Posted December 05, 2013 Expressive and harmonious, this red marries structure and finesse, with black cherry, herbal, licorice and mineral flavors. The firm tannins are balanced by fresh acidity that keeps it all focused.
Balance is one of the key traits of this week’s intriguing wine. It’s well-structured, deftly combining firm tannins with bright acidity into an elegant and focused package. With this in mind we can start by eliminating the full-bodied and tannic grapes from our list.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a good place to start since the grape is known for making wines that are rich and concentrated in flavor with powerful tannins. Syrah isn’t a good match for our wine either. While it can be supple in texture with smooth tannins, the grape typically produces wines that are richer and more full-bodied than our note.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Gamay, with its relatively high acidity and low tannins. Our wine is a closer match to Gamay, but Gamay-based wines are generally less firmly structured than our wine, so we can move on.
Dolcetto produces fresh and fruity reds that are lightly tannic in structure. However, the wines are often redolent of flowers and almonds, making it an unlikely match.
Our final grape is Mencía, an off-the-radar variety that is in the midst of a resurgence. Mencía makes for vivid wines with fresh berry flavors that are often accompanied by mineral and smoke notes. We have a winner.
This wine is a Mencía.
Identifying our wine’s country of origin is a simple task now that we know the grape. Mencía is an indigenous Spanish variety and it is grown in the country’s northwest, where it’s the leading red grape of Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras. Mencía isn’t grown in any of the other counties on our list.
This Mencía is from Spain.
The wine’s firm tannins and fresh acidity, as well as its expressive flavors, imply that it’s still relatively young. Since there are no signs of secondary flavors such as dried berries, dried herbs or cured meat, we can eliminate the two oldest age brackets.
Some producers age their Mencía-based wines while others release them only a year or two after the vintage. The current vintage being released on the market is from 2012. However, our wine’s structure and balance suggests that it has spent some time in oak, so we can safely cross off the youngest age bracket.
The 2008 vintage was marked by substantial spring rains and a moderate summer, resulting in balanced and polished wines. 2009 was hot and dry, with many of the wines showing ripe flavors and moderate structures. Vintners in Spain’s northwest experienced warm, dry conditions in 2010, producing balanced wines with firm structures and fresh acidity. This sounds like our wine.
This wine is from 2010, making it three years old.
There are only two Spanish appellations on our list to choose from: Rías Baixas and Bierzo. They are both located in the northwest corner of the country. However, they are known for different grapes, so it should be a simple task to determine our region.
The Ríax Baixas DO is located along the Atlantic Coast just north of Portugal, in Spain’s Galicia region. It was officially created in the 1980s but its name was changed several years later. The region is cool and wet, thanks to its proximity to the ocean, and is well-suited for growing the white grape Albariño, the lone variety planted there.
This leaves Bierzo, an ancient region located east of Ríax Baixas on the border of Galicia and Castilla y León. While the region only received official DO status in 1989, many of its vineyards are very old and are planted on steep slopes. The region produces elegant reds from the local Mencía grape, as well as lively whites from Godello.
This wine is from Bierzo.
This is the Bodegas y Vinedos Luna Beberide Mencía Bierzo Finca La Cuesta 2010, which scored 91 points in the Sept. 30 issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $22 and 2,000 cases were made. For more information on the wines of Spain, see Thomas Matthews’ tasting report on the region, "Spanish Stalwarts," in the Oct. 15 issue.
—Augustus Weed, tasting coordinator
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