Five Fast Facts about Mencía

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Mencía is a red grape variety, mainly grown in northern Spain with additional plantings in central Portugal. It is known for producing nicely acidic, moderately tannic red wines.

If that is all that you know about Mencía, you are doing pretty well! However, if you’d like to learn a few more fascinating facts about Mencía, please read on!

#1: It is pronounced “Men-thee-ah.”

#2: It was once thought that Mencía was the same grape as—or closely related to—Cabernet Franc. However, modern DNA testing has proven that Mencía and Cabernet Franc are not particularly closely related. Mencía is, however, identical to a Portuguese grape known as Jaen—aka Jaen du Dão. It is possible that Mencía is native to the north of Spain and spread from there to Portugal’s Dão Region—perhaps via pilgrims trekking home from Santiago de Compostela. However, it is also possible that it originated in the Dão and later made its way to Spain.

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#3: These days, Mencía is best-known as the main grape of Spain’s Bierzo DO (located in the region of Castilla y León), where it accounts for nearly 75% of the vine acreage. Mencía is also grown in Galicia (Spain) in the Valdeorras DO, Monterrei DO, and Ribeira Sacra DO. In Portugal, it is grown in the Dão, Lisboa, and Beira Interior Regions.

#4: In the not-too-distant past, Mencía was primarily grown in the fertile, rain-abundant plains and valleys of Portugal and Galicia. These plantings produced high yields, which were in turn used to produce large volumes of high-acid, fruity, quaffable wines often compared to certain lovable-but-not-serious versions of Beaujolais.  As these things usually go, there certainly were a handful of quality-minded producers all along, and the idea of ultra-high quality Mencía was fully realized when—in the 1990s—Alvaro Palacios came to town. Palacios, already famous for creating ultra-high-quality wines in Priorat, began to produce Bierzo DO wines from 40-to-60-year-old Mencía vines grown on the well-drained soils of the area’s hillsides. The resulting wines, now produced by Descendientes de J. Palacios, are rich, concentrated, serious wines (including some single-vineyard bottlings that can fetch prices of $500 a bottle or more). Other top producers of hillside-grown Mencía include Dominio de Tares, Casar de Burbia and Castro Ventosa (whose holdings include a pre-phylloxera Mencía vineyard planted on the only sandy soils to be found in Bierzo).

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#5: Quaffable wines produced from the Mencía grape variety will be pleasant enough and have a nice cherry-red color, good acidity, and moderate tannins as well as aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, and pomegranate with some floral undertones. Lower-yield, higher-quality Mencía can show all of the above as well as hints of licorice, black pepper, and a whiff minerality—often described as a “gravel-like scent”. These wines can be deep red/violet in color, rich in meaty tannins, and as age-worthy as the finest Pinot Noir.

According to the latest figures, there are about 25,000 acres (10,100 ha) of Mencía in Spain, as well as about 7,000 acres (2,835 ha) in Portugal.

References/for further information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Grape Invaders: Caladoc, Rosé du Var, and Couston

Photo of Caladoc by Vbecart, via Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks ago (on November 15 and 16, 2017),  France’s National Committee of Appellations of Origin (INAO) relating to wine and spirits held a meeting. In addition to discussing the yields and conditions of the 2017 harvest, the committee approved a few requests for experimentation within the scope of some existing AOCs.

A few of these were quite interesting. For instance, the Blanquette de Limoux AOC is going to test machine harvesting, and the three AOCs of Chablis (Chablis AOC, Chablis Grand Cru AOC, and Petite Chablis AOC) are going to test the use of anti-hail netting.

However, what really caught my eye was the approval of some experimental plantings in two AOCs. Two experimental grapes— Caladoc and Rosé du Var—were approved for testing in the Côtes de Provence AOC. Caladoc was also approved as a test subject in the Côtes du Rhône AOC, as was Couston. I am not too familiar with any of these grapes, so now seems like a good time to do some research on these grapes. Here’s what I found out:

Caladoc: Caladoc is a red-skinned grape, created as a Grenache X Malbec cross by Paul Truel while working in Montpellier in the 1950s. The goal, which was achieved, was to create a variety resistant to coulure (shatter). The grape produces red wines that are deeply colored, full-bodied, and tannic, but it is most often used in fruity rosés.

Caladoc is currently planted to more than 6,000 acres (2,420 ha) in France and is used in Vin de France and Vin de Pays, but it is not approved for any AOC-level wines. However…the grape is quite respected in Portugal, and allowed for use in at least seven DOCs, including Arruda, Alenquer, Torres Vedras, Óbidos, Do Tejo, Beira Interior, and Encostas d’Aire. The grape has also made its way to Spain, Argentina, Lebanon, and Brazil.

Rosé du Var: Rosé du Var is a pink-skinned grape variety native to the Var département of Provence—an area also famous for Fréjus Cathedral, Bandol, and the beaches of Saint-Tropez. The grape also goes by the name Roussanne du Var—but (confusingly, but not surprisingly) it is not related to the Roussanne of the Rhône. The parentage of Rosé du Var has not been confirmed, but it is believed to be one of the many offspring of Gouais Blanc.

Rosé du Var grapes form big bunches and big berries, and can be vinified into white or rosé styles of wine—neither of which tend to be very flavorful. It is perhaps for this reason that the grape variety is not currently approved for use in any of the AOC wines of France, although you will find it used in both blends and varietal wines in Vins de France and IGP/Vins de Pays (particularly in Provence and other areas in southern France).

Photo of Couston by Vbecart, via Wikimedia Commons

Couston: This grape appears to be quite an obscurity (it didn’t even show up in the wine grape tome-of-tomes, Wine Grapes [see below]). I did find a few websites with a bit of information, and it does appear in the Catalog of French Wine Grapes. From these few references, I was able to find out that Couston appears to be a natural crossing, discovered by one Mr. Julien Couston, in the 1970s. The grape is believed to be the offspring of Grenache and Aubun Noir (a red variety native to the Northern Rhône). Couston is a vigorous vine known to produce grapes capable of creating full-bodied, full-flavored, and tannic red wines with rich cherry-like aromas.

It is anticipated—but by no means assured—that the INAO will sometime in the future approve these grapes for limited use in the above-mentioned AOCs of France. In all likelihood, if they are approved, they will be limited to a certain percentage (10% to 20%, for instance) of the final blend. We’ll have to wait and see what happens!

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net