A surprising number of Loire Valley cabernet franc aficionados are somehow unfamiliar with the mencía grape. Thriving in the far northwest of Spain, mencía produces bright, herbaceous wines with fairly moderate tannins and acidity. The combination of succulent red fruit, savory, earthy notes, and a streak of minerality would absolutely delight any cab franc lover.
Thanks to a relatively cool, ocean-influenced climate and the artistry of modern winemakers, today’s mencía wines offer complexity and finesse (with alcohol levels often at 13 percent or lower) while remaining robust enough to accompany heartier fare. At Paul Marcus Wines, we are fortunate to be able to feature a number of impressive examples of this food-friendly variety.
The grapes for A Portela, made by Alberto Orte, come from a single hilltop vineyard in Galicia’s Valdeorras appellation. The plot’s granite soils help create a lighter-style, perfumed mencía with ample acidity, and the extra time in the bottle seems to have highlighted the grape’s greener, more vegetal tones–perfect for croquetas de jamón and other early-meal nibbles.
The vineyard of Fazenda Agrícola Prádio in Ribeira Sacra
A classic, textbook style of mencía from Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, this offering from winemaker Xabi Soeanes boasts fruit that is a tad darker and riper, balanced by a subtle range of floral and smoky flavors.
Moving farther inland, we find the Bierzo DO in Castilla y León, just over Galicia’s eastern border. With the ocean influence diminished, the wines from Bierzo tend to be a little bigger and bolder, and while the ‘Pico Ferreira’ does exhibit a bit more density than the others, the high-elevation, rocky slate soils and Márquez’s touch in the cellar still lead to a graceful, focused result. This cuvée is 85 percent mencía from 100-year-old vines, rounded out by 10 percent alicante bouschet and other indigenous white and red grapes. Márquez studied under his uncle Raúl Pérez, a mencía legend, and has learned his lessons quite well.
The Envínate gang makes wines from vineyards throughout Spain, including the Canary Islands, and they are at the forefront of modern Spanish winemaking. Their mencía-based bottlings come from Ribeira Sacra and are among the finest examples of mencía available. The 2021 Lousas, like the above wine, is a high-altitude field blend with about 85 percent mencía as its foundation. The grapes, fermented mostly whole cluster, come from several different plots within Ribeira Sacra, and the juice is aged for about a year in a combination of concrete and used French oak. This wine is a knockout, top to bottom, and its modest alcohol (12.5 percent) allows it to pair well with a range of spicy red and white meats.
For a real treat, check out Envínate’s site-specific Doad–a savory, spicy, stylish gem that will make cab franc heads feel like they’ve been transported straight to Chinon!
Wine lovers are perpetually in search of the “next big thing.” Discovering “new” wines from lesser-known regions around the world can be an eye-opening experience offering distinct, unusual flavor profiles, unique food-pairing opportunities, and (if you’re quick enough to the game) the prospect of value hunting.
These days, Spain’s Canary Islands represent one of the hippest and most fascinating growing regions in Europe. Located about 100 kilometers west of Morocco, the Canaries are distinguished by its high-elevation vineyards rich in volcanic soils–the islands also avoided the phylloxera scourge of the late 19th century, meaning they are home to some of the oldest ungrafted vines in Europe.
The Canary Islands now include 10 DOPs (Denominación de Origen Protegida). While each island has its own terroir, Canary wines in general are known for their roaring acidity and prominent mineral notes, often produced by smaller wineries in a low-intervention style. Below are three gems that we are currently featuring at Paul Marcus Wines.
The grapes for the Ikewen Tinto, made by rising star Carmelo Peña Santana, come from steep, ungrafted vineyards located in a warm and dry microclimate on Gran Canaria. The old-vine blend is mostly Listan Negro and Listan Prieto, along with a few co-planted white varieties. After a long 40-day maceration, the juice ages for eight months in steel tanks. The resulting wine is bright and energetic, peppery and a tad savory, with enough earthy notes to keep it grounded. Bring on the carne fiesta–the spicy, garlicky marinated pork dish that is a favorite in these parts. The Ikewen is bold enough to hold its own, yet its low alcohol and low tannins won’t clash with the piquant flavors of the meal.
