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Bierzo 2023 – Discovering Wines of Outstanding Value

Songbird Wines is delighted to offer exclusively in the UK the outstanding wines from Bodegas Madai based in Bierzo, a region that is getting increasing interest in the wine world due to its exceptional terroir producing both red and white wines that offer elegance, complexity and outstanding value. In March I visited the region and (eventually) discovered the exceptional wines offered below. I say eventually as it wasn’t all plain sailing as you will find out.

The wine region of Bierzo sits in the northwest of the Castello y Leon, bordering Galicia. This is the land of the Mencia grape for reds and our trusty friend Godello for whites and is home to some of the oldest vines in the country. It is very much ‘Green Spain’ with the cooler climate producing wines of charming texture and excellent freshness. The white grape Godello is fast becoming Spain’s most sought after white grape variety due to winemakers like Rafael Palacios (based in neighbouring Valdeorras) producing wines that have taken the international wine market by storm. The Mencia grape has also had a meteoric rise to fame over the last few years (due to the likes of Álvaro Palacios and Raúl Pérez) with Bierzo becoming looked upon as the Burgundy of Spain with its cooler climate producing wines of elegance and great finesse, plus a similar classification system to famous French region that is based on single vineyards and village locations. Bierzo is certainly a region that’s going places and luckily still represents terrific value. It’s a place I needed to visit and in early March I scratched that itch.

I made the trip with Mike Best MW and our main focus being to see if we could find something wonderful that isn’t already available in the UK. We tasted a lot of wines, some which were very good, others that were quite, err, let’s say challenging, but after winery visit number three, we hadn’t quite discovered anything that had the magic we were looking for. As it got past lunchtime on our second day it was cold and wet in Bierzo. We had one winery visit left and another trip to the vineyards in a 4X4 with limited suspension beckoned. Over the past 24 hours I had seen more old vines than I thought could possibly exist and, as lunch was still a distant prospect, energy levels were beginning to slip. And then we met Gonzalo Amigo, owner of Bodegas Madai, and our spirits miraculously lifted.

Gonzalo is one of life’s optimists, incredibly likeable and I can think of few people I’d rather spend time in Bierzo with when I visit again. Along with owning a winery, he is also an emergency Doctor – so in one job he saves lives and in the other, he enriches them. He and his brother Daniel hadn’t really considered owning a winery, but when the option of either selling or recovering their grandparents’ vineyards came up, they felt the latter was the only choice and Bodegas Madai was born. Now the name of this winery may ring a bell with some of you as it was their wine – the 2020 Sobre Lias Godello – which caused quite a storm at a Decanter Magazine tasting of Godellos last year where it came second place only to Rafa Palacios’ Sorte O Soro – not bad for a wine that was over £200 less per bottle! It seems like this was just the tip of the iceberg though as Gonzalo presented one superb wine after another, all offering exceptional value for the quality of what was in the bottle.

If life couldn’t get any better, we then made a short trip to a rustic local restaurant for that elusive lunch and here the wines just stepped up another level. Apart from their quality and drinkability, the one thing that set them apart from others we had tasted was the relatively low alcohol content they had. We had been tasting both whites and reds at 14.5-15% alcohol, but these were sitting at 13-13.5%, how did Gonzalo achieve this? “Well,” he said in his affable manor, “it’s quite simple, longer and cooler fermentation. You take your time and, you extract the flavours but not the excessive alcohol.” Judging by other wines we’d tasted this seems to be a secret he’s keeping mainly to himself. Another striking characteristic, particularly in the whites, was an overriding richness despite a minimal use of oak. The Sobre Lias Godello is all stainless steel and the Atlantic Godello (for me, the wine of the tasting) was aged for 12 months in old oak Foudres (large oak cask) but only 50% of the wine with the other 50% in stainless steel. As lunch progressed and the wines developed further, it occurred to me that these wines were a serious discovery as both the whites and reds were by far the best we had tasted on the trip (and this includes our visit earlier that day to a winery owned by a world-famous wine consultant).

As we left the restaurant Mike and I caught each other’s eye and smiled, we were thinking the same thing – “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” Although this George A. Moore quote isn’t entirely accurate, it certainly seemed appropriate as we had visited wineries that were new to us but found what we wanted with the producer we already had a connection with.

So, all of the wines below (excluding the Mencia Origin) are currently only available in the UK with Songbird Wines. The bulk of the wine was sold pre-shipment so availability is limited. There is an excellent mixed case offer on the wines that gives you a sizable discount.

 

 

 

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