Today's Sponsor
 The California Wine Club
Introducing The California Wine Club's By Reservation Only Program

 Terroirs of Burgundy with Robin Garr
Sample the glory of Burgundy in a tour designed for value-seeking wine lovers.

In This Issue
 Mencia from Bierzo We continue our walk on the wild side, exploring another less-familiar wine road with a look at an unfamiliar but fine red grape from northwestern Spain.
 The California Wine Club Introducing The California Wine Club's By Reservation Only Program
 Palacios 2005 "Pétalos" Bierzo ($18)
This unusual but delicious red Mencia from Bierzo in Spain offers a tasty way to add another variety to your wine-grape "life list."
 Terroirs of Burgundy with Robin Garr Sample the glory of Burgundy in a tour designed for value-seeking wine lovers.
 This week on
You're invited to join our TalkShoe call-in Internet radio show tomorrow, and to watch a strangely beautiful grapevine "dance" at Ch. Haut-Brion on our wine videos. Read about Dave McIntyre's visit to Port country; join in a discussion of alcohol levels in wine, and take our poll on your favorite winter warmer.
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index The Wine Advisor archives.
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Mencia from Bierzo

If today's headline doesn't ring a bell, don't be embarrassed: Your many responses to last Monday's exploration off the wine world's beaten path offered sufficient encouragement to inspire yet another walk on the wild side. So, for today's featured wine I'm pulling the cork on yet another grape and region obscure enough that even many serious wine geeks would have to look up.

Mencia is the grape, an indigenous red variety of Northwestern Spain that was once thought to be a cousin of Cabernet Franc. It long had a lackluster reputation as the source of lightweight wines, but recent hillside plantings and serious vineyard management have demolished that myth, and DNA testing has ruled out the Cab Franc connection.

Bierzo is a small wine region in the Northwestern "shoulder" of Spain, not far across the national border from Portugal's Tras-os-Montes, north of the Douro. It's another of those wine places that you may not have heard of ... yet. But there's a good chance that you'll be hearing a lot more about Bierzo - and the Mencia grape - before very long, as some very serious players in the Spanish wine industry are hard at work there.

Today's wine, 2005 "Pétalos" Bierzo, made by the Descendientes de José Palacios, offers an excellent case in point. Alvaro Palacios, making wine here with his nephew Ricardo Pérez Palacios, was one of the leaders in the spectacular rebirth of Priorat, at the far other end of Spain, during the '90s. Now they're making similar efforts to return Bierzo to its historic stature, and this still-affordable wine makes a strong case for the region's potential.

Biodynamically produced, it sees only four months in French oak, long enough to add a dash of spice without overwhelming the fruit. No lightweight by any measure, it doesn't give me any hint of Cabernet Franc, although I could make a case for likening its plummy, weighty yet attractively acidic style to a very good Petite Sirah. See below for my tasting report.

Today's Sponsor

California Wine Club
Introducing The California Wine Club's By Reservation Only Program

Many of California's highest-rated and most coveted wines sell out before countless wine consumers ever have the chance to purchase even one bottle.

Wines like these are even difficult for us to find. In fact, we sometimes acquire so few cases, we are unable to feature them in the club and instead offer them to a select group of customers.

Our By Reservation Only program gives you access to the wines you want with no commitment and no obligation.

How it works:

  • When a very special or limited wine opportunity comes up, we will automatically reserve a case for you.
  • Once your case has been reserved, we will email you. At that time, you can choose to accept or withdraw your reservation.
  • Priority is given on a first-come, first-served basis. The longer you are on the list, the higher your priority level.

To add your name to The California Wine Club's By Reservation Only program please call 800-777-4443 or email

For more information on The California Wine Club's By Reservation Only program, please click here:

Pétalos Palacios 2005 "Pétalos" Bierzo ($18)

This is a very dark blackish-purple wine, almost opaque in the glass; ruby glints flash against a strong light. Black plums and spice on the nose, deep and rich. Flavors are consistent with the nose, concentrated black fruit shaped by sharp acidity and texture, soft tannins and perceptible warmth from 14% alcohol. U.S. importer: The Rare Wine Co., Vineburg, Calif. (Jan. 14, 2007)

FOOD MATCH: In retrospect, this is a wine for red meats, grilled poultry or sharp cheeses. It wasn't a bad flavor match with my more offbeat choice, Roman straciatella (egg drop) soup with veal meatballs and spinach, turning the dish into a variation on "Italian Wedding Soup;" but the wine was just hearty enough to dominate the more delicate dish.

VALUE: The near cult-level reputation of Alvaro Palacios in Priorat is probably elevating the price of this wine that bears his family name, but its good combination of power and balance justifies an upper-teens price, particularly if you enjoy expanding your "life list" of unusual varieties and regions tasted.