The Valle de la Orotava appellation is located on the north coast of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. This region features a traditional vine-training style known as cordón trenzado, or “braided cords,” a labor-intensive, horizontally oriented system in which the vines can stretch as far as 50 feet wide. Dolores Cabrera is a master of the cordón trenzado system, and it shows. This high-toned mix of Listan Negro and Listan Blanco emanates from Hacienda Perdida, her highest parcel in Orotava, and it boasts a vigorous mineral streak, a hint of reduction, and a whiff of funk–all tied together with some gorgeously supple yet surprisingly lush fruit that lets you know that there is some clay among the volcanic soils.
Fans of European football will recognize the name David Silva, the stalwart Spanish midfielder who helped bring home two Euro titles and a World Cup for the national team. A native of Gran Canaria, Silva enlisted the help of Jonatan García (of Suertes del Marqués fame) when he founded his winemaking project a few years ago, focusing on a handful of rare, native Canarian grapes. This bottling is made from the obscure Vijariego Blanco grape, and it is truly a revelation. Aged on the lees in 500-liter barrels for nine months, this wine is quite a bit more textured and ripe than most Canary whites while still showcasing the mineral snap that is the region’s calling card. Thus, it is rich enough to stand up to heartier, more flavorful cuisine, without sacrificing anything in the way of freshness or elegance. It’s not every day you find this level of intensity and complexity for less than 50 bucks.
To learn more about these wines and a host of other Canary Island offerings, please visit us at the shop.
Envínate has been steadily crafting some of the more exciting–and sought after–Iberian Peninsula wines in recent memory. The Envínate project was spearheaded by a group of four friends who met while studying wine growing. (Envínate means, in so many words, “to wine yourself.”) While focusing primarily on the Canary Islands and Ribeira Sacra, they also work with exceptional vineyard sites throughout Spain.
The Envínate Albahra Chingao is one of the finer examples I have come across of an unsulfured wine–and what it can express in terms of sheer deliciousness and elegance, all while relaying an amazing transparency of terroir. It’s made from 100 percent garnacha tintorera (a.k.a. Alicante Bouschet) grown in a very special white-limestone-rich, 30-year-old vineyard (similar to the albariza soils of Jerez).
Albahra (Castilian for “small sea”) is named for the vineyard area in the Almansa region close to the town of Albacete, located at the southeastern tip of Castilla-La Mancha (about a two-hour drive west of Valencia). Sitting above 800 meters, the vineyard is trained “en vaso” or “alberello,” distinguished by its little-bush-vine style. Garnacha tintorera is also notable for its red pulp–one of the few red grapes on the planet to feature red pulp as well as red skin.
This wine checks most of the boxes that we appreciate: hand harvesting, indigenous-yeast fermentation, and mostly whole cluster, with concrete being the vessel for both fermentation and an eight-month rest before bottling without sulfur. Hence the term Chingao, which translates to something along the lines of a pleasant, unexpected surprise or realization–as in, hot damn, that’s good!
Expect quite the array of purple and red fruits, all wrapped up in a gorgeous, spice-laden blossom. Maybe sprinkle a piquant Moroccan spice blend (say, ras el hanout) on your lamb shoulder chop and marinate while your sweet potato roasts in the oven. Finish it all with some creme fraiche, lime, and cilantro. Oh, and make sure to have a slight chill on that bottle of Albahra.
While the Chingao bottling of Envínate’s Albahra is a stunner, their regular Albahra cuvee isn’t far behind. This sees the same treatment as the Chingao bottling for vinification, except there is 30 percent moravia agria in the blend, lending a brighter, slightly more acidic punch–perhaps a bit less concentrated and higher pitched. It also sees a small amount of sulfur at bottling.
Both of these wines truly showcase the freshness and versatility that garnacha tintorera can achieve when nudged a certain way.
Juan Francisco Fariña Pérez–JuanFra to people who know him well–is making some of the most exciting wines on the Canary Islands. His winery is located in Arafo, which is in northeastern Tenerife and serves as the hub of the Valle de Güímar DO. JuanFra calls his wine project Los Loros, named for the laurel shrubs that inhabit the upper elevations of the Valle de Güímar.
Farming in these parts is primarily conventional, but JuanFra favors a more holistic approach, while practicing organic and incorporating some biodynamic methods. The vines that JuanFra cultivates are primarily listán blanco and albillo criollo, located adjacent to the winery. Other vineyard sources higher up the mountainside offer an array of local varietals, with varying elevations up to 1,400 meters. The terrain in this neck of the woods is mostly volcanic sand, with some clay and limestone dotted in and around; abundant sunshine is moderated by the cooling Atlantic trade winds.
