Grapes You Don't Know But You Should: Mencia

Are you someone who loves a light Pinot Noir or an earthy Cabernet Franc? Don’t we all. While we don’t entirely feel that drinking the same varietals over and over again is boring (I mean, who ever got bored of drinking red Burgundy?!), it definitely does constrain your palate to a very small pool of wine among an ocean of varietals. We understand that when you find something you know you like, it’s hard to venture out into uncharted territory. But that’s why we’re here — to help you uncover those wacky grape varieties that you never knew existed, but will probably actually love. Today’s start: Mencia.

Mencia is a Spanish grape that finds its home in northwestern Spain, in the region of Galicia. Bierzo, Valdeorras, and Ribeira Sacra are the three most renowned appellations for the grape. The only other place in the world that Mencia is found is Portugal, specifically in the northern half of the country. In Portugal, the grape goes by the name Jaen. In total, Mencia’s plantings cover 22,000 acres on the Iberian peninsula.

In the past, wines produced from the Mencia grape were generally pale and fragrant, due to diluted grapes and higher yields after the phylloxera epidemic. However, the grape has seen a huge revival in Spain, with many winemakers carefully tending old vines on schisty hillsides, resulting in more concentrated grapes, giving way to deeper, higher-quality wines.

Nowadays, wines produced from the Mencia grape are deliciously complex, with prominent flavors of dark fruit and earth, touched with notes of flowery herbs. Because of Mencia’s peppery, earth-driven palate, many were led to believe that the grape was a descendant of Cabernet Franc. This was eventually proved to be untrue, though lovers of Cab Franc, and even Pinot Noir, tend to fall in love with the spicy, earthy red fruit flavors of Mencia.

In fact, Mencia is a wine that’s perfect year-round. The dark fruit flavors are gorgeous on cold winter days, though its bright acidity makes it light enough to carry you through to the warmer days of spring. We definitely find that the wine shines in summer, especially paired alongside smoked meats, grilled vegetables, and all other barbecued treats. The earthy tones in the wine make it a sensational pairing for fall flavors as well, particularly squash and root vegetables.

Next time you’re tempted to reach for your everyday bottle of Pinot, grab a bottle of this superb Spanish varietal instead. Pop the bottle in the fridge for 10 minutes for an even more refreshing experience.