WHEN TO DRINK: Its fruit, structure and balance suggest ageworthiness, although I can't claim any experience with aging Mencia. I'd certainly be willing to risk putting away a bottle or two for five years or even 10.

Mencia = "Mehn-cee-ah" (or "Mehn-thee-ah" in Castilian Spanish)
Bierzo = "B'yehr-zoe"

For detailed information about Descendientes de José Palacios Petalos, see the Website of importer Polaner Selections:

Find vendors and compare prices for Palacios "Pétalos" Bierzo on

Terroirs of Burgundy with Robin Garr

Hotel DieuBurgundy, one of the world's most glorious wine regions, is also one of the most difficult to learn. With its rich and ancient heritage, the map of Burgundy is intriguingly complex. More challenging still, Burgundy's rarity and great demand drives trophy-level prices, placing many of its greatest wines out of easy reach for most wine enthusiasts.

But what wine lover hasn't dreamed of touring Burgundy, meeting its wine makers and learning about its wines?

Now, with the respected wine-touring company French Wine Explorers, we've crafted a special, once-in-a-lifetime Terroirs of Burgundy tour aimed at providing thrifty, value-seeking wine lovers the rare opportunity to spend almost a week in Burgundy, enjoying VIP-style winery visits, comfortable accommodations and indulgent Burgundian meals in a varied group of typical regional bistrots and country inns.

If you've long dreamed of learning Burgundy and its wines with an expert at hand but thought you couldn't possibly afford it, I invite you to consider The Terroirs of Burgundy. I'll be personally leading the July 2-7, 2007 tour, and I promise maximum "bang for the buck" for thrifty wine lovers.

Interested? Don't delay. You can review our tentative itinerary and details at

For more information or to make reservations, send E-mail to or call +1-877-261-1500 (toll-free in the U.S. and Canada). And if you would like to discuss this tour with me personally, feel free to write me at

To read and comment on today's column in our non-commercial WineLovers Discussion Group, click:

Today's article is cross-posted in our Netscape WineLovers Community, where we also welcome comments and questions.

To contact me by E-mail, write I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.

Here's a simply formatted copy of today's Wine Advisor, designed to be printed out for your scrapbook or file or downloaded to your PDA or other wireless device.

This week on

Live on Jan. 16: WineLoversPage TalkShoe!
TalkShoe!How have your tastes in wine evolved over the years? Did you start with White Zinfandel, then move on to Turley or Ridge? Have your tastes crossed the Atlantic from New World to Old, or vice versa? We'll be talking about this topic on Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 1 p.m. US EST (10 a.m. PST, 1800 GMT and 19:00 in Western Europe), on a live call-in Internet radio program! This is your cordial invitation to phone in, discuss and exchange views with our online community. All you have to do is get on the phone and key in a code number. There's no cost (other than long-distance charges to your telco), and no reason to be shy ... you are among friends! To get started, click to our TalkShoe page for instructions, information and hotlinks.

Wine Videos: Vine Dance - One year in the life of a vine
Using time-lapse photography over an entire growing season at Château Haut-Brion, watch the vine's life in less than two minutes. Thousands of stills were assembled and hand-picked to make this remarkable video, which shows us a year in the life of a grapevine as a strangely beautiful dance.

Dave McIntyre's WineLine: The Soul of Port
Dave McIntyre reports on his visit to Vargellas, the flagship property of The Fladgate Partnership. It's one of only three of the old British Port shippers that are still family-owned, and the second largest exporter of Port to the United States.

Ideal amount of alcohol?
The alcoholic content of wine may range from as low as 4 percent (Moscato d'Asti, for instance) to 20 percent or more (Port and some other fortified wines). Even table wines run from 8 percent (for light Rhine whites) to 14 percent or more (for warm-climate blockbusters). Is there an ideal level? Does one size fit all? Read and talk about this issue in our WineLovers Discussion Group.

Poll: Favorite winter warmer?
We haven't seen much winter around here yet, and as far as I'm concerned, it can stay like that. Still, even a mild January is a good time to break out those sturdy, warming drinks that seem to fit a blustery evening. In this week's Netscape/CompuServe WineLovers Community poll, we invite you to pick your favorite winter warmer from a short list of options, plus the usual "Other" if you'd prefer to nominate another. Click to vote:

Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:

 Re-thinking Chardonnay (Jan. 12, 2006)

 Full body and back labels (Jan. 10, 2006)

 Basque Tannat (Jan. 8, 2006)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Gourmet turkey hash (Jan. 11, 2006)

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:


To subscribe or unsubscribe from The 30 Second Wine Advisor, change your E-mail address, or for any other administrative matters, please use the individualized hotlink found at the end of your E-mail edition. If this is not practical, contact me by E-mail at, including the exact E-mail address that you used when you subscribed, so I can find your record.

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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Monday, Jan. 15, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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