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The Mencía Grape

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About Mencía

(Synonyms: Fernao Pires Tinta, Giao, Jaen, Loureiro Tinto, Mencin, Negra, Negro, Tinto Mencia, Tinto Mollar, Uva Mencia)


Mencía grapes Map showing the regions where Mencía is today grown

Mencía is a red-wine grape originating in Spain, where it is today grown primarily in the appellations of Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra, and Valdeorras, which lie in the regions of Castile y Leon and Galicia. It was formerly a relatively minor varietal, but over the past two decades has emerged into notably greater popularity.

In older days, Mencía was usually made as a light-bodied, light-colored, aromatic (and often somewhat astringent) red for early consumption--a sort of Spanish Beaujolais. More recently (as with many grapes) its potential for greater things has been recognized, and significantly deeper, richer, more complex versions are being made, with old-vine bottlings leading the way.

Descriptions of the better Mencías of today are typical of any good red: dark fruit (black cherry, raspberry, blackberry), herbs, earthiness. Remember, it was long confused with Cab Franc, so there is another guideline. But if those sound generic, be assured that most tasters find Mencia distinctive and clearly varietal; as one winemaker put it, "the world didn't need another claret."

Factoid: Mencía is apparently the same grape as Portugal's Jaen. It is not at all related to Cabernet Franc, though such a relation was long suspected owing to similarities of aromas.

Some Descriptions of Mencía Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Most wines produced from Mencía have traditionally been light, pale, relatively fragrant red wines for early consumption. This style of wine was the result of post-Phylloxera plantations on fertile plains, which tended to give high yields but diluted wine. In recent years, much more concentrated and complex wines have been produced by a new generation of winemakers, primarily from old vines growing on hillsides, often on schist soils, in combination with careful vineyard management. This has led to a renewed interest in Mencía and the Denominaciones de Origen using it, such as Bierzo, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra and the little-known Liébana."

  • Rose Murray Brown, The Scotsman

    "It is an aromatic variety, with a bouquet of crushed raspberries and cherries – similar to cabernet franc. It has a medium bodied palate with lots of natural acidity, which reminds me of pinot noir to taste – but it is much, much more minerally than a pinot with steelier tannins. One retailer describes his mencia as having 'sapid mouthwatering ink/blood notes' – I can see what he means. Two styles of mencia exist in Bierzo. The highest vineyard slopes have granite and schist soils which produce a more minerally style, while the lower alluvial clay and stone valleys along the river Sil produce an earthier, riper, style."

  • Eric Asimov, The New York Times

    "We were enchanted with the haunting, complex aromas of the mencía grape, which is used to such wonderful effect only in northwest Spain. . . Tasting through 25 bottles of Bierzo, we found some wines that offer the mencía largely unadorned, in all its exotic fruit, wildflower and mineral glory. These wines tend to be light-bodied and refreshing. Others we found to have benefited from aging in oak barrels and other modern winemaking techniques, which gave the wines structure and intensity without tasting overtly oaky or compromising their Bierzo integrity. And yes, we did find some wines that seemed too far from home, having lost any sense of regional identity."

  • Jim Clarke, Starchefs.com

    "[Mencia is] fruity, aromatic, and a bit higher in acidity than [Tempranillo and Garnacha]. In the lesser vineyards, that means fruity, often simple wines, but when vineyard conditions promote greater concentration and structure, some really exciting wines can result. Plum, cherry, and spice (more pipe tobacco or cocoa than pepper) aromas are typical, sometimes supported by meaty or mineral touches. More powerful examples often show a trace of licorice as well. Most producers have held back on new French oak, which is in keeping with the grape’s lift of acidity and relatively mild tannins. The temptation to apply more oak does come into play with more expensive bottling (most producers here make wines at several price points), so often the cheaper wines capture the grape’s character more clearly than the flagship wines. Find the price-to-style ratio that works best for you and your guests."

  • Marisa D'Vari, A Wine Story

    "Mencia is a “ 'hot' grape right now in Spain, especially as it is a indigenous varietal. Characteristics of the grape are said to be a deep purple/maroon with some transparency, and a medium + nose of deep concentrated black fruit (especially black cherry), mint, and wild herbs like sage."

  • Pamela S. Busch, San Francisco Examiner

    "Spicy with rose petals, black pepper, roasted red peppers and berrylike fruit, mencia has always reminded me a little bit of garnacha and cabernet franc — until recently it was thought to be related to, if not a carbon copy of, the latter. . . With the grape having been grown in Spain for centuries, there exist several old vineyards, some which were planted in the 19th century. It is found in Bierzo, the most western appellation of Castilla y Leon, and throughout Galicia. In the latter, it tends to do best in the continental climates of Monterrei, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras, which are marked by cold winters and long, hot summers."

  • Berry Bros. & Rudd

    "Mencía has only recently come into spotlight as a quality, potential-laden grape variety. When properly made, it offers fascinating wines across a contrasting spectrum of styles; on the one end are fruity and forward wines with supple tannins and succulent fruit. On the other end are more concentrated, powerful styles with an exotic earthiness, smooth tannins and an enviable reflection of the minerally-rich Bierzo terroir. Mencía is capable of making excellent wine on its own, with no need to sacrifice its unique character in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot that are commonplace elsewhere in Spain."

  • Jon Bonné, SFGate

    "Mencia defines Bierzo, and its signature is hard to miss - a nose filled with primal, sometimes fierce aromas. Blood is a scent in wine I don't usually discuss in public (try explaining that one in polite company), but Bierzo wines can smell beautifully sanguine, in addition to floral, spicy, animal scents and powerful mineral presence. These are not qualities to charm all, but then neither are the peppery tones of Syrah. .  My recent tasting of about 15 Bierzo wines made clear how wide the styles swing. Young, they offered the vibrancy of good Beaujolais; the oak-aged wines were more stylish but most retained some nuance. It's hard to find bad Bierzo, a credit to the young enologists working in the region."

  • Wine Searcher

    "[Mencia] Wines today are more likely to have a bright complexion with a vivid maroon color, fresh acidity and tannins, and dark-fruit flavors with a herbal dimension of mint or thyme. Some producers are experimenting with carbonic maceration to accentuate the variety’s fruit characteristics and reduce tannins, and wines made using this method are more approachable in their youth."

  • Catavino

    "Fortunately, these winemakers have wised up, and with a bit of patience and new technology, they are finding that the 'potential' was not that hard to access after all. Better crop management, temperature controlled fermentation and more experimentation with oak barrels have all led to exciting results. What has emerged are wines that can be powerful, while nuanced with red fruits and earthy richness. I n fact, they tend to be some of the more interesting wines in my opinion landing on Spanish wine shelves. Often the color will be a deep maroon, though I have found good examples that tend to be on the lighter side as well. Typical flavors are of earth, herbs (think mint, rosemary, thyme), dark fruits (raspberry, black cherry, blackberry) and I often find black pepper coming to the fore front as well."

  • The Spanish Acquisition

    "But, that's all changing rapidly ... nothing at all cabernet-like about it when well handled: you're more likely to see something that looks like a cross between Cornas (wild, spicey northern Rhone syrah) and funky top-end Burgundy. An absolute feature is a long, fine, extremely silky thread of fruit tannin all the way down the palate."

  • Bill St. John, Chicago Tribune

    "I'll never forget my first experience of a red wine made from the grape mencia grown in an area in northwestern Spain called Bierzo, both new to me. Something special marked this wine's aroma, how its several layers of scent jumped from the glass, like many-colored Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Aromas of both red and blue fruits were there, but also more, the smell of wet black stone, slate stone particularly, and a kind of "wine-iness," a grape-y sapidity to which I hadn't paid much attention in red wine before. Beautiful color, too, a brilliant red sparked with magenta at its edge; and a mouthful of flavors that those same aromas had presaged, made liquid, juicy in texture, with a refreshing tang as a finish. 'Juicy' is the best summary word."

Some Mencías to Try

(About this list.)

Mencias are readily available, and all over the price spectrum, from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. Here, to get you started, we list just a few of the under-$20 bottlings available, because pretty much every wine writer seems to have his or her favorites, and only a few makers get multiple mentions. That is probably because, as one observed, "It's hard to find bad Bierzo" (or, really, any Mencia); so, feel free to snap up pretty much any Mencia bottling you find that's in your price comfort zone. Keep in mind the various notes above about the two broad classes of stylings, and have fun.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Bodegas Peique Mencía, $11 - $13.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Reviewer #1: The color is darker than a black rose, more closely related to a celestial black hole. The aromas are intoxicating, complex and entertaining, because each time I inhale, I find myself discovering a new aroma such as slate, clove, black licorice, bitter chocolate, cured ham and cigar with a rich layered background of dark forest berries. The palate is equally as complex, the only difference being that the dark fruit is more pronounced. I like the wine, but felt the bouquet was much more balanced than the palate. 3.5/5
    Reviewer #1: This is one dark dense black as night wine. Wow, great color. The nose is so rich and layered, I wonder if I will get around to tasting it. Bacon fat, earth, minerals, chocolate, anise, light tar, cinnamon, clove and as it opens salami. Lush and rich wine in the mouth with high tannins, and medium acidity, the dark fruits that are in here somewhere are hidden for now by sweet tannin, chocolate, and when revealed show blueberries, black berries and more. The alcohol is a bit too noticeable for me, but other than that, a great wine. 3.5/5

    Picota red colour with intense violet shades. On the nose the fragrance of ripe red fruit, blue flowers and minerals stand out. Excellent fleshiness in the mouth, perfumed, ample and tasty. Concentrated and mature.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September/October 2013). 90 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (2010), 89 points.

    Dark cherry colour with strong violet shades. Intense aroma on the nose with hints of ripe fruit, well-rounded. Full-bodied in the mouth, good balance of flavours and very fruity, soft tannins, full and powerful.

    Reduced but floral, earthy appeal. Cheerful young wine, crunchy, fruity, young tannin. ***

    From 45-year-old vines, an early-drinking example packed with fruit, with two months on the lees and two months in bottle. That raw Mencia nose, of strong paprika tang and tea, with fresh boysenberry and dark mineral on the palate.

    (no oak): Bright purple. High-pitched red fruit aromas are complicated by fresh flowers and Asian spices. On the palate, tangy redcurrant and raspberry flavors turn sweeter with air and pick up a subtle note of anise. Closes with very good energy and focus, leaving a smoky mineral note behind. This wine delivers outstanding value for the region.

    This Peique 2011 is vinified as a young wine, expressing the varietal features of Mencía and the personality of the terroir of Valtuille de Abajo.

    This $13 wine is a deep violet in color, somewhat high in alcohol at 14%, with pronounced intensity on the nose. I enjoyed aromatic notes of strawberry, raspberry, prune, violet, rose, and a deep whiff of verdant earth. This was my first Mencía, and if I can make any analogy to a grape I know better, it may be to Cabernet Franc. The Peique domain features (according to the winery web site) "iron rich soil of clay and schist with sandy granite", and my own notes read "funky earth and clay". I never use the term "funky" lightly; I mean it positively to connote integrity. This is a young wine; I aerated it three hours. The wine is dry, with moderate acidity and tannin. Strawberry, cherry and black raspberry lead the fruit. The palate has a spicy element of clove and nutmeg with orange peel, more of the rose, licorice, and the finest treat of all, bitter dark chocolate. This chocolate is not the oaky variety; as far as I understand it the wine sees no oak of any kind, hence this is a pure chocolate note without the usual lacing of vanilla. Chocolate is always a winning point in my book, but the Peique has also an unctuous mouthfeel, and a sustained, multi-faceted finish. The tannins at the finale were pleasantly drying, the fruit almost candied as it evaporated in my mouth. I did want a shade less alcohol.

    The 2012 Tinto Mencia, produced from 45- to 55-year-old vineyards grown on clay soils with some slate, is a good representation of unoaked Mencia, simply aged in tank on its lees for two months before bottling. It has some clear berry and licorice aromas and is highly drinkable. This is the workhorse wine of the winery: 180,000 bottles are produced, and it can be found in the local bars in Bierzo. It represents good value for straight red Mencia.

    The 2009 Bodegas Peique Ramon Valle begins with lots of ripe, delicious blackberry and licorice, but that's not all. There's also a hearty aroma of smoky meat (not Brett as far as I can tell) and even some nice floral notes. When tasting the smoky, meaty flavors continue along with dark juicy fruit, mineral streaks, licorice, wonderful balsamic notes and more. It ends with a long, savory, dry finish. This is a darn tasty wine. Taste Rating: 9; Cost Rating: 6; Overall Rating: 8.3. Bulk Buy.

    Plum and raspberry aromas turn herbal with airing. Feels good and plump, with restrained tannins. Tastes like roasted red berries, dry oak and leather mixed with leafy herbs. Good but loses some clarity as it breathes. 86 points.

  • Dominio de Tares "Baltos", $13 - $17.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Earthy and deep smelling, this Mencía is full, layered and nicely textured on the palate. As for flavors, look for equal parts dark fruit, toast, smoke and herb. Things dry out and fade on the finish. 90 points.

    Flavors of licorice, earth and plenty of fruit. **

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September/October 2006), 90 points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 90 points; 67th in the Wine Spectator Top 100.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (February 2007), 90 points.

    This purple-colored effort exhibits an attractive bouquet of minerals, earth, black cherry and raspberry. This is followed by a medium-bodied wine with concentrated, ripe fruit, excellent depth, and a pure finish.

    Deep dark color with thick legs. The nose is smokey minerals and rich paste like black fruits. Raw meat and dark pepper ladden black cherry. In the mouth on first sip I see medium tannins and a high acidity that leaves the mouth with a dry finish and chalky texture. Rich and layered with dark cherry notes, black berry and charcoal notes. Really a wine that opens up with time. A bit thin at first it was strange to see this wine take on body with time out of the bottle. For the money a wine worth trying. Though it does have a big structure I would say this wine will not improve too much, but rather just needs some air to really develop. ***½

    Ruby-red. Vibrant aromas of cherry, rhubarb and wild strawberry, with pepper and mineral accents. Richer and more obviously ripe on the palate, with vivid red and dark berry flavors and deeper notes of chocolate and espresso. Finishes on a tangy, spicy note of fresh cherry, with impressive length.

    Nice dark plum color. Plums and earth little bit of wood on the nose. Palate is a little sweet initially but dries out immediately, ripe red plums, black cherries, earth, good acidity, soft tannins. At the very end there's just a little bit of floral - maybe violets. There's a little heat on the finish (only 13.5%) but otherwise moderately long pleasant and complex.

    Ruby red in the glass, a bit lighter in colour than I expected. The nose show toasty oak, earth, cloves, pepper, coco and cherry liqueur with raspberry and mulberry fruit. Silky in the mouth, the acid is poking out a little bit at the moment but the fruit tannins are fine and plateful. For the most part the palate is a bit simple with raspberry and mulberry, but adds some minerals to the finish. A wine with a great nose that is let down by a simple palate. 87 Points.

    Decanter "Highly Recommended", score 17.75/20 (92/100); 4 reviews.

    I also found a new wine that I like. . . It’s a Spanish wine called dominio de tares baltos, which is deep purple in color, with an earthy, cherry flavor. It’s cheap too at $16 a bottle.

  • Losada Vinos de Finca "El Pajaro Rojo", $14 - $19.
         ($14.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This is Losada’s second wine, but more approachable in price and drinkability than their premium wine. It’s a beautifully ripe, voluptuous mencia with a fabulous freshness and vitality made by a young team. Star Buy.

    Burgundy black in color, this wine has deep, mystical, musty/earthy fruit on the nose ... with pepper and bark. Soft mouth feel immediately present with herbaceous, sensuous dark cherry and cranberry on the palate. This one is complex without being overbearing, expressing elegance, depth and earthy, integrated fruit. Cherry cola berry. On day 2, blueberry/huckleberry on nose and palate, black currant. Spicebox, luscious fruit, hint of eucalyptus ... incredibly silky mouthfeel and ultimately dry finish. LOVE

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September 2012), 88 Points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (2011), 87 Points.

    This lively red delivers alluring flavors of black raspberry, clove, licorice and vanilla, with light, firm tannins and crisp acidity. Fresh and racy, showing some depth.

    Vivid purple. Smoke- and spice-accented aromas of dark berries and cherry, with a peppery overtone. Juicy and precise, offering tangy blackberry and bitter cherry flavors and a touch of licorice. Finishes with good lift and cut, leaving a cherry pit note behind.

    Our No. 2 wine, the 2011 El Pájaro Rojo from Losada, was a juicy, fruity, structured wine with spicy, herbal notes unburdened by flavors of oak, unpretentious and pleasurable. At $16, it was our best value. ***

    This opaque and very dark purple colored wine opens with a plum bouquet with hints of new leather and some barnyard scents. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, balanced, juicy and easy to drink. The flavor profile is a ripe plum with notes of old oak and hints of black raspberry and black pepper. The finish is rather dry and its big and dusty tannins build up quite a bit and linger.

    Red fruits in spades, with electric energy on the tongue.

    [F]rom the dark side of the fruit department, with superearthy notes; brooding but delicious.

  • Guímaro "Joven" Mencía, $14 - $21.
    (Ribeira Sacra)

    Some quotations and facts:

    The wine leads off with a fresh, very lively nose of blueberry, black cherry and wild plum fruit, spiced up with whiffs of bay leaves and tobacco. Very coolly textured, round and smooth in the mouth, with a fine acid/tannin balance and a distinctly mineral finish. It's both firm and taut yet not at all hard. . . Riding solidly into day two, there was still plenty of bright red fruit, a slight leaning-out in the textural department, and the emergence of enticing aromas of cured meat and salami spices. On the surface, this is juicy, pleasurable, hard-not-to-drink-the-whole-bottle vino, but there's the kind of meaningful substance to it — structure, length and penetrating flavors, a real sense of individuality — that delivers far beyond the overwhelming majority of wines at its $15 price point.

    Pedro Guimaro has quickly become a rising star in an area that's getting tremendous attention. This latest young bottling of Mencia, from steep slopes and aged in old wood and steel, is generous and a bit more soft-edged in its fruit, just the counterpoint to the heady pimenton [paprika] aromatics that mark these wines.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (November/December 2010), 89 Points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (February 2013), 91 Points.

    The 2011 Guimaro Joven is muted on the nose compared to the 2010 as it had just been bottled. The palate shows great potential with soft, luscious black fruit laced with white pepper and an undercurrent of green bell pepper. The palate is medium-bodied with fine, silky tannins and a very composed, focused finish that caresses the mouth. Dry, taut and very focused, this is an outstanding wine.

    Bright purple. Very fresh, energetic aromas of redcurrant and pomegranate, with complicating notes of cracked pepper and Indian spices. Shows deeper cherry and licorice in the mouth, with a bitter chocolate nuance and strong minerally cut. This is carrying 14.5% alcohol but I wouldn’t have guessed that.

    This beautiful and spicy red from Spain’s northwest is made from the Mencia grape which has similar qualities to Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir with dark color, medium weight, lots of spice and delicate flavors. The Guimaro is as pure as it gets for this varietal and is a stunning value for this unique and rare wine from Ribeira Sacra. The 2011 Guimaro Mencia starts with rose petals, wild strawberry and pepper notes with subtle mineral tones, dried currants and sweet herbs while the palate features more of the same along with cherry and plum fruits, cayenne and loamy earth notes. This young and fresh wine is bright and packed with delicious charm, drink over the next few years. 92 Points.

    Stepping outside the box, I love Spain’s Mencia grape, which just happens to be Portugal’s Jaen. Guimaro Joven 2010 had a wonderful intensity of spice from start to finish. Gorgeous!

    This red from Galicia has juicy, fresh fruit and soft tannins. It’s a good introduction to the local Bordeaux-like Mencía grape.

    It is dark purple in the glass. The wine is light to medium bodied. The high acidity makes it seem like a bigger wine. The fruit it tart and there are no signs of oak. Spice and alcohol on the finish. It reminds me of Syrah and Grenache somehow. I think food is a must for this young table wine.

  • Descendientes de José Palacios "Pétalos", $15 - $20.
    (Bierzo; a blend, c. 95% Mencia)
         ($18.24 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Appearance: Wine is clear, dark red at the core with a water white rim. Aroma: Nice aromas of black cherry and cola, with a nice hint of oak. Some reviews I have read mention licorice, but I did not get any - too bad, I love licorice! Taste: Nice acidity with nicely balanced tannins. The aftertaste is a balance of fruit with minerality, very delicious. The Grade: I give this one an A.

    If you love violets, blueberries and a hint of black pepper, this elegant, 95 percent Mencia blend is for you.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September 2012), 91 Points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (31 December 2012), 91 Points; #57 of "Top 100 Wines of 2012"; "Smart Buys" designation; #26 of "Top 100 Wines of 2011".

    ♣ Wine Advocate (February 2009), 92 Points.

    The entry-level wine (what an entry!) is the 2007 Petalos del Bierzo, 100% Mencia from vineyards ranging in age from 40 to 90 years. It spends its first few weeks in new French barriques before transfer to seasoned oak for 6 to 10 months. Saturated purple in color, it offers up a super-fragrant bouquet of smoke, violets, mineral, wild blueberry, and black raspberry. Fruity yet complex on the palate, it has superb depth, grip, and balance. This sexy effort can be enjoyed over the next six years but only hedonists need apply.

    Dark ruby. Ripe red- and blackcurrant aromas are complicated by anise, cola and sexy oak spices. Soft dark berry preserve flavors gain minerality and firmness with air. Zesty cherry skin and mineral notes carry through a long, gently tannic finish.

    This plush red delivers black cherry, licorice, mineral and smoke flavors. Harmonious and focused, supported by well-integrated tannins and firm acidity. Not a showy wine, but has complexity and depth.

    60-year-old Mencia and 10 months in used French oak. Bright cherry red and lovely supple fruit with just a hint of graphite. Complete juicy, neat wine that tastes less tha 14% alcohol. Bone dry finish but such fluidity. Just lovely stuff. 17/20

    The first thing that hits you is the most attractive floral bouquet… hence the “Petalos” moniker. If you are new to the red wines of Bierzo I wholeheartedly recommend this wine as your entry point. Whilst not exhibiting some of the complexities inherent to the single vineyard Mencias, this wine shows exceptionally well, with black raspeberries and a great expression of pure dark fruit. Even at this level Palacios produces wines with a substantial minerality. Very good indeed. ****

    [V]very aromatic, with notes of violets, blueberries and licorice. It has medium body, good acidity, with strawberry fruit, spice, and well integrated oak.

    The Descendientes De Jose Palacios "Petalos" (Bierzo, Spain) 2009 [Very Good] is a showy wine. . . But the wine is alcoholic (14.5%) and the flavors run toward overripe fruit. It seems that the super-ripe fruit also required acidity adjustments; the balance of the wine is not as good as it could be. Still, this is ripe, tasty wine, "hedonistic" as Parker would say. Dark ruby in color, the aromas show a touch of toasty oak, with strong notes of spice, fennel, licorice and lacquer, on top of black raspberry fruit. Medium to full bodied, with somewhat artificial zippy acidity and grippy tannins, there is a racy quality to the wine on first taste. The Petalos has abundant flavors of black raspberry, prune, black pepper, anise and a metallic minerality. As the wine airs the fruit shows more overripe qualities. The finish is well structured and fairly long, but the overripeness of the fruit detracts, as does unintegrated toasty oak. This is a tasty wine, but was probably better in its infancy, when its freshness was more pronounced.

    A bright youthful ruby red colored wine with a highly concentrated core. The fruits on the nose ranges from wild raspberries to red berries subsequently pepper-like spice and subtle bacon. Alcohol also coming through. A developing medium bodied wine with quite low fine-grained tannins of the stalky kind, plenty amount of fruity flavor intensity and a high invigorating and fresh acidity. Alongside the wild raspberries and red plums the alcohol is striking me as a bit over the top and becomes more apparent by the spicy pitch. Sweet wild raspberry lingers and jams in a lengthy aftertaste. Bierzo and Mencia grapes continues to bringing good value to the table, including this entry-level wine from Descendientes de José Palacios. Refreshing and brilliant despite the small spiking. 89 points.

  • Bodegas y Viñedos Luna Beberide "Finca la Cuesta", $16 - $22.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Coppery and stoic, with an almost bloody kick that offsets rich, slightly oak-tinged warm cassis and coffee. Generous and rich without losing the high-acid tension. Crafted for a steak or beef stew. A fantastic value, with good aging potential.

    Finca La Cuesta was the pick of the reds and it is a stunning example of the rare Mencía grape. With vibrant red cherry fruit and a pulse-racing slickness of texture this is a devastatingly impressive wine. Think of turbo-charged, top end Beaujolais with Iberian flair! This is set to be my spring/summer red of choice.

    ♣ Wine Advocate: June 2011, 91 points; April 2010, 91 points.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar: September/October 2011, 90 points; October 2010, 90 points.

    The 2009 Finca La Cuesta came from a single 60-year-old vineyard planted on slate. It was fermented with native yeasts and aged for 12 months in French oak, some of it new. It emits a pleasing perfume of violets, cedar, balsamic, mineral, and black raspberry leading to a racy, elegant, pleasure-bent red that should drink well for another 5 years. Bodegas y Vinedos Luna Beberide is an excellent source of value-priced wines from the increasingly fashionable DO of Bierzo.

    (from vines that are reportedly over 60 years old and planted at an altitude of almost 800 meters): Vivid purple. Smoky, floral aromas of black raspberry and violet are enlivened by a zesty mineral nuance. Elegant, focused flavors of sweet dark berries, candied flowers and spicecake are supported by silky tannins. Finishes racy and long, with lingering smokiness.

    Blackberry, cassis and boysenberry aromas come with a touch of oak. This feels big and lush, with earthy, high-quality flavors of chocolate, toast, blackberry and chocolate. A long, fairly complex finish confirms this wine’s standing. 90 points.

    From a hillside vineyard of granite and clay soils, this mencía delivers deep red fruit flavors that sweeten its substantial minerality, all carried by smooth tannins. 91 points, Best Buy.

    This wine illustrates the spicy, fruity intensity of Spanish reds. Full and balanced with chewy tannins and a fresh finish. A balanced and delicious wine. 91 points.

    Inky ruby. Spicy black cherry, tobacco, minerals, licorice and menthol on the nose, all lifted by a floral topnote. Taut, focused and quite primary; today this is all zesty dark fruits and seems quite unformed. Impressively nervy and dry, with chewy extract and emerging notes of graphite, herbs and Indian spices. T his very fresh, slowly evolving wine finishes with sneaky tannins and firm mineral-driven persistence.

For a Splurge

The winemaker who is very largely responsible for propelling mencia onto the world stage is Alvaro Palacios of the "Descendientes de José Palacios" winery. They make an assortment of Mencia bottlings, from the much-recommended basic "Petalos" (listed above) to five single-vineyard (and very limited) bottlings, some of which retail for up to $700 a bottle (no, that is not a typo).

Between the Petalos and the single-vineyard offerings is our selection, the Descendientes de José Palacios Bierzo "Villa de Corullon"; the New York Times Mencia tasting panel gave it their highest Mencia rating, 3½ stars. The wine retails for circa $33 to $68.

     ($38.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

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