01 Vine Trail Veronica Ortega Page 16 9 1 0
Valtuille de Abajo

Veronica Ortega

VigneronVeronica Ortega
LocationValtuille de Abajo (León)
Size of Domaine5 ha
TerroirContinental climate with Atlantic and Mountainous influence. Slate, clay-limestone, granitic sand. Gentle to steep slopes. 600m altitude.
ViticulturePractising organic
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Veronica Ortega was brought up in Cadiz with five elder brothers and a famous bullfighting father, but catching the wine bug in the 2000s she moved away to Priorat where she worked with Alvaro Palacios and Daphné Glorian (Clos Erasmus), then Burn Cottage in Central Otago NZ, Niepoort in the Douro, Comte Armand and then a season at DRC in Burgundy, followed finally by a spell with Domaine Combier in Crozes. Upon her return to Spain, she worked with Raúl Perez in Bierzo from whose cellar she experimented before setting out definitively with her project in 2012.

She loves the region of Bierzo, for its history, the authenticity of its wines, its strong Atlantic influence, and a variety in mencía that is very sensitive to its soil types and altitude. It reminds her a lot of the syrah she worked with in the northern Rhône for its wild nature and savoury character, and comments that in blind tastings the two grapes are often confused.


Veronica has gradually pieced together her holdings of 5ha of old vines, though she has struggled to buy tiny plots, noting that locals are very tied to their land and prefer to own it and do nothing with it rather than selling! The help and network of her friend Ricardo Palacios (Descendientes J. Palacios) proved instrumental in securing top terroirs. In addition, she buys grapes from growers working well in the vines, although she and her team choose the picking date and carry out the harvest. She follows organic practices in her own vineyards and is in the process of converting to biodynamics.

Her range has grown from only one red, ROC, in the first year to four reds (with two more to come soon) and one white. The white wine Cal (meaning limestone) is unusual because the vines were planted in an old limestone quarry (at 650m altitude), a very rare soil in Bierzo. Veronica often do not need to use any sulphur because of the wine's natural strength with a very low ph – 2.77 in 2017 for example. She keeps sulphur levels as low as possible for the reds, but by contrast, mencía gives wines with a naturally high ph of around 3.60 which obliges the use of some sulphur.

The Valtuille de Abajo reds are the mainstay and the reason Veronica stayed in Bierzo. Ricardo Palacios tipped her off about the El Couso and la Rata vineyards being for sale and it was from here that she produced her first wine called ROC. This comes from a plateau and upper slopes planted with vines over 80yo, mostly mencía but, as with all old vineyards, with a myriad of small quantities of other varieties. The soils are very stony with a sandy, clay base in which the mencía thrives, and lower down the slope where there's less sand and deeper clay soils that tend to give more concentrated wine, she also started producing a second red, Versión Original.

Most of her reds are from vineyards in Valtuille, but there is one, Cobrana, that comes from a different part of Bierzo close to the limits northeast of Ponferrada, not far from Bembibre. The vineyards are located at some 700m in altitude on blue slate and red clay soils. First produced in 2016, the wine has a very aromatic profile, as the field blend is made of a significant proportion of white grapes (25%, supposedly a local tradition in this part of Bierzo), making it lighter in colour, almost a (full-bodied) rosé.

The village of Villabuena, source of Versión Original from 2018
Old vines are a common feature of Bierzo

2017 was a year of terrible frost that decimated many vineyards, and Valtuille, being on the valley floor, suffered a lot. So, Veronica had to go out searching for new sources for grapes, especially for the entry-level wine Quite. Anyway, she found an incredible 40% slope planted with 100yo and older vines in a slate soil in the village of Villabuena and used the grapes for the 2017 Quite. The grapes from here were so good that she secured the vineyard for future vintages, and since 2018 it is the sole source of Versión Original.

Three of her wines are partly aged in amphora (partly in oak barrels), because she likes the purity and the texture of the fruit it conveys, and she works with whole bunches for her single-vineyard wines (although Quite is destalked). All her wines have the most exceptional textures, balance and grain of tannins.

