Alvarez de Toledo
El Bierzo, pocketed away in Spain’s northwest province of Léon, is a region comfortable in its own skin and, more often than not, has danced to its own beat. One of its foremost producers, Álvarez de Toledo, is arguably a microcosm of this achingly beautiful place: idiosyncratic, rich in history, proud of its traditions and mindful of its legacy.
Encircled by mountains, the dramatic terrain, which is home to Álvarez de Toledo, certainly befits a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has also acted as a partial barrier over the years, shielding the region from excessive external influences, thus allowing it to cultivate its own identity and culture. This strength of personality is exemplified by its calling card, the Mencía grape, which is now certainly having its moment in the sun having been something of a relative unknown on the international scene.
Wine has long been an intrinsic part of the region’s character and it was a vital driver of its economic rebirth in the late 1990s; however the Álvarez de Toledo family has been Bierzo residents for a good while longer. Its presence spans more than five centuries, the first notable moment being in 1472 when the Count Don Garcia Alvarez de Toledo was granted the title of Duke of Alba by Henry IV of Castile.
Three decades later, in 1514, his grandson Pedro Alvarez de Toledo y Zuñiga, who later became Viceroy of Naples, married in the town of Ponferrada Doña Maria Pimentel-Osorio, daughter of the Marquis of Villafranca del Bierzo, thus linking the Alvarez de Toledo family to the region of El Bierzo to this day.
In order to understand their project, as well as the great family tradition in viticulture, we must remember Don Luis Varela Alvarez de Toledo, who maintained a close relationship with the vineyards and the wine. Thanks to him they are able to present wines directly from the most intimate interpretation of wine production in El Bierzo region and guarantee its projection in the future. His mother, Sara Alvarez de Toledo, was born in Villafranca del Bierzo and her sister Amancia was a nun in the closed order convent of The Anunciada. They represented the last generations linked to the vineyards. His daughter, Angelines Varela Mazon y Alvarez de Toledo, is responsible for the project of recuperating the family vineyards, several of which are over 100 years old.
Today the estate is overseen by Ángeles Varela Mazón Álvarez de Toledo, who has upheld and fine-tuned the viticultural traditions of her forebears – particularly the work of her father and grandmother – and initiated a thorough revitalising of the family’s vineyards. Mencía is the star of the show (ably supported by Godello) and here it is planted 420–500m above sea level, entirely hand-harvested, and the vines are predominantly between 40 and 60 years old.
Ángeles Varela Mazón Álvarez de Toledo has taken her family’s multi-generational know-how and from these plots concentrated it into a streamlined collection of just three wines: a vibrant, perfumed, drink-young Godello; an oak-aged Mencía that is aged for ten months in a combination of small French and American oak barrels, and finally the Colección de Familia which is a limited-release cuvée matured for ten months in French wood and where the fruit is taken from vines which are all between 60 and 80 years old, other than a small number which are over 100 years old.
This is a wine that encapsulates both Álvarez de Toledo’s talent at its disposal in the cellar, as well as the impeccable quality of the raw material on its land, certainly in the eyes of judges at the 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards where it won a Platinum medal, remarking: “Clearly, there was real ambition here to make something smart and now we have the results. The texture is bewitching and this is winemaking of the highest order.”
“Mencía, is perfectly suited to both its climate and environment,” Álvarez de Toledo says. “The ancestral use of this grape, generation after generation, has resulted in a natural selection, and along with the reduced production of bunches because of their age, makes Mencía the most suitable variety for producing red wines of great character and loyalty to our terroir.”
“Being situated in a valley our climate is mild and humid, and our land has a special microclimate which is ideally suited to the agriculture of the area” describes Álvarez de Toledo. “The soils are composed of a mixture of fine elements such as quartz and slate. They catch water coming from the mountains down into the valleys and the vineyards are planted mainly on humid, dark soil which, being slightly acidic and low in carbonates, is typical of humid climates.”
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