We're in northwest Spain today the Castilian area, the part of the country that people don't get to, to drink wine made from Mencia, a local red grape known as Jaen in Portugal. While it does grow in other places, Mencia's natural home seems to be in the Denomincation d'Origen Protegida (DOP) of Bierzo. It's a series of mountains surrounding valleys, the more mountainous Alto Bierzo and the flat plain known as Bajo Bierzo.
The area was hit hard by the phylloxera disease nearly a century and a half ago. Coming out of phylloxera, winemakers planted a lot of Mencia because of its high yields and resistance to the disease. The good news was the high yields. The bad news was the lack of intensity of the wines. It's only been in the 21st century that local winemakers planting primarily on mountainsides in the rocky, minerally schist soils have been able to control the yield and produce more intense Mencia. It's those more intense Mencias that we will be tasting today.
The wines are quite aromatic.And, the more recent vintages have demonstrated some ability to age. A joy for the local winemakers although it might be less so if it were in the US, the Mencia grape tends to take on the flavors of its terroir.
In its finest incarnations, we find moderately high acidity and tannins in a well-balanced structure, a reasonably full body, and often a quite alcoholic wine. During some of the recent warm-growing season vintages, Mencia bottlings have exceeded 15% alcohol by volume (ABV).
On the palate, we get the terroir. Since we are focused primarily on the Mencia of Alto Bierzo, we get the signature pomegranate, black licorice, tart (almost sour) cherry, black plum and the gravel of the local schist.
Serve your Mencia cool, perhaps 14C/57F, with the likes of pork tenderloin or roast turkey. Or, fly to New York, bring a bottle of Mencia with you, and head down to Houston Street where Katz's Deli will serve you pastrami on rye. The pepper in the pastrami should mate beautifully with the dark fruit and gravel in the Mencia.