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Bodegas Mengoba

Bye Bye Bordeaux: Dazzling, Authentic Bierzo from High Country Spain

The region of Bierzo missed much of the industrialisation that Europe went through post- WW2. The extreme landscape was too difficult to mechanise, and there was simply no interest in this remote area until a clutch of winemakers realised the remarkable potential of the high altitudes, old vines and quartz- and slate-rich soils.

Bordeaux native Grégory Pérez launched his career with Grand-Puy-Lacoste and also worked at Cos d’Estournel before travelling to Bierzo on the advice of a friend. What he found in the wild mountains of Bierzo would change his life forever. After acclimatising at Luna Beberide, he launched Mengoba in 2007.

Following organic principles, Pérez farms a patchwork of old vines on the hillside vineyards of Valtuille, Villafranca del Bierzo and Carracedo. Head-pruned Mencía and Godello are the key varieties, with smaller holdings of Alicante Bouschet, Estaladiña and Doña Blanca, often all interplanted within the same vineyard.

“You know, it’s always the crazy guys that make the best wine,” Pérez told us on our last visit to Bierzo. “Jose- Luis Mateo [Muradella], people say, he’s that crazy guy in Monterrei. Fernando in Ribera Sacra [Algueira] is another crazy guy, and here, people say I am the crazy guy.” Gregory Perez, winemaker

Yet it is the work in the slate-rich highlands of Espanillo that Pérez (and Mengoba) has become most associated with. Espanillo’s steeply sloping vineyards sit at the head of the River Cúa at an altitude of 850 metres and count among the highest in Bierzo. The rocky, fragmented slate and decomposed shale soils—and old vines—beget Mengoba’s most vivid and pungently mineral cuvées. Perhaps the most prized parcel is La Vigne de Sancho Martín, an isolated, 80-year-old plot. This vineyard looks more like a quarry—it’s incredibly stony, with the old trunks of Mencía and Godello protruding from a carpet of craggy fragmented schist.

In the vines, Pérez’s artisanal work can only be described as tenacious—or the work of a madman. These challenging, remote vineyards are ploughed by oxen or ancient caterpillar tractors, and Pérez’s brand of organic viticulture requires exhaustive work by hand. The high altitude, shifting pure-slate soils, and the steep uneven terrain makes for slow and often treacherous work. Indeed, several years ago, Pérez flipped his tractor and was lucky to survive the experience.

We’re pleased to say that all this inspiring grower’s hard work has been compensated by a stunning portfolio of wines. The new winery in San Juan de Carracedo allows Pérez to utilise the large-format oak he now favours, as well as a growing collection of clay jars and amphorae (and even two ancient sherry botas). With these systematic improvements, Pérez believes his wines are taking on more precision with each passing year. His goal is, and always has been, to make authentic wine with the most profound respect for nature. And the results are dazzling.

Currently Available

Mengoba Brezo Rosado 2015

Mengoba Brezo Rosado 2015

Pérez's delicious, thirst-slaking rosado is drawn from mature vines of Mencía plus a little Godello (for added freshness and texture). The Mencía comes from the clay and limestone soils of the Valtuille and Villafranca vineyards, as well as from the pure slate of Espanillo (the highest vineyard in Bierzo). The Godello grows in the Carracedo vineyard. Both varieties were crushed together and spent 24 hours on skins before pressed into a single, 1800-litre tank for fermentation with indigenous yeasts. A bright, perfumed, racy and punchy, rosado with fabulous energy and freshness, but also with quite a lot of generosity, lively red berry fruit and spicy complexity. Rates very high on the deliciousness scale.

A bright, perfumed, racy and punchy, rosado with fabulous energy and freshness, but also with quite a lot of generosity, lively red berry fruit and spicy complexity. Rates very high on the deliciousness scale.

