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.
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!