JuanFra’s winemaking philosophy delivers wines that are gorgeously pure and elegant expressions of these indigenous varietals, without being too serious (or reductive). Whole clusters when fermenting reds? Check. Gentle pressings and very minimal, if any, SO2 additions? Check. We all should strive to drink more wines like these going forward.
His 2020 Los Loros Listán Negro comes from 40-50-year-old vines at altitudes ranging from 700 to 1,300 meters. This wine spends a relatively short few months in old wood, and it shines brightly, with a savory salinity accompanying its smooth tannins and spicy red fruit. Time to char some broccoli and grill some sausages!
The 2019 Los Loros Listán Blanco de Canarias hails from two separate parcels, about 30 to 40 years old, and it offers a wonderful mix of fruit and volcanic minerality that screams for fried fish, or any richly flavored wonder of the sea for that matter.
Other Canary Island producers we carry here at Paul Marcus Wines include Suertes del Marqués, whose 2017 Vidonia cuvee, made from ungrafted listán blanco, will remind you of a top-notch white burgundy with its impeccable balance of fruit, minerality, structure, and length. Then there’s the 2019 Envinate Taganan Tinto, a benchmark field blend perfect for anyone who’s curious about Canary Islands wines, and a kaleidoscopic vision of what red varietals can produce from this volcanic terroir. Finally, we have the 2019 Envinate Taganan Margalagua Tinto, an exceptional wine that comes from a steep, very special single centenarian parcel that includes a dizzying assortment of red varietals. Subtle and saline, it’s a unique bottling to say the least.
To learn more about the stimulating, progressive wines of the Canary Islands, please come and visit us at the shop.
https://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpg00Jason Seelyhttps://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpgJason Seely2022-06-05 18:02:522022-06-05 18:02:52Producer Profile: Juan Francisco Fariña Pérez
With spring on our minds, there’s a glimmer of hope that the temporary existence near a salty sea is real, and not too far off in the distant future. And so we dream of Rías Baixas, the mystical, fjord-like land in far northwestern Spain, just above the Portuguese border.
With its rugged shoreline, juxtaposed with pristine forests, this coastal zone is so appealing on a number of levels. Notably, it’s home to some of the great white wines of western Europe. The Rías Baixas Denominación de Origen (DO) lies within the region of Galicia, centered around the province of Pontevedra. It is believed that its signature albariño grape was first introduced to the area in the 12th century by the Cistercian monks.
Deep, cold-water currents are the reason Galician seafood is so renowned, and albariño, the most important white grape cultivated here, is truly a harmonious match with the salinity and richness of North Atlantic seafood. The deep estuaries of the Rías Baixas are filled with an abundance of sea creatures and acres of oyster beds teeming with life! The soils here for viticulture are predominantly granitic and sandy.
The albariño grape has steadily been gaining traction with consumers thanks to its versatility at the table–and its downright delicious flavor profile. Albariño’s high natural acidity and saline qualities are a couple of the reasons it marries so well with the full gamut of seafood, as well as pork or chicken dishes.
Then there’s Do Ferreiro. They farm a dizzying array of small plots of albariño, with both old and young vines, to create its 2019 Do Ferreiro Rías Baixas. This reference-point bottling has a bit more depth and plushness than the others, as well as more white fruit. This is likely a result of the high percentage of old vines that go into this cuvée. The grapes get a cold soak before indigenous yeasts start off the fermentation, and the juice then gets six months of lees aging. Try this with a richly flavored pork stew, grilled pork with fruit, or even a paella that might have a variety of seafoods as well as chorizo.
For an extraordinary albariño experience, grab a bottle of the elegant and complex 2018 Do Ferreiro ‘Dous Ferrados.’ Only two 500-liter barrels are produced of this hand-picked, cooler-climate cuvée.
The landscape, culture, and natural bounties of Rías Baixas have a lot to offer those looking for an escape or a discovery off the beaten path. Its calming simplicity will surely fulfill many of our daydreams as we search for a less frenetic existence.
Sometimes, there’s just no convincing the people. Though sherry is a relatively recent discovery for me, I’ve been singing its praises for more than a decade–with little success. I hear all the familiar refrains: “My grandmother used to love her $6 sherry,” or “Who are you, Frasier Crane?” That’s fine–more for me.
A solera at Bodegas César Florido
Made primarily from the palomino grape, grown on a chalky, limestone-laden type of soil known as “albariza,” sherry is an incredibly versatile and nuanced type of wine. Its homeland is Jerez (hence the name sherry), located on the Atlantic coast in Spain’s southwestern Andalusia region. Sherry can be mellow and easygoing, sharp and bracing, and everything in between. Some are as friendly and relaxed as an old dog; some have enough power and intensity to send ol’ grandma into cardiac arrest.
