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Part 6 of the Spanish Series – Armas de Guerra from Vinos Guerra in Bierzo

logoIn the northwest corner of Spain, the country is surrounded on three sides by the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean.  To the south lies Portugal, and to the northeast lies France.  This area is known as ‘Green Spain’.  Green Spain’s cool and misty climate forces more attention on grapes which require shorter growing seasons and ripen early, especially white varieties. Some aromatic varieties do very well, with Albariño the most visible, and a current success in international markets. Near the coast Albariño is the dominant grape, and it can vary from crisp with vibrant fruit to smoother and rounder with more subdued fruit. The grape and its resulting wine have become popular in the US.

Other white grapes are grown throughout the region, including Godello and Dona Blanco, which we will see more of later in this article.  As you get away from the coast, and the temperatures rise a bit, you can see red grapes begin to creep into the mix.  The best known red wines in northwest Spain are made from the Mencia grape. Many would believe the grape’s best versions to be found in and around the town of Bierzo.  This is a mountainous region, but the many valleys present a good opportunity to ripen the Mencia grape. Map Graphic Wines range from entirely unoaked to significantly barrel aged, and the usual crianza and reserva designations can be found.

Bierzo is technically situated in the northwest of the province of León, in the Castilla y León region, and you can learn much more about the Bierzo region at: http://www.crdobierzo.es/en/.

The wines for this review come from a venerable winery and an institution in Beirzo.  These are the wines of Vinos Guerra.  To be particular, we’ll be reviewing wines from one of their several labels, that being Armas de Guerra.

Vinos Guerra, founded in 1879, is the oldest winery in the Bierzo region.  The founder, Don Antonio Guerra was a pioneer in many ways.  He was one of the first producers to bottle traditional method sparkling wines in Spain. In addition to wine, Don Antonio also produced a variety of spirits from Agua Ardiente, to Vermouth and Anisettes.

viedo11Today the Guerra winery farms 1/3 of all the vineyards of the Bierzo region, which amount to 1,000ha (2,471 acres), however they only make wine with the best 10% of grapes. This rigorously selective process allows the Guerra wines to pursue the highest quality standards. Different soils and different altitudes allow them to select the best grapes for each wine.  Most of their vineyards are old, with bush vines common.   However, the trellis system (wire-trained vines) is common in younger vineyards.

In addition to being so selective, Guerra possesses some of the oldest Mencia (pronounced Mehn-cee-ah) and Dona Blanca vines in the Bierzo region. The average age of these vines is 50 years, and they can make wines that are able to communicate an impressive sense of

Gnarly old vine

Gnarly old vine

depth and flavor.  All of these vineyards are organic and dry farmed.

In Bierzo, the harvest occurs generally between mid-September and the end of October.  The vineyards ripen unevenly, and the vines under the watch of Vinos Guerra are monitored daily, to determine the exact time to pick.  Different plots are picked on different days as they reach the perfect point.

guerra logoWe have a red and a white from the Armas de Guerra line to taste.  The red is an unoaked wine, a popular style in the area and known for rich color and fruit.  The white is an unusual blend, from a grape you probably have never heard of (actually two!).  Armas de Guerra has both oaked and unoaked reds, as well as white blends and single variety wines worthy of aging.  You can learn more about them at http://vinosguerra.com/armasdeguerra/.

Here they are:

2016 Armas de Guerra Blanco –  here the grapes primarily come from the lower valley of the Bierzo region, in soil comprised of clay and river stones.  This is 85% Dona Blanca and 15% Godello.  A cold maceration takes place for 8 hours prior to fermentation in IMG_2438stainless steel tanks.  That fermentation took 10 days to complete.  It is 100% unoaked.  Our thoughts:

This is very, very light in color and almost clear.  Apple and pear are prominent on the nose, with spice as well.  It is clean and crisp throughout, with good texture, some minerality and a wonderful lemony tang at the back end.  A little citrus actually presents itself from start to finish.  It finishes long.  This wine is delicious and different.  It comes at a suggested retail of $12 or so, and it is worth looking for.  Value List selection for sure.

2015 Armas de Guerra Tinto – the vineyards where the grapes for this wine are grown are in both the lower valleys as well as the mountains, with an average elevation of 1800 ft.  Prior to fermentation the grapes were cold macerated for 3-5 days.  Eventually IMG_2439fermentation occurred in stainless steel tanks for 10 days, followed by malolactic fermentation for another 7 days.  Not a drop of this has seen oak at any point.  What did we think?

The wine is dark red, with some garnet tones, and transparent.  On the nose there is dark, ripe berry fruit, red licorice, floral and savory notes.  This is complex.  On the palate there is rich, fresh and ripe fruit, and Cheri picked up chocolate immediately.  The tannins build throughout, and the mid-palate really soars with fruit into a long, long finish.  It has good balance as the acid keeps it fresh.  This wine is different and excellent.  It is also at a $12 suggested retail.  Another selection for our Value List.

The Mencia, Dona Blanca and Godello grapes which make up these wines are traditional to the area, and have a long history.  We asked what makes these grapes special, and the winemakers at Vinos Guerra provided the following insights into what they feel typifies the characteristics of the Mencia and Dona Blanca:

‘The hallmark of both Mencia and Dona Blanca is their capability to communicate minerality. The Dona Blanca has a thread of “transparency,” which makes it very appealing to work with, despite it being a neutral grape’. 

‘For Mencia, I like to talk about the aforementioned minerality, as well as the enormous spectrum of styles it can make depending on where it’s grown. It can be delicate and high-toned, or it can be powerful and structured, dependent in large part on climate and soil. In that way it’s very much a terroir driven varietal’.

‘You can also talk about the fact that although both are quite high in acidity, they each show beautiful texture and a nearly fleshy element- again a result of that mineral presence regardless of vineyard site’. 

‘Dona Blanca also has incredible ageing potential and takes on gorgeous tertiary characteristics more often seen in age-worthy whites from France’

Clearly the skilled craftsmen who make these wines consider the grapes a canvas, and they create their masterpieces after each harvest.

The wines from the Armas de Guerra line are imported to the U.S. by Ole Imports.  Ole began in 1999 with just 3 wines. Their unique portfolio of Spanish wines has now grown to over 100 wines today. The company has searched the Spanish peninsula for wines that share four fundamental elements: terroir, quality fruit, exceptional winemaking and last but not least, wines that present an exceptional value.  You can learn much more about Ole Imports on their website: http://www.oleimports.com/.

To see the previous installment in this series on Spanish wineries and regions click here.

To go to the first article in the series click here.

Next we’ll go to the southeast, and back to the river.  It’s time for Ribera del Duero.

A votre santé!

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