Posted by: tomciocco | June 4, 2011

RIBEIRA SACRA MENCIA: WHAT IT ISN’T…AND WHAT IT IS!

Almost unheard of outside of its home in Galicia and Leon in northwestern Spain just 20 years ago, Mencia has made a quick and steady trek  from complete obscurity to legitimate, albeit minor player in the tangle of bottles on tables and bars around the world. Chalk much of this up to plain old natural-born charm and just a bit of provocation…

For years it had been postulated that Mencia was a very particular and old clone of the great Gallic grape Cabernet Franc that had (perhaps) been carried to this corner of Spain by pilgrims stepping along the Camino de Santiago. Well if your bet was on this being just a good yarn, you’d be right. Cabernet Franc and Mencia do share quite a few charateristics, especially in terms of leaves, bunch size and shape, etc. but genetic testing has proven unequivocally that these two varieties are decidedly NOT identical and ultimately not even very closely related. What Mencia IS identical to however is a variety from Portugal’s Dao region called Jaen. In the Dao region, Jaen is nearly always blended with other grapes as is the custom in the Portuguese winemaking. And though the Portuguese’s cousins the Galicians also blend Mencia, there is as strong a tradition for vinifying and bottling it on its own.

The appellation with which Mencia is most famously associated is probably Bierzo whose wines tend to show the grape’s denser, deeper, darker, and rounder side. The Mencia-based wines from Ribeira Sacra on the other hand are lighter, more sinuously textured, and piercingly fragrant…The comestibles consisted of a concocted tapa of fried rounds of chourico, wine-cooked fennel, and boiled shrimp pinned together with toothpicks. The main course was pan-fried cod on a tomato/caper/butter/etc. sauce, with Jersey asparagus (smoke ’em if you got ’em) that I braised for a side dish.

Fuga Ribeira Sacra Mencia 2008

Just barely opaque blackish garnet color. Evolvingly complex nose of woodsy dried berries, cracked black pepper, plum, cinnamon, cooked liver, lilac, and pungent dried herbs. In the mouth the wine is smooth and fairly light with a tart acidity, and a finely scrapy tannin backing that launches savory, peppery flavors of dried meat and tomato paste, with black licorice and cocoa notes beginning the moderately long and warm finish. A wine of quirky but elegant complexity.

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