Sherry is produced using what’s known as a solera system, in which barrels are stacked in tiers to allow for fractional, cross-vintage blending. When the older stuff at the bottom is removed for bottling (a process called the “saca”), it is replaced at the top by the latest vintage.
The lightest, driest, and tangiest sherries are fino and manzanilla, which spend their aging regimen under a layer of yeast known as “flor” (a process known as biological aging). Amontillado and palo cortado begin life as a fino or manzanilla, but are allowed to oxidize after the yeast dies or is killed off by fortification–a combination of biological and oxidative aging– imparting a nuttier, more caramel-like tone while still retaining tang and freshness. Oloroso sherries are fully oxidative (no yeast) and are rich with toffee and dried fruit flavors, yet still mostly dry. Finally, there are sweet sherries made with grapes such as Pedro Ximénez (PX) and moscatel.
The three poles of the Sherry Triangle are Sanlúcar de Barrameda to the north (home to manzanilla), Jerez de la Frontera to the east, and El Puerto de Santa Maria to the south. At Paul Marcus Wines, we are proud to feature sherry producers from throughout the region (and even a couple that are technically outside the triangle).
Up in Sanlúcar, the venerable Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana has been making sherry since the 18th century. Their budget-friendly, young Amontillado Napoleon is bright and dry, with subtle hazelnut notes and a long, clean finish. For a special occasion, try the Amontillado Napoleon VORS, which is pungent, mouth-filling, and caramelized, yet still surprisingly focused and floral for a wine aged well more than 30 years. We also have the Wellington Palo Cortado VOS, a sophisticated 20-year sherry that, despite its age, never lets you forget it started out as a manzanilla–it’s sharp, salty, creamy, and nutty all at once, and a reasonably priced entry point into the world of high-end sherry.
Bodegas Faustino González was founded 50 years ago, but its Cruz Vieja line is a newcomer on the sherry scene. The winery is located in the San Miguel neighborhood of Jerez de la Frontera, where the higher elevation invites the Atlantic breezes in from the west. They source their grapes from the historic Pago de Montealegre vineyard, and they own soleras that date back nearly 250 years.
All of the Cruz Vieja sherries are bottled “en rama” (unfiltered), including a delightfully complex, persistent, and mineral Fino En Rama, aged under flor for six years, and a lightly toasted, elegant, amber-hued Amontillado En Rama, which spends six years under flor plus another six aging oxidatively. Their Palo Cortado En Rama spends only the first of its 12 aging years under the veil, but still exemplifies their lighter touch and commitment to freshness. For a completely different experience, their Pedro Ximénez En Rama is raisiny and sweet as molasses, yet is also highlighted by a few spicy, savory notes. Pour this one over a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
Around since 1896, Bodegas Lustau remains one of the best-known and most-respected sherry producers in the world, offering a wide selection of bottlings. At PMW, we offer two from their Almacenista collection–sherries that come from small, independent producers. The Fino del Puerto González Obregón is a salty, citrusy, and edgy five-year fino from a bodega in El Puerto de Santa Maria, while the Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia, from a solera in Jerez de la Frontera started by Emilio Lustau in 1921, is rich, woody, dark, and robust, ripe with dried fruit yet still mostly dry.
From El Maestro Sierra, which dates back to 1830, we offer a 15-year Oloroso, which balances its richness with a few higher-toned elements. We also have a few bottles left of some of El Maestro Sierra’s most prized releases: the 70-plus-year-old Palo Cortado and the Oloroso 1/14–wines of tremendous electricity and complexity. In addition, there are a couple of VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry, more or less) bottlings from Osborne, the Oloroso Sibarita and the Pedro Ximénez Venerable. Like the two high-end offerings from El Maestro Sierra, these offer unique, once-in-a-decade drinking experiences that will make you wonder how grape juice can be made to taste that way.
From outside the official Sherry Triangle, we have wines from Chipiona’s César Florido. Chipiona, located five miles west of Sanlúcar, is known for moscatel, a grape that produces sweet wines (though not to the level of PX) balanced with some acidity and gentle fruit and spice elements. Florido’s Moscatel Dorado is a great introduction, with its notes of orange peel and honey. Florido’s Fino Cruz del Mar is a three-year en rama fino that is quite dry, yeasty, and smoky–bright, but laid-back.
