Posted by: tomciocco | March 7, 2014

MENCIA: A RISING STAR IN WESTERN IBERIA

A rise that has been underway for the Mencia variety for at least a decade to be sure, but an important and quite rapid rise nonetheless. And though Mencia is not a variety that has a story of being rescued just in the nick of time from the edge complete extinction, not very long ago, this was a grape that was an also-ran “nobody” that rose to a “somebody” grape in a very short time, and a well-deserved rise to prominence it was.

Mencia is a variety that most likely originates near the greater orbit of the city of Salamanca in northwestern Spain, but it has had a long and important presence in Portugal as a key blending component all over that country, but under the name of Jaen. Contemporarily, Mencia’s heartland has shifted a bit north and west from its Leonese homeland into the southern appellations of neighboring Galicia like Bierzo, Monterrei (the source of this evening’s wine) Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras which straddles the regions of Galicia and Leon.

Until Mencia’s genome was fully mapped, the vine was long thought to be a close relation to, if not a distinctive clone of France’s great and ancient variety Cabernet Franc, to which Mencia has a definitely kinship to the Bordeaux grape, especially in the glass. The legend went that cuttings of Cabernet Franc had been carried along the pilgrimage trail to Santiago di Campostela (which is located in Galicia) by French pilgrims sometime in the late Middle Ages, but the genetic science seems to plainly contradict this long-held theory.

And though like in Portugal, Mencia is still used in blends throughout Galicia, more intimate knowledge of the quirks of the variety and faith in its potential has caused more and more Galician producers to bottle Mencia unalloyed, and one of these 100% Mencia wines is what’s on the test bench this evening. This wine clearly shows the confidence that has been entrusted in this once obscure variety was not misplaced.

I matched this very self-confident and quite sophisticated wine with a first course of Caldo Gallego soup (collard greens, white beans, potatoes, chorizo, etc.) and followed by a main course of tuna steaks baked in a pureed tomato, pimenton, onion, garlic, rose` wine, sauce studded with green peas, and some chewy bread to accompany both courses.

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Bodega Pazo del Rey Mencia Monterrei “Sila” 2010

Deep and youthful purple/garnet color. Aromas of blackberry, black raspberry, and cranberry jelly fruit notes backed up by scents of cut green underbrush, milk chocolate, dark caramel, vanilla bean, wood spice, tree bark, dried red flowers, and a “sweet” minerality. In the mouth the wine is medium full in body with a great acid/tannin balance, a chewy texture, and a vivacious, velvety mouthfeel that beautifully frames flavors of black cherry, red currants, myrtle, tomato paste, and black licorice. Clean and quite complex finish. A wine that deftly balances modern and traditional winemaking styles.

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