The wine industry is constantly promoting lesser-known varietals to meet a price point or flavor profile. In the same vein, sommeliers and bloggers are consistently asking us to drink more riesling, marsanne or other arcane varietals because they feel our favorites, like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, are too pedestrian. Now, there is a wine that may satisfy both camps.
The grape is mencia (pronounced men-thee-a) and the growing area is El Bierzo in Spain. This is a wonderful coincidence because I believe the most affordable and pleasing wines come from Spain. Tempranillo from Rioja, and Garnacha from Penedes, are always available in my wine cellar. Both serve well with any meal and more than any other wines instill fond memories of the warm climate and exceptional cuisine of northern Spain. Those memories recently returned while enjoying tapas and a glass of Albarino at Vino Loco in Englewood.
Bierzo is a district in northwestern Spain and the mencia grape produces a medium-bodied, pleasant wine with notes of sour cherry and plum. It is also grown in Portugal under the name jaen (pronounced ha-en). I compared several bottles purchased from local wine retailers and these are the results.
Senorio de la Antigua, 2015, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, $12.99
Medium black fruit flavors, with sour cherry and plum dominating. Smooth mouth feel with some complexity and nice finish. Mark Montalbano, the wine expert, said that it is selling much faster than expected.
Pena de Lobo, 2016, from Ribeira Sacra, another nearby growing area, Seagrape Wine Co., $20
Lighter in color. Black cherry and licorice flavors stand out in a very drinkable and smooth wine. This was the most approachable of the three and probably the easiest for most wine drinkers to enjoy.
Baltos, 2014, Vino Loco, $17.95
As the oldest of the three, this wine showed a nice depth of flavor, color and viscosity. Notes of cherry pervaded this rich, full, elegant and clean wine. Joyce Colmar, the proprietor of Vino Loco, is a Spanish wine expert and has spent time in the Bierzo area. She recommends this for everyday drinking and with any grilled or spicy foods.
These Spanish red wines are unique in their flavors and character. They are not bold like a cabernet or light like a pinot noir. The closest grapes I would associate with them are gamay or petite sirah. Nevertheless, they are versatile and would match most cuisines. If you wish to explore the mencia grape more in depth, you can find a good article on the topic here.
Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.