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Spain's Emerging Stars

The big names from Rioja, Cava and Sherry have always dominated the export markets and minds of consumers when it comes to Spanish wine. These stalwarts have their place, and their are jewels in each region, but there is a new, dynamic wave of producers from regions around the country making outstanding wines that are now getting the recognition they deserve. Producers are bringing old vineyards back to life and planting in cooler climates with indigenous varieties - the results are outstanding. Below, we have assembled some of the very best of Spain's emerging stars, ranging from the green coast in the north to the Canary Islands in the south. These are exciting wines made in small volumes which have a terrific sense of place. 

Descendientes de J. Palacios

Although the history of winemaking in Bierzo goes back to the Romans, the story of modern Bierzo really began in 1999, when Alvaro Palacios and his nephew Ricardo Perez - also known as the Descendientes de J. Palacios - arrived in the region and created a revolution akin to what had happened in Priorat a decade earlier. The Palacios project produces a portfolio of Mencia-based wines that follows a Burgundian, terroir-driven model of regional, village and single vineyard wines of equivalent premier and grand cru quality.

The regional blend, Petalos, is a superb everyday drinker, offering powerful floral aromatics and a soft yet vibrant palate. Villa de Corullon, the village wine, is arguably the sweet spot for the experiencing the Palacios magic. Those seeking the best of the best should look at the exclusive, site-specific tiny volume bottlings – Las Lamas, Faraona and Moncerbal. This estate was once described by the Wine Advocate's Luis Gutierrez as "the most coherent, reliable and serious wine project in Spain. Simply breathtaking".

Raul Perez

Raul Perez is a living legend of modern Bierzo. Highly respected by his peers, he has gained international renown for the quality of wines he has produced, and his dedication to the local area. Thanks in no small part to his work, Bierzo is now an exciting region in Spain, with young winemakers making high quality wines and very reasonable prices. The region had long been in decline, with plantings reducing as the old vines produced low-yielding fruit from fragmented land that was largely sold off to make bulk blends. Now, high-quality Mencia and varying local varieties are used to make high quality, ageworthy blends such as at Perez's own Castro Ventosa. He also makes wines under his own name, with one such gem the Ultreia Saint Jacques. The 2019 is an absolute knockout, with 94 points from Luis Gutierrez who calls it "nothing short of spectacular." Few wines can offer this level of drinking pleasure at this price point - it is beautifully balanced, fragrant pure - ready to drink now and perfect for the summer months. 

Cesar Marquez

Cesar Marquez is making outstanding single vineyard parcel wines in very limited quantities in Bierzo. The nephew of Raul Perez, he has been making wine at his family's Castro Ventosa property in recent vintages. Learning from one of the region's legendary winemakers has given him a wealth of experience, and he now works with 100 year old bush vines around Valtuille de Abajo under his own label. Cesar is looking to express a sense of place in his wines, with a hands-off winemaking style that allows the fruit to shine. We were so impressed by his wines after a recent tasting that we bought all we could. Luis Guttierez of The Wine Advocate has been likewise impressed, endowing his wines with very high scores.

Parajes, a blend led by 85% Mencia - is a great introduction to modern Bierzo, and to Cesar's brilliant wines. The single parcel wines are all from different soil types that showcase the variability within the region. El Rapolao is grown on red clay soils, while Sufreiral comes from one of region’s few vineyards on limestone soils. Production is tiny with anything from just 700 to 1,200 bottles of any one wine. There is also a rare white called Salvacion produced from 100 year old Godello vines. The name reflects Cesar’s desire to recover these forgotten grapes planted amongst the Mencia vines.


Zarate is the benchmark when it comes to high quality Albarino with a sense of place. Eulogio Pomares has been crafting small production and highly-revered whites under this name that have only improved in quality in recent years. Less than 10 hectares are under production. Though the winery is over 100 years old, it is only since the turn of the century that the wines have started to gain international praise. The straight Albarino offers great value for money and an introduction to the lime and salt, tangy acids and textural complexity the variety displays under the Zarate label. Balado spends nine months on the lees, but in steel and without batonnage or malolactic fermentation - this brings real textural intrigue but lively freshness in equal measure. Tras da Vina comes from 50 year old vines and spends the longest time on lees - two years in tank. It is a complex and unique expression of Albarino that Luis Guiterrez gives 95 points in 2019, calling it "nuanced and seamless." These wines are made in small batches and are always in great demand, so it is worth snapping them up while you can!

Eulogio Pomares

Eulogio's drive doesn't end at Zarate. He also makes wines under his own name from select parcels he has found around Rias Baixas. The same tension and power is woven into these wines as at the family domain. Sal de Terra is as salty and mouthwatering as Albarino gets, with a dramatic coastal effect on the fruit bringing lipsmacking preserved lemon character and tangy acidity. The Carralcoba is richer with a rounder fruit character from fermentation and ageing in a large chestnut vat. The Castiniero comes from a 0.3 hectare plot of 65 year-old vines. Fermented and matured in clay amphorae, it is a broad and wild style for Eulogio. 

Suertes del Marques

The Canary Islands have long been a tourist destination, but it is only recently that the unique wines from a small clutch of forward-thinking producers have drawn international acclaim. Jonatan Garcia is one such man, capitalising on the old vines, volcanic soils and indigenous varieties to express Tenerife's unique terroir. His vineyards lie on the cooler north side of the island, climbing the steep slopes of the Pico del Teide volcano. Many are grown in a traditional trellising system called Cordon Trenzado – vine branches are plaited together on stakes, growing into gnarly arms that extend several meters in length. The estate has some incredibly old, low-yielding vines that produce wines of freshness and authenticity. Luis Gutierrez is just as excited by these wines as we are, awarding Vidonia 2020 - a white made from Listan Blanco - 96 points and calling it "electric" and "the best Vidonia to date." He says Las Suertes 2019 - from Listan Negro - is their "finest and most complex wine," giving it 95+. 

Jose Luis Ripa

José Luis Ripa's day job is as commercial director for a large winery in Haro. However, in 2016 he started a small project under his own name from old vines in the Najerilla Valley. From these, he makes outstanding, textural, serious rosado (rosé) akin to the now cult Tondonia from Lopez de Heredia. This is no surprise, as he is married to Maria José Lopez de Heredia! Made from a blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo, the wine is aged for up to two years in large oak barrels. Production is slowly increasing from a miniscule 3,000 bottles a year. With Tondonia Rosado now hard to find and priced much higher in the secondary market, those looking for a rich and savoury hit at an excellent price point should look no further. 

Telmo Rodriguez

There are three Spanish winemakers so famous and influential to be recognised on a first-name basis. They are Alvaro (Palacios), Raul (Perez) and Telmo (Rodriguez). Telmo met his business partner, Pablo Eguzkiza, while studying in Bordeaux (Pablo worked at Petrus and Telmo at Cos d’Estournel) and, in 1994, they created the company Compañia de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez. Their first job was to transform Pablo’s historic estate in Rioja, Remelluri, which sparked a revolution in the region. They then turned their attention further afield, restoring historic vineyards around Spain – Cebreros, Toro, Rueda, Malaga and Valdeorras in Galicia. In Valdeorras, they started making approachable wines like Gaba do Xil while searching for great vineyards or even great sites that had been vineyards before. The top wines - such as Falcoeira A Capilla and O Diviso - are made from terraced vineyards on the banks of the river Bibei, opposite from the Ribeira Sacra region.