The Wines of Alvaro Palacios – Part 2 – Bierzo

Alvaro Palacios makes complex and compelling wine in 3 very different Spanish wine regions – Priorat, Bierzo, and Rioja.  The Wines of Alvaro Palacios – Part 1- Priorat discusses Alvaro’s Priorat wines, and this post will cover the wines of Descendientes de J. Palacios in Bierzo.


Courtesy of WikipediaLocated in northwestern Spain, Bierzo has all the ‘ingredients’ Alvaro Palacios believes are necessary to create great wine – steep slopes, distinctive terroirs, ancient vines – so in 1999, he and his nephew, Ricardo Perez, started to make wine there.  The project was named Descendientes de J. Palacios, as an homage to José Palacios, Alvaro’s father and Ricardo’s grandfather.

The area is beautiful.  The verdant landscape and castle-studded hills undoubtedly contributed to Alvaro and Ricardo’s love for the region.  The soil in vineyards in the western part of the region, the location of the Descendientes de J. Palacios’ vineyards, are ancient, mineral-rich slate which are helpful in regulating water.


The Mencia grape is the star of Bierzo.  For a long time, Mencia was thought to be directly related to Cabernet Franc, but DNAMencia vines profiling has recently proven that this is not the case. They did, however, discover that Mencia is the same as Jaen, a grape variety that can be found growing in Dao, Portugal.  The reputation of Mencia is on the rise, and some believe that it is one of Spain’s 4 greatest grape varieties.  Mencia can be made in a variety of different styles, from easy-drinking fruity wines to more complex, long-lived versions.

Tasting Notes of Decendientes de J. Palacios:

Petalos del Bierzo 2010:  Alvaro described the cool and dry 2010 vintage as being “the vintage of enchantment”.  The grapes are from 4 villages in the region and are a blend of both purchased and estate fruit.  This may be an entry level wine, but it definitely shows the quality of all Palacios’ wines with a fragrance of violets, blueberry, plum, and a minerality that is reminiscent of lead pencils.  A creamy texture and fuzzy tannins on the palate and a good length.  $26

Villa de Corullon, Bierzo 2009:  Grapes are from steeply-sloped vineyards in the village of Corullon.  Complex aromas of dried herbs, dark raspberry, cherry, blueberry, rose petals, and cinnamon.  Very fruit forward on the palate with quite concentrated fruit flavours, a firm structure and a long length.  $49

Las Lamas, Bierzo 2009:  Grapes are from the single vineyard of Las Lamas located about 750 m above sea level.  This vineyard is very low yielding at around 9 hl/ha which, in part explains the price of this wine.  Intense perfume of ripe dark plum, juicy blackberry, spice and flowers.  Very concentrated with a velvetty texture and a lingering length.  $116

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The Wines of Alvaro Palacios – Part 1 – Priorat

The Wines of Alvaro Palacios – Part 1 – Priorat

Alvaro PalaciosAlvaro Palacios’ name seems to be on every Spanish wine lover’s lips these days and it’s no wonder – this exciting winemaker makes outstanding and compelling wines.  Born in a Rioja winery into a family with 350 years experience in the wine industry, wine is definitely and passionately coursing through his veins.  Some see him as a visionary and even as a revolutionary of Spanish wine, and while the wines of Alvaro Palacios are modern, they also show a deep respect for tradition and the unique terroir of each of his vineyards.

Alvaro currently makes wine in 3 very different Spanish wine regions – Priorat, Rioja, and Bierzo. There are certain ingredients Alvaro believes are necessary to make great wines and he looks for these when deciding on a new region to grow and craft his wines.  He believes that a monastic or religious background is very important. “Monks brought viticulture to a spiritual level,” he says, and he adds that the old monasteries “add a sense of mystery to the place.”

A traditional culture in the region is also important.  Alvaro told the crowd of wine professionals in Toronto earlier this week that “a traditional culture along with a special site makes magical wines.”  He has returned to traditional methods of cultivation by using an organic approach and by reverting to bush-trained vines, which he feels do better in the hot Spanish sun.

He admires French winemakers who understand the importance of vineyard sites, or crus, and who have developed some of these sites for centuries, which is why Alvaro is attracted to sites with very old vines.


After Alvaro studied winemaking in France, most notably at Bordeaux’s Ch. Petrus, he began making wine in Priorat, an hour and a half drive south of Barcelona, Spain and an hour west of the Mediterranean Sea.  He was attracted to the area because of the rugged beauty of the place, the ancient monastery, the old vines, the steep slopes, and the slate soil.  Rene Barbier, an important Priorat winemaker who had asked him to join a new vineyard project in Priorat, made the region even more attractive.  He couldn’t refuse such an offer.  It was 1989 and Alvaro describes Priorat as being a “diamond in the rough.”  In 1993, he bought L’Ermita, the vineyard that produces the grapes that go into his flagship wine of the same name.  Unfortunately, we did not taste L’Ermita at this event.

