Tinto Fino and Mencia

Posted in Uncategorized by EVWG on the January 23rd, 2007

menciapic.jpgI have been searching unofficially for this little grape for some time now. I read about it last year and have always kept my eye open for it as I ran around tasting all different kinds of wines and giving in to my short attention span. The grape is called mencia and is found in the Bierzo region located in the Provence of Leon in northwestern Spain. Until now this area and this grape have not really been talked about too much but here and there people have been voicing their quiet opinions about it and those opinions are positive.
I love southern Italian wine not on only because it is amazing but because of the history of the southern Italian varietals. Their story is of renaissance. Grapes like falanghina, aglianico, Fiano, and Greco di tufo were almost winked out of existence until people realized (Thank you Mastroberadino) just in time the greatness of these vines and brought them back to life. Here we are thirty or forty years later and they are winning awards and being seen more and more in wine shops and wine bars across the country. This is what is happening to the mencia grape. It has always been around and it wasn’t necessarily almost extinct it just wasn’t being taken care of and so it was placed in the after thought category of the wine world. People actually thought it was a strand or relative of the cab franc grape and maybe that is why they just ignored it. Oh it’s just a cab franc in a bad area. It shouldn’t have been brought there in the first place. Well, DNA testing at some point proved this to be false and that it indeed is a varietal indigenous to the Bierzo region. Enter the renaissance. Once the people of Leon realized this they (quite recently) re-reworked their approach to the process and started planting vineyards in more optimal locations (such as hillsides) and taking better care of the vines and the berries. As a result of their efforts people such as Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson have talked about mencia and I have seen it in a couple of places at pretty high end prices.
High end is cool and all but I wanted to find one not-so-high-end example because that’s my focus. It is fun searching out the “twenty and unders” that are really good. It is very gratifying. So, Mr. Wolff and I found ourselves in this new little wine shop in the East Village after lunch one day called Tinto Fino. WOW! This place is awesome. It is located on First Avenue between fifth and Sixth Street on the west side of the avenue. If you blink you’ll miss it so keep your eyes peeled, you won’t be sorry. Tinto Fino is about as big as my junior one bedroom apartment. Yes I said junior one bedroom. I would like to say “one bedroom” but when a person in the “know” saw our little quaint East Village pad they affectionately blurted out, “Oh, what a cute little junior one bedroom.” And you know what? It makes sense. And I am cool with that. As long as it fits my wine “cellar” we are all sittin’ pretty. Any way, Tinto Fino is tucked away in the middle of the block with a sober yet really neat silhouette sign hanging a little ways above the front door. It’s a bit hard to see this sign among all of the stores around it proclaiming their existence but it’s quietly there swinging back and forth in the NYC breeze.
Mr. Wolff and I walked through this magnificent little gem of a shop in jaw droppin’ awe. The selection was so focused and professional. Tinto Fino has maybe over fifty wines in the entire store. Which is perfect. They have high-end tempranillo and rioja as well as a shelf dedicated to sherry and other labels that I didn’t recognize but can’t wait to try. They even sell perrones, a traditional Spanish decanter/carafe/pitcher for communal wine drinking. I have heard they are not used as much now a days but there is a market for them nonetheless. They look a little bit like a decanter but there is a cork in the top and as the neck falls into the base of the glass there is a long thin glass-blown spout that protrudes at an angle. What you do is pour the wine into the perron, pop the cork into the open top, raise it in the air, tip the spout towards your mouth and a thin stream of wine comes at you with all it’s gravitational fervor. Sounds fun right? I’ll be buying one soon to see how easy it really is. Something tells me I should wear a shirt I don’t mind staining before I attempt such a bacchanal venture.