Mengoba Brezo Rosado 2015
Mengoba Mencía de Espanillo 2019

Mengoba Mencía de Espanillo 2019

The vineyard of Espanillo sits at an altitude of 850 metres and is perhaps the highest in Bierzo. It’s Pérez’s flagship vineyard with rocky, fragmented slate and decomposed shale soils, and older vines that are reaching 90 years of age. As with many Spanish vineyards at this age, the parcel is a mixed planting; essentially Mencía with 15% Garnacha Tintorera, Estaladiña and Godello. Instead of discarding the latter varieties, as many do, Pérez feels they play an essential part in the story of this vineyard and its wine. Not only are the vines very old but the vineyard is also managed the way it was 90 years ago, using ox-drawn plough. With the elevation, aspect and rock-strewn soil, this work is not as romantic as it sounds. This is hard, hard yakka. Today the field blend is fermented with a portion of the white bunches in 5,000 litre French-coopered Grenier foudre and then raised for just under a year in 2,500 litre oak ovals. This is Pérez’s finest example to date; a gorgeously pure, unforced Bierzo with oodles of crunchy plum, anise and black pepper-scented fruit with the silkiest of textures. A lick of earthy mineral here, some smoked meat complexity there; this is the blood of the mountain and a beautiful Spanish red.

Mengoba Mencía de Espanillo 2019
Mengoba Godello Viejo Sobre Lías 2021

Mengoba Godello Viejo Sobre Lías 2021

Pérez’s core white wine is exclusively Godello drawn from a selection of 30- to 40-year-old plots in Cacabelos, Valtuille and Villafranca del Bierzo. The parcels cover a range of soil profiles, including river stones, sandy loam and slate soils, all lying at 550 metres. This wine fermented with wild yeast in wooden foudre and was raised for 10 months on fine lees in two 4,000-litre oval wooden vats. Here is another example of how far Pérez’s white wines have progressed in terms of precision and clarity in recent years. The aging is longer and less reductive than for its younger sibling, which only seems to enhance the sense of smoky minerality—a reflection of the slate and calcareous soil in which the vines grow. It is a complex and stimulating mountain white that is, by turns, grapefruity, fleshy, powdery and savoury. The finish throws up deep, earthy mineral notes and perfumed, mouth-watering length. Again, it packs in much bang for your buck.

Mengoba Godello Viejo Sobre Lías 2021
Mengoba Mencía Alicante Bouschet 2020

Mengoba Mencía Alicante Bouschet 2020

Grégory Pérez’s ‘Mengoba’ bottling is a blend of Mencía, Alicante Bouschet and also contains some white grapes from the field blend found in his old vineyards. The Mencía plots are located in Pérez’s slate-rich Espanillo vineyard at an altitude of 700 metres, where the average age of the vineyard is 80 years old. This wine was wild fermented with 20% whole in 5,000-litre oak vats and matured for 16 months before bottling.

Mengoba Mencía Alicante Bouschet 2020
Mengoba Estaladiña 2021

Mengoba Estaladiña 2021

This obscure variety only just managed to stave off extinction in Bierzo. Traditional thinking suggested that Estaladiña is none other than Jura's Trousseau, more commonly known in northern Iberia as Bastardo or Merenzao. Today, some growers are not so sure; the vines and their grapes look different enough to warrant a challenge to the conventional viewpoint. In modern history, this pale-skinned grape has become rare enough to drop off the list of permitted D.O. varieties in Bierzo—something hard to rationalise as you taste this beautiful, floral, red berry--scented highland red.Pérez’s wine is drawn from one of Bierzo’s few remaining Estaladiña vineyards in the Alto Bierzo, planted 35 years ago in the poor clay, rocky soils of Cacabelos at 540 metres above sea level. The winemaking has evolved in lockstep with Pérez’s understanding of this rare variety. The fruit is now picked earlier, while maceration is more infusion than extraction. Grapes are foot-trodden and ferment as whole bunches in two 400-litre terracotta jars. The wines are raised in the same vessels for 10 months with no added sulphur. The result is a beautiful, floral and delicately spicy expression of the Bierzo highlands and something completely unique. Pérez has nailed this one. Flavours of crushed red berries and wildflowers float across a lacy palate that strikes excellent tension between crisp acidity and light, tender tannins. It finishes with tangy-berry deliciousness and impressive persistence. Elegance, perfume and charm: this has it all. Burgundy and Jura lovers will not be disappointed!

Mengoba Estaladiña 2021
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“Most wine drinkers, I suspect, have never heard of Bierzo, but word is getting around. And if you get the opportunity to taste a good bottle, with its haunting, exotic wildflower, licorice and fruit flavors, you can't help but remember it.” Eric Asimov, The New York Times

“Gregory Pérez is one f@#$ing talented winemaker...” Alice Feiring, The Feiring Line

Country

Spain

Primary Region

Bierzo, Castilla y Leon

People

Winemaker: Grégory Pérez

Availability

National

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