Bodegas Peique Tinto Mencía Bierzo 2006
Even the latest edition of my World Atlas of Wine fails to give a dedicated map page
to the Spanish areas of Bierzo, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra, and Monterrei, all of which fall into
a fairly neat quadrant in Galicia and León just east of the better-covered Rías Baixas area.
The map detail is only a matter of the next edition, given the quality of wines coming out of
the region. The white grape Godello has already cemented a future on the world stage. The
exciting Mencía grape associated with Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra may well be next.
Bierzo's Bodegas Peique has recently begun to develop wines from Mencía, a traditional Spanish grape, employing hand harvesting and minimal vineyard intervention practices. This $13 wine is a deep violet in color, somewhat high in alcohol at 14%, with pronounced intensity on the nose. I enjoyed aromatic notes of strawberry, raspberry, prune, violet, rose, and a deep whiff of verdant earth. This was my first Mencía, and if I can make any analogy to a grape I know better, it may be to Cabernet Franc. The Peique domain features (according to the winery web site) “iron rich soil of clay and schist with sandy granite,” and my own notes read “funky earth and clay.” I never use the term “funky” lightly; I mean it positively to connote integrity.
This is a young wine; I aerated it three hours. The wine is dry, with moderate acidity and tannin. Strawberry, cherry and black raspberry lead the fruit. The palate has a spicy element of clove and nutmeg with orange peel, more of the rose, licorice, and the finest treat of all, bitter dark chocolate. This chocolate is not the oaky variety; as far as I understand it the wine sees no oak of any kind, hence this is a pure chocolate note without the usual lacing of vanilla.
Chocolate is always a winning point in my book, but the Peique has also an unctuous
mouthfeel, and a sustained, multi-faceted finish. The tannins at the finale were pleasantly
drying, the fruit almost candied as it evaporated in my mouth. I did want a shade less alcohol.
The net effect was an experience of sensory newness, which is understandable considering
that we can call Mencía one of those “different” grapes. For now.
Spain will soon outgrow the standard wine atlas and require an entire volume of its own. The complexity of the land itself, its soils, its grape varieties and the energy of its winemakers demands it.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman