Regular Bristol Wine Blog readers will know that I’m a great fan of Spanish wines – and not just Rioja (although I’ve enjoyed some outstanding bottles from there, too). From the Mediterranean-influenced south-east come the delicious Monastrell- (aka Mourvedre or Mataro) based reds of Jumilla and Yecla – wonderful value for money. At the other end of the price spectrum (but still worth trying) are the deep, intense old vine Garnachas (Grenache) from Priorat in the remotest hills of Catalonia. And, for those who prefer white to red, what better than the lovely, fragrant Alboriños, Godellos and Loureiras of Rias Baixas in the far north-western region of Galicia.
But, stop just to the east of Rias Baixas and you’re in the tiny DO (Denominacion de Origen – the Spanish equivalent of Appellation Contrôlée) of Ribeira Sacra, where the favourite grape is a red variety, Mencia. It was thought at one time to be the same grape as Pinot Noir, or, certainly, closely related to it – a link reinforced by the centuries-old pilgrimage route from Burgundy to Santiago de Compostela. But that relationship has now been firmly disproved, although I can certainly see a similarity of flavours in some bottles I have tasted.
The example I opened recently from Guímaro (Wine Society, £9.50) was a lovely deep, almost purple, colour with quite a smoky nose. To taste, it was lighter bodied that you might expect from the colour with attractive juicy flavours of plums and bitter black cherries followed by a long and slightly peppery finish with, perhaps, a little more warmth than the 13% alcohol shown on the label might lead you to believe.
An ideal match for duck or partridge, for example, Mencia is a variety that really should be better known. Perhaps it’s only the size of the production (and the love for it locally) that is holding it back. Do try it if you see one.