Alvaro Palacios Camins del PrioratCamins del Priorat 2010: This wine is made with grapes from relatively young vines and are sourced from 7 different villages.  A small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon is added to the Garnacha and it was aged for 8 months in wooden vats and barrels.  This wine is full of red berry fruit with spice and fennel.  Soft and silky on the palate with rich red fruit and a strawberry finish.  Good length. $26

Alvaro Palacios Les TerrassesLes Terrasses 2010 Priorat:  The vines are older (about 75 years old) and as Alvaro says, “Old vines have wisdom.”   The grapes are grown in the same 7 villages as the Camins wine but there is also more Carignan added to the blend.  Rich aromas of ripe red fruit, black licorice, fennel, and spice.  More concentrated than the Camins and with a firmer structure.  Long finish.  $45

Alvaro Palacios GratallopsGratallops 2010 Priorat:  This is a Village Appellation wine and the grapes are sourced from 6 vineyards in the village.  The 2010 vintage we tasted is still in barrel (it will be bottled sometime in the next couple of months after spending approximately 16 months in barrel.)  The blend is about 60% Garnacha with Carignan making up the rest.  This wine is very fragrant with aromas of blueberry, red plum, spice, pink flowers, vanilla, and a hint of dill and fennel.  This is still a very young wine and the somewhat aggressive tannins will mellow with time.  Very concentrated and balanced with creamy vanilla on the long finish.  An excellent wine.  $66

Alvaro Palacios Finca DofiFinca Dofi 2009 Priorat:  A single vineyard wine made up of 80% Garnacha with the remainder being Cabernet and Syrah.  The nose is very complex with a perfume of strawberry, cherry, turkish delight, cinnamon, cardamon, and a hint of mint.  Concentrated and velvetty on the palate with rich fruit flavours and spice.  Beautifully balanced with a finish that lingers seemingly forever. $99

The wines of Alvaro Palacios are available in Ontario through Woodman Wines and Spirits.

Wednesday’s WoW! – Carlos Serres Rioja Gran Reserva 2001

Ten Years Young

Carlos Serres Rioja Gran Reserva 2001It’s very unusual to see older vintages at the LCBO so when I saw this 10 year old Carlos Serres Rioja Gran Reserva at Vintages for only $27.95 I just had to buy it.  I wasn’t disappointed. Its captivating, complex, and mature aromas had me hooked from the start.  (Interestingly, there is another 2001 Rioja Gran Reserva right now as well, Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva 2001.  I have not yet tried it.)

Bodegas Carlos Serres

The story of Carlos Serres is an interesting one.  He was born in France in 1862 and went on to become one of France’s best wine consultants.  At the end of the 19th century, the vineyards of France were being devastated by phylloxera, so Carlos set out to find an area outside of France that would be able to produce wines of great quality.  He soon discovered that the area around the city of Haro, Spain had similar geography and climate to that of the best areas in Bordeaux.  In 1896 Bodegas Carlos Serres was founded in Haro, with a focus on a new style of Spanish wine with a Bordeaux influence.  Determined to bring the elegant wines of Rioja to the rest of the world, Carlos Serres was the first Bodegas in Rioja to be registered as an ‘export merchant’.  Carlos was the founder of the ‘Rioja Wine Exporter’s Syndicate’, the forerunner of today’s ‘Consejo Regulador’, making him one of the pioneers of the Rioja wines we know today.

Rioja 2001

The 2001 vintage is one of the best vintages ever in Rioja.  The DOCa Rioja Control Board Plenary awarded the 2001 vintage “Excellent”, the highest rating possible.  This decision was made after the spectacular results of the DOCa approval process that all wines must undergo in order to label themselves as DOCa Rioja.  Up to 2001, only 9 vintages in the last century had been awarded an “Excellent” rating, the most recent being 1995, 1994, and 1982.  Since 2001 there have been 3 more: 2004, 2005, and most recently 2010.

Carlos Serres Gran Reserva Winemaking

Carlos Serres Gran Reserva is a blend of 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, and 5% Mazuelo (aka Carignan).  All the grapes are hand-picked from vines that are an average of 30 years old.  The wine was aged for 36 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels, with a further 36 months in bottle before being released (the minimum ageing requirement for Gran Reservas is 5 years, including 2 years in barrel).

Tasting Notes

Carlos Serres Rioja Gran Reserva 2001 is a medium garnet colour with mature, earthy aromas of leather, earth, mushroom, vanilla, red plum, dried fig, and sweet spice.  Medium-bodied, with an alluring silky texture, fine, well-integrated tannins, and a long, lingering finish.  Ready to drink now.  Enjoy with cinnamon-spiced venison, roasted pork with mushroom risotto, or aged cheeses.

A 9 Course Dinner Paired with Sherry

On March 24, 2011, I attended a dinner called, “A Night of Sherry” organized by the Spanish Wine Society and held at Earth Restaurant in Toronto.  The special guest speaker was César Saldaña, the Director General of the Consejo Regulador (the regulating council) of Jerez and Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Sherry has long been misunderstood as the sticky brown drink found on our grandmother’s sideboard and typically poured as an aperitif before some special occasion.  In fact, the cream Sherries we are most familiar with are generally not found in Spain’s restaurants.  They’re mostly reserved for the export market.  There are many different styles of Sherry, from light, refreshing and bone-dry, all the way to sweet, thick, and syrupy.  People outside of Spain are finally beginning to realize what the Spaniards have always known – that Sherry is a diverse wine that pairs beautifully with a number of dishes.  Until “A Night of Sherry”, I had never experienced Sherry paired with an entire dinner.  The dinner was excellent, and it really opened my eyes as to the types of food that can be served with Sherry.  See the Tasting Menu below.  For more information on Spanish wines go to Wines from Spain.

Sherry Styles:

Sherry comes in a range of styles and a range of sweetness levels.  Some Sherry is completely dry as a result of the must being fermented completely dry before the wine is fortified.  The difference in each type of Sherry has to do with the ageing process they undergo in a solera system.

Dry Styles: Made from Palomino grapes

Fino:  Dry, light, and refreshing with a very pale colour.  These wines are aged under a veil of flor (yeast) and are fortified to 15 to 16% alcohol. It is said they are aged biologically because the yeast protects the wine from oxygen. Aromas and flavours of almonds, minerals, fresh bread, and brine are usually evident.

Manzanilla:  A Fino wine made in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where the veil of flor is thicker.

Amontillado:  Starts out as a Fino Sherry but loses its flor, either naturally or by being fortified to a higher level thereby killing the yeast, and then is aged oxidatively because there is no yeast to protect the wine from oxygen.  The wine turns amber in colour due to exposure to the air.  True Amontillados are dry wines and have delicately pungent aromas of hazelnuts, aromatic herbs, and tobacco.

Palo Cortado: Wines that were originally pre-selected to become Fino or Amantillado Sherries but never developed the flor and ending up ageing completely oxidatively in an Oloroso style.  Palo Cortados are the rarest kinds of Sherry and have the elegance of an Amontillado with the power and body of an Oloroso. It has the aromas of an Amontillado with the taste profile of an Oloroso.

Oloroso: This wine is aged completely without flor in an oxidative environment.  The colour can range from dark amber to a deep mahogany colour.  It has a distinct aromas of walnuts, tobacco, leather, spice, dried leaves, and a balsamic note, with a fuller body and an elegant finish.  Oloroso can be dry or it can have a degree of sweetness.

Blended Styles:

Dry wines are occasionally blended with sweet wines to produce Sherries with varying degrees of sweetness.

Cream: This style was created for the sweet-toothed British market by Harvey’s and Harvey’s Bristol Cream has become the most successful Sherry brand in the world.  This is a sweet wine made from Oloroso with naturally sweet wine added.  Aromas of dried fruit, nugat, caramel, and toast are evident.

Sweet Natural Wines: Made from Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez grapes.

After the grapes are picked they are spread out and left to raisin in the sun.  As water is evaporated, the sugar content and concentration in the grapes increases. After 7 to 14 days, the grapes are pressed and fermentation takes place very slowly due to the very high sugar levels in the must.  Fermentation does not finish.  The resulting sweet wine is then fortified to about 15-17%.

Pedro Ximenez: A very dark ebony colour.  The wine is sticky and dense with aromas of sweet dried fruit (figs, raisins, dates), coffee, dark chocolate, and cocoa.

Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria):  these grapes are bigger so the sun tends to dry them out a bit less.  The resulting wine is very sweet with floral (jasmine, orange blossom, honeysuckle) and citrus aromas with a bitter finish.



Bodegas Gutierrez Colosia Fino

Toasted Marcona Almond Soup and Acadian Sturgeon Caviar

(*An excellent pairing – the saltiness of the caviar worked amazingly with the Fino.)


Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana

Nova Scotia Diver Scallop, Shaved Fennel, and Local Saffron Emulsion


Bodegas Sanchez Romate Amontillado NPU

Cured Eversprings farm Duck Ham, Niagara Black Walnuts, Cherry Mostarda

(*The smoked duck went very well with the Amontillado – smoke can be difficult to pair with wines but it goes really well with Sherry.)


Bodegas Tradicion Palo Cortado VORS

Lake Huron Whitefish, Lobster and Smoked Tomato broth, Monforte Toscano Crostini

(*Again, the smoked broth marries the wine and food together.  Amazing!)


Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Alfonso

Seared Albacore Tuna, Blonde Frisee, Bacon Lardons, Meyer Lemon Oil


Williams and Humbert Medium Dry Sack

2nd Wind Farms Elk Carpaccio with Thunder Oak Gouda Mousse


Sandeman, Cream Sandeman Armada

Maple Cured Foie Gras Torchon, Compressed Pear, and Black Pepper Brioche


Lustau Pedro Ximenez

Ontario Stilton Blue Cheese, Red Fife Crisp, Lambs Lettuce


Williams and Humbert PX VOS Don Guido

Smoked Coco Nib Ice Cream, Espelette Pepper, and Dark Chocolate Ganache

Other foods that can go well with Sherry: asparagus, artichoke, vinaigrette salads (Fino), mushroom or beef based soups (Amontillado).

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