I am always looking for wines that are not yet on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Some are relative newcomers, others are ancient varietals whose many attributes are just being discovered or re-discovered in the case of Mencia.
Mencia is a red Spanish grape varietal found primarily in the Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras appellations of northern Spain. The Mencia varietal was once considered by enologists to be a direct ancestor and precursor of Cabernet Franc, but recent DNA testing has shown that this is not the case. Mencia and Cabernet Franc do share some common characteristics, but not the same ancestry. It is now widely believed that Mencia and Portugal’s Jaen de Dão (Jaen for short) grape variety are one and the same. Still, not everyone agrees. However, what we do know for certain about Mencia is that it has been around for quite some time, and it is producing outstanding wines.
In Bierzo, original plantings of Mencia likely date to the earliest Roman settlers in Bierzo, who cultivated the varietal two thousand years ago in what remains one of Europe’s most isolated wine regions. Bierzo is a remote area of Galicia, Spain’s cool, windswept province astride the Atlantic. Certainly, it is the very isolation of the Bierzo that has allowed Mencia to survive and even thrive. Moreover, the average age of the hillside vines in Bierzo is quite old, which lends itself to the production of high quality wines. Consequently, the wonderfully fruity, spicy, and wholly intriguing Mencia varietal has recently been discovered or rather re-discovered by modern legions of wine drinkers. They are no doubt intrigued by the unique viticultural entity we call Mencia, whose many attributes are accentuated by organic farming, low vineyard yields, and modern winemaking techniques. In 2013, look for Mencia and other outstanding premium varietals that are not yet household names to arrive at your door.