Pérez, which quickly became the point of reference for the Bierzo appellation, where a lot of young winemakers own their own success to his help, including the talented Veronica Ortega. In the intervening years, Skurnik adds, he has expanded his sphere of activity to include the appellations of Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, where he has also been a mentor to Pedro Rodriquez of Guimaro, one of my favorite producers, and Tierra de León, but his heart and his home remain in Valtuille de Abajo, the village in Bierzo where his family has been tending vines for well over 300 years.
Over the last few years, I have been lucky to taste with Pérez on a couple of occasions and his wines are gorgeous examples of organic and a more natural old school style of winemaking, but they are as serious as serious can be with deep complexity and amazing length, especially his lesser talked about white wines, in particular his stunning Godello based wines along with his rare Prieto Picudo (grape) red wine.
The 2017 Ultreira Saint Jacques Mencia, which comes from Valtuille and old vines is the freshest of Pérez’s lineup and set of Mencias with loads of zesty blue and red fruits, mineral notes and vibrant acidity, it is a slightly tangy and savory lighter style red that takes the finesse and brightness you’d expect in Pinot Noir as well as having the spiciness and dark profile of Northern Rhone Syrah, like Crores-Hermitage, with a touch of Gamay. This vintage saw about 80% whole cluster and was fermented with native yeasts in big wood vats with macerations ranging from two to five months and aging being done in various sized casks, mostly well used and some cement. While mostly Mencia, this Saint Jacques does have small amounts of Bastardo (Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) in the blend here all from vines that range from 80 to 120 plus years old set on the hardened clay based soils of the region. This 2017 is bright with a cherry fruit focus along with blueberry, cranberry, red apple skin, cedar, minty herb, earth and floral notes all intertwined on the medium bodied palate, this is a poised version of this wine, which is not as dense as the prior two years felt, but is wonderfully easy to quaff and feels dynamic in the mouth, it will thrill the Glou-Glou crowd and is great with a slight chill on it, drink now and often. This is absolutely a great place to start if you want to explore the wines of Raúl Pérez, it is an unreal bargain and a vividly transparent version of Mencia, a grape that begs for more attention and that is sublime with lighter Summer cuisine.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive