Staying in? Try a glass of amazing Mencia

Pay a little more for the Spanish wine and reap the rewards

The first Spanish Wine Week starts on Monday (see and it has prompted me to look at a Spanish grape variety that is enjoying a surge in popularity.

I have been intrigued by the Mencía grape since I first tasted it many years ago. Grown exclusively in Galicia and Bierzo in the far north-west of Spain, it seemed virtually unknown. I searched through wine books, magazines, and even the official Spanish government wine guide in a fruitless effort to find any mention.

Then, as viticulture and winemaking improved in the area, a few of the more go-ahead importers here began to ship the wines. Now the trickle has turned to a flood.

Mencía has been described as a cross between Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. It has some of the pepperiness of the former and the fragrance of the latter. Think Beaujolais, a Loire Cabernet or a Bourgogne Rouge. But really Mencía has its own unique set of flavours, a seductive combination of flowers, wild fruits, dark cherries and blackcurrants. Some have a savoury tang and a refreshing acidity; others a more herbal, earthy element. As you may have guessed I am smitten by Mencía.


The lesser wines should be served cool, possibly with charcuterie and mild cheeses. As we move up the scale, the medium-bodied styles are great with chicken, pork, sausages, game and white meats. At one time the more expensive bottles were disappointing; high in alcohol and ruined by excessive oaking. This has now thankfully changed. I tasted some superb top-end wines for this article. I also tried several very cheap wines which were a little short on fruit and had a strange astringent charcoal flavour, although the Castillo Colina from Dunnes Stores at €7 is worth trying. But my tasting uncovered plenty of delicious fruit-filled wines costing €13-€20.

I mentioned the north-west of Spain. Possibly my most evocative wine visit in years was a day spent in the incredible landscape of the Ribeira Sacra. The vines grow on ancient terraced vineyards, on impossibly steep slopes in a beautiful verdant countryside. The reds here are generally lighter, almost Pinot Noir is style. Bierzo, the main production area is further inland and less spectacular. Vines here, as in Ribera Sacra, have been grown since Roman times. In Bierzo, the climate is warmer and therefore the wines are richer.


El Pájaro Rojo 2014,

Bierzo, 14%, €16.95

Luscious soft ripe dark fruits, with a touch of spice. Slips down all too easily.

Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown.

Quite 2014 Bierzo,

Veronica Ortega, 13.5%, €19.95

Medium-bodied, perfumed with fresh clean dark fruits; delicious, but if feeling flush, go for Ortega’s Roc (€30).

Stockists: 64wine: Green Man; Clontarf Wines.

Pétalos 2013

, Bierzo, Desc de J Palacios, 14%, €24.99

Classic Mencia; rose petal aromas, clean refreshing red fruits with a lovely savoury bite.

Stockists: Ardkeen, Waterford; Carpenters, Castleknock; The Corkscrew; La Touche; Matson’s, Cork; Redmonds, Ranelagh.