“As elsewhere in Spain, the sleeping giant of plots of badly managed but well-established old vines has been woken by young Turks who are making very good, very intense stuff in Bierzo, Valdorras and Ribeira Sacra.”

-Peter Grogan, Grogan’s Companion to Drink

 

The Saucy Dressings’ Chief Taster is keen on wine, and he likes to try new things, so for Christmas this year I gave him (among other things) a couple of bottles of 2015 Valderroa, made from Mencía grapes. He took to it. “I can tell it’s not a Rioja of course,” he commented, “but where else in Spain it comes from, I couldn’t tell”. He looked at the label and was surprised to find it was produced in Spain’s north-west. “It’s fuller-bodied than I would expect from a wine grown in an area where the weather is so poor”, was his comment. “But it’s different, original….I very much like it.”

Mencía is the most important grape grown in Spain’s Bierzo DO-defined region, a region in north-west Spain, which covers a large part (75% of the vine acreage) of Castilla y León. It’s also grown in Galicia (where the Valdeorras we’ve just been sampling comes from).

It used to be thought that the Mencía was a cousin of the Cabernet Franc grape (follow this link for more on that grape ) and indeed the wine it produces does have a slightly similar taste – quite rich and peppery – but in fact DNA tests reveal that they are not closely related. What is the same grape, however, is the Portuguese Jaen, and it’s not clear if the grape originated in Portugal and migrated naturally to Spain or vice versa.

Originally wines made from Mencía grapes were of the quantity, not quality type…think cheap, light Beaujolais. But then, in the 1990s, Alvaro Palacios arrived. Palacios was one of the wine makers who helped to develop the great Priorats (follow this link for more on that wine). Now, some of the most serious (and expensive) Mencía wines are made by Descendientes de J. Palacios.

In the meantime, the Valderroa that we are enjoying has been produced by the Prada Gayoso family, who have been running a cooperative in the village of Portela since the end of the 19th century under the name Valdesil. Over the years the family has bought back the independently owned ‘pezas’. As producers they are really white wine specialists (they have some of the oldest Godello vines in the world), and they specialise in producing natural no or low sulphur wines.

Their Mencía is not expensive – about £11 from Waitrose. But it is nearly double what you would pay in its country of origin. Somehow that doesn’t seem right?

In any case, it’s interesting and different. It’s full-bodied and it would pair well with grilled meat.

 

mencia grapes

Image courtesy Sancho Panza XXI, Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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