Mencia is an increasingly common Spanish red variety both at retail and in the on-trade. But most of us are not as familiar with it as we are with more commonly found Spanish reds: Tempranillo from Rioja and Ribera and Garnacha from Priorat. (I always think of these as the ‘big three’ of Spanish red wine, but don’t forget about the Monastrell wines from Jumilla and Yecla. Other Spanish reds may be too obscure for a blind tasting exam).
What is Mencia like? The best way to learn is to taste for yourself, and one classic is the inexpensive J. Palacios Petalos; it’s a benchmark example of Bierzo.
When you’re tasting you might want to consider the following attributes I have consistently noted across different examples of the variety.
Medium bodied, moderate alcohol (13-13.5%)
Moderate, fresh acidity
Juicy red fruit character
A spicy or peppery quality to the fruit
Moderate levels of chalky tannins
Velvety texture - this is a good example of a variety where the texture of the tannins is quite different from the texture of the fruit
Put the last two points together and you begin to understand why a common confusion is with Right Bank Bordeaux: a St. Emilion kind of chalkiness and a velvety red fruit character…
…but the location of the tannins is different. Rather than being around the edge of the mouth, as you expect in any Bordeaux variety, here they are in the cheeks (just like they are for Tempranillo, incidentally - cheek tannins are a pointer for Spain)
You sometimes find that distinctly Spanish note on the finish: torrefaction. That is, a slight roasted or even toffee character to the finish. Very Spanish!