The rare limestone of San Juan de La Mata
The vineyard where Cal originates
Veronica and her amphoras
Veronica 1 2
At Don Nacho restaurant in Villafranca
Veronica 1 1

Veronica Ortega Wines

Veronica Ortega

100% Godello (12.5% alc.)

It comes from 50yo vines giving tiny grapes planted in limestone (a very rare soil in Bierzo where slate and clay are more usual) above an old quarry near the town of San Juan de la Mata. Macerated on the skins overnight, it is aged for 14 months – 50% in 800ltr amphoras and 50% in 228ltr and 600ltr barrels. Due to the type of soil the pH of the wine is extremely low (between 2.7 and 3.1) and the acidity is so high that it naturally does not go through malolactic (sometimes partially as per 2018). It makes for an intensely mineral wine, with a zesty fruit, giving notes of green tea, almonds and chamomile. A fresh vertical mouthfeel and marked salinity enhances its electric energy. VLQ. For drinking now to 2024.

Veronica Ortega

100% Mencía (13% alc.)

Veronica is based in Valtuille de Abajo, and this wine comes from various parcels of organically tended vines around the village (averaging 80yo) planted in the typical sandy, red clay soils (where there is quite a high iron content) giving a yield averaging 25hh. Veronica’s father was a bullfighter and Quite is a bullfighting term meaning to offer a helping hand. Given a 15-day cuvaison and aged for seven months, half in 800ltr amphoras and half in 2-3yo barrels, it has an excellent texture, most attractive mulberry and brambly fruit and floral hints with some liquorice, nutmeg and herbal notes. So delicious and easy to drink. 46mg/l total SO2.

Veronica Ortega

75% Mencía, 25% Doña Blanca, Palomino, Godello etc (13.5% alc.)

This is made from a small parcel of 90yo vines in Cobrana, one of the highest altitude, coolest vineyards of Bierzo at 750m, in the north-east of the DO where the soils are a decomposing slate with red clay. Here it was traditional to co-plant different grape varieties, red and white. Made from 100% whole bunches aged in a mix of amphoras and older barrels for 13 months, this has a delicate colour, a very floral nose with dried rose notes, attractive ripe strawberry and raspberry fruit on the palate, with balsamic and menthol in the background, and a fine grained tannin is nicely integrated. Best served around 14 to 16C.

Veronica Ortega

100% Mencía (13.5% alc.)

The 2016 VO Versión Original is an old vine mencía from the same vineyards where Veronica gets the grapes for ROC, but these vines are at the bottom of the parcel with deeper sandy soils, the tiny clusters of grapes give very little juice and a more concentrated wine. Only 3,529 bottles were produced in this cooler vintage, which seems to offset the character of the place and delivers a very balanced wine. The whole bunches are fermented with indigenous yeasts, and the wine matured in a 2,400ltr oak vat for 16 months. It was bottled in March 2018. This wine has the austerity and seriousness of the vintage, with shy aromas, slowly developing a nose of wild strawberries and violets. This is sophisticated and lean, with subdued minerality, combining energy and elegance. It feels very young and will benefit from some time in bottle. For drinking now to 2024.

Veronica Ortega

90% Mencía, 10% Palomino, Doña Blanca (13.5% alc.)

Veronica’s finest and longest-lived wine (named with the initials of her oldest brother who sadly passed away) comes from two small parcels (La Rata and El Couso) averaging 100yo planted in the sandy clays of Valtuille de Abajo. Here the sands give more aromatic finesse and precision to the fruit, complementing the muscular side conferred by the clay. Made from 100% whole bunches and gently extracted over 20 days, it was aged in 2-3yo barrels for 14 months. There’s a darker fruited character to this wine with brambly fruit and violets on the nose as well as hints of liquorice and incense, all of which you’ll taste on the palate with an herbal note too. Medium-bodied it is a subtle, deep, complex wine with fine tannic structure and very good balance that’s built to last. 50mg/l total SO2. For drinking now to 2028.

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