Meditations on Mencia

11/27/18 -

A few weeks ago, we stepped back and looked at our Mencia offerings, and figured the lineup was worth emailing about, as there are quite a few Mencia fans among our ranks and amongst our local clientele as well. We figured some of our readers may share our enthusiasm! Mencia is found in Galicia, and most historians speculate that it came from Bierzo (see Wine Grapes; J. Robinson, J. Harding, J. Vouillamoz). Research has shown that Jaén du Dão from Portugal is in fact identical to Mencia, and there is some evidence that Mencia may have come from Portugal originally (if it was indeed a cross between two Portugese grapes - Alfrocheiro and Patorra - as some researchers posit). Whatever it's exact origin, Mencia is unique to northern Portugal and the north-west of Spain, and is a grape that has increasingly impressed us as quality has improved over the last 20 or so years. Most of this is due to the growing focus on old, low-yielding vineyards on granite and schist soils, as opposed to the high-yielding low altitude plains where Mencia was planted in abundance after phylloxera hit Europe. The rest is due to a particular type of pride that winemakers in the region have for their indigenous grapes. Mencia is here to stay, and we're happy that the old parcels are being protected and respected instead of being torn up for internationally recognized varieties.

In an effort to mix things up a bit with the formatting of our emails, we offer two free-form meditations on Mencia, from Oskar Kostecki and Eben Lillie.

"In my youth I was fortunate to travel quite extensively throughout Spain, and what struck the deepest chord was the incredible diversity found all throughout the country. I hadn't dedicated my life to wine yet, but even then falling in love was unavoidable; and the local cuisine, culture, and wine of all corners of Spain had a deep impact on my time spent there. As I started learning about wine, I started to catalogue things and that initial melange of wonder took on a more rigid order. This tastes like that, or x is similar to y, and so on and so forth. With Mencia I learned to tell people, oh, it's like the Spanish pinot noir, and it seemed easy to explain it that way. Yet as I dive deeper and deeper into Spanish wine I am struck again by the all the things I didn't know, and get to discover. Mencia, a grape I thought I could explain away as "a Spanish pinot noir," shows a myriad different profiles and textures in the varied terroirs of Northwestern Spain, and a the chance to explore them all brings me great joy again. Spanish wine is experiencing a beautiful renaissance, and I'm very happy to be able to drink through it."  Oskar Kostecki 

"Once upon a time, Chambers St. Wines didn’t have much of a Spanish section. We always had Lopez of course, and I’m sure we had Priorats of some repute, but I don’t remember them much. Things changed around 2010 when a young fellow named Chris Barnes joined the sales team, and they only got better years after Chris left, when Ariana Rolich joined the team and brought her passion to the section (thank you both!). My first memory of Mencía goes back to the days when Barnes was on the floor. He brought in some D. Ventura Do Burato and I immediately clicked with the wine. There was something bright and fresh about it, but it had a dark side too. Chris would go on about Galicia and the history of vine growing there, which dates back to Roman times. I got this sense of beauty and timelessness though I had never visited the region, and I never forgot the impression that Mencia made on me. During Ariana’s tenure, I kept learning about Mencia, as it became clear that some renditions were much lighter and juicier than others and I wondered about the differences in style. I didn’t realize that winemakers would often acidify their Mencia wines, especially when the grapes were coming from lower elevation plains. At this point I knew to ask more from my Mencía, and began to realize that the most authentic expressions were most often the darkest and most structured. Now, I'm no more an expert than the next person whose eyes light up when they hear ‘Mencía,’ but I'm a proponent nonetheless, and someone who is genuinely excited to introduce people to this grape, whether in store or through a casual Tuesday email!"  Eben Lillie

We invite you to try these wines, or keep them in mind for holiday gatherings! The following selections are from both Portugal and Spain, and represent just a portion of the Mencia based wines that we've fallen in love with here at Chambers Street over the years. 

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