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Since his first vintage in 2001, Javier Dominguez’s Dominio do Bibei has been widely acknowledged as the driving force behind the emergence of quality wines in Spain’s historic Ribeira Sacra.
The Romans were the first to plant vines in the region, having arrived to mine gold. Using slave labour, they constructed hundreds of terraces on the precipitous slopes along three river gorges: the Sil, the Miño and the Bibei. Later, monks farmed the vineyards for several centuries (from whence it got its name ‘sacred riverbanks’), until the devastation of phylloxera, economic depression and civil war eventually drove local families to leave Ribeira Sacra to begin new, easier, lives elsewhere.
In the late 1990s, Javier Dominguez was among an influx of young winemakers attracted by the region’s old vines and untouched, Jurassic landscape. His family bought land in the Bibei valley, Ribeira’s most easterly sub-region, and today they own a 140 hectare estate, of which 45 hectares are planted with vines. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to revive the region and its indigenous vines, undertaking what is known locally as ‘heroic viticulture’.
Vines are grown at varying altitudes from 200 to 700 metres, scattered across a large, north-facing hillside with schist and granite soils, flecked with slate, quartz and iron. Some grapes are sourced from bordering vineyards provided they do not face south; freshness and good acidity levels are an obsession at Dominio do Bibei. This is aided by the region’s Atlantic climate, whose average annual rainfall of 700mm is mostly concentrated in the winter and spring months. The summer and autumn are drier, with a large diurnal range.
Mencía is the estate’s most widely grown black grape. Dominio do Bibei also uses the local Brancellao, Sousón, Mouratón, Alicante Bouschet and Caíño, reflecting the seemingly chaotic vineyards of their predecessors. For whites, Godello and Albariño dominate, with small amounts of Doña Blanca, Treixadura and Torrontés sometimes included. Grapes are destemmed and ageing takes place in an assortment of vessels, including modern cement eggs, foudres and old 600-litre barrels.
Dominio do Bibei make four cuvées whose names all begin with the letter ‘L’. ‘Lalama’ is a light and fragrant red (90% Mencía) with sappy, redcurrant freshness from grapes grown on the warmest, lower part of the valley. ‘Lacima’ is a blend of Mencía, Brancellao, Mouratón and Sousón from the peak of the hillside. It displays a vivid, black cherry character with a fine, filigree texture. Two white wines are also produced. ‘Lalume’ is a precise, barrel-fermented Treixadura, while the limited ‘Lapola’ is a blend of Godello with Albariño and Doña Blanca.
There are far easier places to make wine than in Ribeira Sacra. But Javier Dominguez, along with his consultant winemakers, Priorat’s Sara Pérez and René Barbier, are united in a common belief in this spectacular landscape, its ancient character and, most of all, its capacity to produce Spain’s most distinctive wines.
Vines are grown at varying altitudes from 400 - 750 metres on sandy and clay soils, flecked with shale. The vines are aged between 14 and 100 years old. The region’s Atlantic climate, with an average annual rainfall of 700mm, mostly concentrated in the winter and spring months, helps retain freshness and acidity in the fruit. The summer and autumn are drier, with a large diurnal range.
2019 was a warmer vintage in the region. It began with a wet winter and spring, which replenished water reserves in the soils. Temperatures fluctuated in February, with heavy snowfall one week and 22°C the next, which led to an irregular and late budding. Summer brought warm temperatures and steady ripening conditions. The altitude of the vineyard meant that the vines avoided the effect of the high temperatures registered in late August and early September and the bulk of the picking was done in the late September and early October.
The grapes were hand picked into 10kg boxes and sorted in the vineyard, with each vineyard parcel vinified separately. The fruit was cold settled for 24 hours prior to being pressed and racked. Fermentation using indigenous yeasts took place in a mix of six-hectolitre barrels, 12 and 24 hectolitre casks and seven hectolitre ovoid concrete tanks. The wine was then racked into a mixture of 600-litre French oak barrels and 1,200 and 2,400-litre Austrian oak foudres of various uses on fine lees. The second part of the ageing is performed in ovoid concrete tanks for natural stabilisation. The wine was aged for a total of 10 months before bottling in August 2020.
Tasting Notes & Technical Details
The nose is complex with vibrant aromas of citrus, wild herbs and a distinct minerality. The palate is deep and precise, with excellent acidity and creaminess from the lees contact. It will continue to develop over the next three years.