Courting Mencia: How Have I Lived Without You?

Bear with me, I am falling in love again.  I have been peripatetically traversing the Ribeira Sacra and Bierzo regions by tasting every Mencia wine I manage to unearth and then blabbering away about the new discoveries here at WineZag.   A byproduct of utter submission to my new Mencia tick, I recently met up with Joe Austekewicz, wine director at Yankee Spirits, who just returned from a foray through these very regions alongside Eric Solomon .

Sturbridge, MA

Traveling by car between Boston and New York, I usually make a point of stopping into Yankee Spirits in Sturbridge, MA.  Lots of Beantowners look forward to mid-trip breaks in Vernon, CT at Rein’s Deli for almost-New York style (New England has settled for weak interpretations of NY soul food) corned beef , pastrami, and latkes.  I prefer stretching my calves in Yankee Spirits’ aisles and end-bins.  This time, I was hunting for a few more Mencias to fill out an upcoming tasting of twelve quality examples of the grape.

Joe wondered if my Mencia hunt had uncovered the 2007 Raul Perez El Pecado imported by Patrick Mata, the excellent importer of Spanish wines at Ole Imports.  There were five bottles hidden away in his office and he was happy to allocate one to the upcoming tasting for its going $80 price tag.  Joe was overly excited describing the rare opportunity he had tasting this limited production wine in Spain…. something about 98 points from Jay Miller at the Wine Advocate and “best Spanish wine ever”.   The wine is now resting safely in a hard-earned mixed case of Mencias in my cellar awaiting judgment day in January.

So last night, sitting in Casa Mono on Irving Place in Gramercy Park, I succumbed to “kid before Christmas instincts” and pounced on the Ribeira Sacra section to sniff out the El Pecado on a list of Spanish wines that just wouldn’t quit.  Verticals of Vega, varied formats of Clos Erasmus, multiple vintages of Palacios Clos L’Ermita, Pingus, Artadis, and a dozen other headliners was not enough to shake my grip-lock fixation on Mencia.

The first burst of aroma from the 07 El Pecado was unlike any other Mencia I had tried before.  It had intense aromas of rich black fruit, raspberries, and earth with other stuff I could not even recognize in the nose.  Tasting this wine with dishes like bone marrow, fideos with chorizo and clams, pumpkin and goat cheese croquetas, crispy pork belly with apple salad, and duck egg with mojama (salt cured tuna) created a competition for aroma definition that had my nose raising white flags of surrender.  But, the intensity of the wine was something I had not experienced in a very long time…pure elegant fruit, laser point focus, and the silkiest mouthfeel imaginable for a wine as packed as this.  And the finish…wow that finish…..went on for minutes and the depth of flavors and fruit hung in there with rich blackberry, spice and earth filling my head and chest.

I thought of some of the great Paulliacs I’ve tasted in classic vintages where gobs and layers of fruit packed elegantly into silk purses of soft supporting tannins, all with finishes to remember.  It’s funny, I checked in on Jay Miller’s review of the wine today and he likened it to La Tache.  I can definitely see this wine compared to the venerable DRC monopole, and imagine that Pinot of great quality and origin would be a fitting comparison to the sexy, silky, richly fruited El Pecado.

Whatever comparison works for you, I am highly recommending this wine for collectors and enthusiasts.  Its subtle elegance and purity will turn your head.  And by the way, if you can’t source it then go drink it at Casa Mono for an exceptional evening of great Catalalan specialites in a very cool (maybe a little tight) Gramercy vibe.  Just smell the wine before the equally flavorful and aromatic food hits your table!

Casa Mono on Urbanspoon

NOTE OF OPPORTUNITY: I will be hosting this Mencia tasting in January in the Boston area.  There are some open spots.  If this interests you, let me know soon at awjapko@gmail.com