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.
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.
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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.
For detailed information about Descendientes de José Palacios Petalos, see the Website of importer Polaner Selections:
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Terroirs of Burgundy with Robin Garr
Burgundy, 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 http://www.wineloverspage.com/tour/
For more information or to make reservations, send E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com
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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:
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Monday, Jan. 15, 2007