Bodegas Alvear can be found in Montilla, about two-and-a-half hours to the east of the Sherry Triangle. PX is king in Montilla-Moriles, and Alvear’s Oloroso Asunción is made with sugar-filled PX instead of palomino. Fermented into a welcoming off-dry style (19 percent alcohol, without any fortification), it combines sumptuous dried figs with a surprisingly lucid and lively finish.
Finally, PMW still has a few options from the Alexander Jules line. Alex Russan had been releasing his barrel-selected sherry since 2012, but recently moved on to other endeavors. Luckily, there are still a few bottles of his Amontillado Sin Prisa 1/42–all culled from a single barrel of a long-forgotten 42-barrel solera in Sanlúcar. Only 400 half-bottles were produced of this vigorous, dynamic, yet unexpectedly polished nectar.
With such an array of producers and styles, there’s a sherry that’s perfect for pretty much every part of the meal. As the old saying goes, “fino or manzanilla if it swims, amontillado if it flies, and oloroso if it runs.” Of course, it can be awfully rewarding as an aperitif or, especially, a digestif–a wine of reflection, if you will. Once you discover the wonders of sherry, trust me, you’ll be hooked.
Tucked into the far northwest corner of Spain, abutting the Atlantic Ocean, Galicia produces some of the country’s most intriguing and memorable wines. Coastal Rias Baixas, where albariño is king, is perhaps the most prominent of the five DOs located in Galicia, but these days, it’s Ribeiro that’s turning heads in the world of wine.
Image from rimontgo.com
Like a lot of recently “rediscovered” winemaking regions, Ribeiro has an impressive historical pedigree that, over the centuries, has been threatened by the usual trials and tribulations–war, invasion, botanical blight, mass production, etc. But winemaking in Ribeiro dates back about 2,000 years, and has also experienced various periods of prosperity and admiration. Several talented winemakers are today attempting to recapture past glory, and wine connoisseurs are taking notice.
Ribeiro benefits from its specific location within Galicia: Roughly 50 km inland, Ribeiro’s vines are both influenced by and somewhat protected from the ocean climate. Therefore, the wines of Ribeiro tend to be a bit riper and fleshier while still boasting the freshness and acidity generated by the proximity to the Atlantic.
Almost 90 percent of Ribeiro’s wine production revolves around white grapes, most notably treixadura. Balanced and bright, treixadura exemplifies Ribeiro’s unique terroir–it’s vibrant and clean, but with ample fruit, a bit of texture, and keen aromatics.
Among the leading lights of Ribeiro is Luis Anxo Rodriguez Vazquez, who has been making wines in the region for more than 30 years. Included in his lineup are two treixadura-based cuvees, both available at Paul Marcus Wines. Viña de Martin Os Pasás blends treixadura with lado, albariño, and torrontes, and it’s aged in steel on the lees for 10 to 12 months. It makes a perfect match for simply prepared fish and chicken dishes, as well as a variety of hard cheeses. A Teixa adds godello and albariño to its treixadura foundation and spends a year on the lees in large wooden vats. This cuvee partners brilliantly with all manner of shellfish (especially scallops) and full-flavored poultry creations.
Another producer working wonders with treixadura is Bodegas El Paraguas, whose estate white blend is mostly treixadura with some godello and albariño. With minimal oak influence (only the godello sees wood), the El Paraguas is a bit more focused than Rodriguez’s blends, and equally as satisfying.
Though mencía has a home in Ribeiro, the rising red star of the DO is brancellao; often relegated to blending status in the recent past, brancellao grapes are capable of making complex, commanding wines that belie their relatively modest body and low alcohol content. It is a grape of contradictions to be sure: elegant and lifted, yet with a brooding, smoky side; dark in color, yet almost transparent at the same time; spicy and mineral, but not without a little tannic impact; expressive and restrained all at once.
Rodriguez makes two brancellao-based cuvees (blended with other indigenous Ribeiro grapes including caiño and ferrol) that have been featured at Paul Marcus Wines: the Eidos Ermos bottling, which combines oak and steel aging, and the slightly sturdier A Torna Dos Pasás, which sees 12 months of used oak. These food-friendly blends can accompany anything from spicy pork dishes to tuna steaks.
We were also lucky enough to get our hands on a few bottles of the single-varietal Dos Canotos Brancellao made by Cume do Avia. A study in finesse, this is a lively, lightly extracted red wine that punches way above its weight and shows that brancellao, when handled with proper care, can even give red Burgundy a run for its money.