After speaking with the owner for less than a minute or so I was ready to trust her with any wine in the store. I am not sure but with her confident musings on every single bottle I asked about she must do the buying her self. And that is so cool. We were talking to the person that chose all of these wines. As I walked over to the front of the store where I thought I had seen a label with Bierzo on it I looked back to see if Mr. Wolff was okay. He was more than okay. Mr. Wolff loves all things Spain. He has traveled there and speaks the language. He is also an amazing jazz musician and sometimes I believe incorporates his love for flamenco into his songs. This may be a shameless plug but his music is great and deserves to be heard. The name of the band is The Patrick Wolff Trio. It is well worth checking out. So, needless to say our boy Wolff was drooling over a label he knew well and was probably reminiscing about the day it was consumed.
This next moment for me was very exciting. I was holding a bottle of mencia that I would soon purchase and devour with glass and pen and paper. Why was I so excited? Well, this wasn’t the first time I had come across this grape. But this is the first time I had come across this grape and the bottle was only thirteen bucks. I have seen mencia for fifty, sixty even seventy bucks around the city and the places that have carried it have looked down upon me when I asked if they have any under the twenty-dollar mark. “Out of stock.” they would grumble and walk away leaving me confused and swearing to never come back. But here I was in a place of respect and maturity. Here I was as confident about the bottle as the owner was. I have never tasted this wine but when I asked her about it and she gave me her tasting notes with no pretense I was in. We were three wine geeks chatting away as I purchased my new exciting and promising bottle of mencia.
I regret to say that Mr. Wolff could not attend the tasting. So Gal and myself popped the bottle. The wine is a 2004, one hundred percent mencia from Bodegas Pucho. It’s always exciting popping a new bottle that we are going to enjoy and ponder. I hear that slight pop of the cork and my mind starts racing with all the wines I have tasted before and my database starts juicing up. What was even more exciting about this wine and other wines that are new to me is that I didn’t know from where I would draw my comparisons. I love uncharted territory. We poured the taster and swirled our glasses. The wine really coated the sides of the glass showing signs of a full-bodied wine. The nose was nice and tight with good, ripe fruit concentration and I could see right away why it was once thought to be cab franc because underneath the fruit was that lingering herbaceous aroma that cab franc is known for. Also, as I swirled a little bit more a pepperiness came out to mix with the herbal tones. The wine was opening nicely and we hadn’t even taken our fist sip yet. It was time to taste.
The fruit concentration on the nose came through on the palate along with the well-balanced spice that was the herbs and pepper mingling together. The tannin structure was smooth and silky and constantly flirting with the fruit. As it opened all of these components began to mellow into each other giving this wine a nice medium to full bodied flavor. The finish was lingering but not aggressive. I ate this wine with some lamb and it was great but I couldn’t help thinking of some sort of pork dish with this one. What is nice about this wine is that it has a depth that lasts all the way to the end of the bottle keeping the tannin in check. The vines that this bodega harvests are between forty and eighty years old which explains the continuous fruit concentration. Also this wine was aged in stainless steel so all this balance comes from whatever the fruit has to offer with minimal manipulation. Great wine. I can see why people thought it was cab franc but I have had some bottles from the Loire and they tend to be lean sometimes lacking the under current of fruit that this wine has. I have also had some one hundred percent cab francs from Italy and they have great depth in the fruit category but this sometimes-uncomfortable intensity in the peppery herbal tones. Mencia kind of takes the best of both worlds and puts them together. Well at least this producer does. And it was only thirteen bucks. It has deep fruit characteristics with a nice tannin structure that helps carry the herbal tones of the wine.
I will be going back to Tinto Fino to purchase another one of these bottles to share with Mr. Wolff because I know he would really dig this one. I am also ready to try a higher end mencia to see what more this grape can give. But I must say that I really enjoyed this bottle and I wonder how much better it can get. I am sure it would be a bit silkier and Probably see a bit of oak. Until then please check this one out. The Bierzo is an up and coming area and you will be seeing it more and more. Pick it up because it’s new and its fun and…well…it’s really good. Pop the cork, let it breath a bit, cook some pork chops in a mild mustard sauce with a side of baked and cubed butternut squash or some sort of roasted red pepper salad, contact Mr. Wolff through his myspace and grab his CD, put it on, sit back and enjoy the flavors and the music. Cheers!

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