30 Second Wine Advisor: Tasty, affordable Bierzo

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Tasty, affordable Bierzo

As recently as 2007, I declared Mencia from Bierzo in Spain "another grape and region obscure enough that even many serious wine geeks would have to look up."

Four years later, these may not yet be household words. But spurred on by increasing imports of consistent quality and value, Bierzo's Mencia is starting to earn a regular space on most good wine shops' Spanish shelves.

In case you're still unclear, I'll repeat my January 2007 tutorial: 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.

All that was in specific reference to the 2005 "Pétalos" Bierzo, produced by Alvaro Palacios, whose family had been a significant player in the dramatic rise of the Priorat region in Eastern Spain to "with-it" status a decade before. This impressive wine commanded a respectable price tag near $20 even with an unknown grape and appellation on the label.

Now that Bierzo is gaining attention, I was delighted to find a new model in the lower-price range the other day, a perfect fit with our month-long Wine Focus discussion on the "other" wines of Spain.

La Mano 2008 Mencia Roble Bierzo is a mouth-watering, textured red wine and a splendid companion with rare red meat. It's an unusually good bargain at just under $10 in my market. You'll find my tasting notes below.

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Today's Tasting Report

La Mano 2008 Mencia Roble Bierzo ($9.99)

La Mano

Very dark blackish-purple with a clear edge. Black fruit, cherries and plums, with a whiff of fennel. Flavors follow the nose, fresh black fruit and bright acidity, with a distinct edge of fuzzy tannins to provide a textured mouthfeel. Tart black plums and a touch of anise in a long, cleansing finish. "Roble" ("oak") on the label reflects three months in American oak, but wood is not an intrusive presence. Very good food companion at a rational 12.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: Axial Wines USA, Manhasset, N.Y. (Oct. 9, 2010)

FOOD MATCH: Fine with pork, roasted or grilled poultry or red meat. I served it with local pastured pork chops, pan-seared and oven-finished with garlic and fresh sage.

VALUE: It's a great value at my $10 local price, but check Wine-Searcher.com, as U.S. prices vary from $8 to $14. If your local retailer is closer to the high end of that range, you may wish to inquire why that's so.

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

WEB LINKS: Here's a brief fact sheet on the Mencia Roble. This PDF file offers more technical details on the wine.

Compare prices and find vendors for La Mano Mencia Bierzo Roble on Wine-Searcher.com.

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