BIERZO - SPAIN
Raúl Pérez Pereira is universally considered to be one of the world’s most visionary winemakers. Since he produced his first vintage for his family’s winery in 1994 at the age 22, he has been in the forefront of the conversation about what has been called 'The New Spain', and variously lauded as the country's most talented, innovative and restless winemaker. In 2004, inspired by finding a number of ancient Mencia vineyards that had fallen into disrepair, he left his family business to strike out on his own, creating Bodegas y Viñedos Raúl Pérez. This quickly became the point of reference for both the Mencia grape and the Bierzo appellation, and he now maintains a dizzying array of projects not only in Bierzo, but also further afield in Leon, Rias Baixas, Ribeira Sacra and even Almansa.
He takes nature very seriously. His priority is to exert the minimum influence on the grape, observing every detail in the soil, each nuance of climate and grape variety, allowing the wine to express itself without touching it, without any additives to transform it, leaving each vintage to modify itself. This method of working leaves an unmistakable stamp on his wines, ideal for drinking from the moment they are put on the market but, after 15 or 20 years in the bottle, continuing to show character and freshness.
Raúl was named 'Winemaker of the Year' by German publication Der Feinschmecker in 2014 and 'Best Winemaker in the World' in 2015 by the French publication Bettane+Desseauve. In the February 2019 Decanter, Pedro Ballesteros MW wrote, “Raúl Pérez is the archetype of the intuitive winemaking genius”, and asked "Is this the world's best winemaker?" Raúl would certainly not self-apply any of these superlatives. In fact, his genius is far exceeded by his humility and generosity of spirit. That humility comes through in his wines. These are not “winemaker” wines so much as they are unadulterated expressions of the villages and vineyards from which they hail. Rarely are more than 900 to 1500 bottles of Raúl's wine produced, and many of his labels are one-offs, highly lauded on release and then never to be seen again!
The Ultreia range was the first label produced by Raúl under his own name, and continues to present his finest expressions of Mencia and Godello each year. Ultreia is a latin word meaning 'we go further'. The vineyards for this project are all found in Raúl's home village of Valtuille in Bierzo. Wherever it occurs naturally, Raúl will embrace the unconventional: the Ultreia cellar has a particular strain of yeast in the atmosphere, which enables a flor to develop and insulate the wines, red and white, without the need for sulphur or technology. The five Ultreia reds are Mencia dominant single-vineyard field blends, from vines ranging from 40 to over 130 years old. A large range of other grape varieties, many still unknown, are co-planted with Mencia throughout the region. Fruit is hand-picked, whole bunch, wild yeast fermented and handling is minimal. All wines spend extended time on skins - normally 90 days or longer. Ageing is always in old oak. No sulphur is used during the winemaking process, save for a small addition just prior to bottling for some cuvees.
Ultreia Rapolao and Ultreia Petra are the finest wines in the range, and represent the highest expression of the Mencia grape and of the Bierzo region itself.
Ultreia Petra Mencia 2015
From a distinct, tiny plot of 800 Mencia vines on slate soil that are over 120 years old, just 500 bottles are produced each year.
Ultreia El Rapolao Mencia 2015
El Rapolao is perhaps the most famous single plot in Valtuille. The ancient 2 hectare vineyard sits on a steep north-facing hillside with clay soil.
Ultreia La Claudina Godello 2014
From a tiny 0.3 hectare vineyard planted on sandy soil in 1995. One single fudre is produced each year. The ultimate focus here is on preserving acidity, as Godello can get blowsy and even a little sloppy if overripened. So this is picked on the knife edge of ripeness, and as such the resulting wine only reaches about 11.8% alcohol. Spontaneous fermentation occurs and, in the spring, a protective layer of flor develops. The 2015 remained in fudre for nearly two years before bottling without fining or filtration. The nose shows notes of rich butter, honey, toasted baguette, cherry blossom and a smoky finish. On the palate, Ultreia La Claudina has persistent and fresh acidity, with marked nuances of grapefruit. It is a very long white wine with the clear signature of Raúl Pérez.
Los Arrotos Del Pendon 2015
A truly unique wine in the Raúl Pérez stable. Made from an ancient two hectare parcel the native Prieto Picudo grape variety, growing at 900 metres altitude near Léon. No grapes are de-stemmed - this is whole bunch only. After a three month pre-fermentation maceration, fermentation occurs with natural yeasts in neutral concrete. This wine then ages for 24 months in 500L oak barrels. The most remarkable thing is that the wine is not touched during this time. Luis Gutierrez from The Wine Advocate - "Raúl Pérez told me that the secret to tame this variety is to age the wine under a veil of yeasts à la Sherry or Jura, even though it sounds weird. I have heard of other reds aged under flor, but this is the first time I have heard that it not only helps to age the wine and protect it without the use of sulfur but also that it polishes the tannins (it polymerises them). There you go!” The resulting wine is supremely intense, but also exceptionally clean. The flor that develops during ageing does an amazing job of protecting the wine, but does not impart any of its own flavours. It has meaty and smoky aromas, reminiscent of cassis, stone fruit, chocolate, violet and blackberry. It is an opulent wine in the mouth, very well formed, encompassing and textural with powerful acidity. This wine will evolve majestically over many, many years.