Although my main focus is to find the most authentic and expressive producers of native varietals all around Europe, I also have a strong respect for the heritage of each region and the commitment of families who have persevered to continue their viticultural activities. A supreme example of the latter is the mere existence of Bodegas Estevez over what is now four generations of twists and turns, along with unfortunately a long period of turmoil in Spain.
Grape growing for the Estevez family began in Bierzo in the early 20th century starting with the great-grandfather Ramon. The economic difficulties in Spain after the first World War then resulted in Ramon immigrating to Brazil to find work but to continue his connection with his family's land and heritage, he would use his savings to continue adding to the family's vineyard parcels in Bierzo.
During such difficult times, his wife and children remained in Bierzo, including his son Antonio who would develop into a prolific writer. The next twist and turn and turmoil in Spain happened during the Spanish Civil war and where, Antonio, as a thoughtful and intelligent writer, was opposed to the Franco regime and was forced to escape from Bierzo shortly before he would have been arrested and he then immigrated to Mexico. Continuing the heritage of his father, however, he ensured that his family's vineyard holdings remained intact until a hopefully better time.
The third generation, led by Antonio's son Helios, who even after also immigrating to Mexico to meet his exiled father, continued the family's ownership of its vineyards and he was also a prolific poet. The fourth generation which is led by Helios's son, Helio, along with his siblings Carlos, Nandy, and Laura, then made the decision around 20 years ago to transition from selling the grapes from their vineyards each year into making wine. An interesting history of the family is also on a YouTube video.
What has evolved is a state of the art winery that is making very expressive wines. The literary tradition of the family has also continued in both the brand name of the wines ("Versos", or verses) and the addition of Helos's poetry about Bierzo to the label of each wine. And so, with a family's twists and turns, which at any challenge along the way could have resulted in the long ago vineyards purchased with Ramon's savings being abandoned, as has happened in many areas of Spain, the family has persevered and has remained a steadfast guardian of its heritage.
For the initial wine selections, I have chosen two Mencias and one Godello. During my visit to the winery this year, however, I also found a significant amount of "buried treasured" in the form of spectacular limited production Mencia cuvees from individual vineyard parcels that are maturing in casks that I would hope to import when they are released in the future.
Finally, however, a small amount about Bierzo itself. Although part of the administrative region of Castilla y Leon, its location in the mountainous northwest corner of the region results in there being no similarities to the dry, dusty plains of Toro, Rueda, and the Ribera del Duero.
The other significant difference is that Mencia is the main red grape instead of Tempranillo in most of Castilla y Leon. In the natural bowl of Bierzo between mountain ranges there is lots of clay in the soil but from the surrounding mountains, there are also significant deposits of granite and slate which add minerality to the wines. The resulting combination with Mencia, with its red and black fruit character along with good acidity and tannins, can make very interesting and expressive wines.
Various views of the Estevez vineyards, which all have vines of at least 90 years old
A 100 year old Mencia vine
A view of the mountains around Bierzo
A state of the art winery perfect for Mencia
Barrel tasting requires agility!
Versos Godello 2020 (OF, NF)
Aromas include honeysuckle, white flowers, camellia, clover honey, and a hint of jasmine. Flavors include green apples, pear, and honeydew melon. There is a medium to full body, good balance and acidity, and a full refreshing and minerally finish.
Food pairings would include shrimp, scallops, sea bass, branzino, seafood soups, pasta, and salads, veal, pork, chicken, sausages, light pasta dishes, Asian noodles and vegetable salads, Thai food, and green salads.
Versos Mencia Joven 2019 (OF, NF)
Aromas include blackberries, dark cherries, and boysenberries. Flavors include blackberries, boysenberries, and dark chocolate. There is a medium body but with a feeling of more “weight” across the palate, good balance and acidity, and a full, persistent, and minerally finish.
Food pairings would include filet mignon, New York steak, beef stew, pork chops, pork shoulder, tuna, tapas, grilled chicken, Asian and Mexican beef, pork, and chicken dishes, lamb curry, Indian Tandoori dishes, charcuterie, and rich cheeses.
Versos Cepas Centenarias 2018 (OF, NF)
The “Cepas Centenarias” cuvee is from vineyards that all have vines of at least 100 years of age. Aromas include rich dark plums, dark cherries, dark chocolate, vanilla, and a hint of blackberries. Flavors include an inky and saturated sensation of dark plums, dark cherries, and boysenberries. There is a medium to full body, good balance and acidity, and a full, persistent, and minerally finish.
Food pairings would include Rib Eye steak, short ribs, beef stew, veal chops, pork chops, pork shoulder, sausages, tapas, Asian beef and pork dishes, Mexican beef, pork, and chicken dishes, and charcuterie.