Among the cluster of Atlantic-influenced appellations in northwest Spain that specialize in this variety, Bierzo has become the best known (thanks in part to the presence of celebrity winemaker Álvaro Palacios in the area), and the stylistic diversity of the wines owes to the region’s variegated terroir. As our recent offer history demonstrates, we continue to be wowed by Mencía, and by northwest Spain in general. This is one of the world’s most dynamic winemaking regions, brimming with young talent and great raw materials, and if you’re the kind of wine lover who craves new sensations, this unique and affordable red is for you.
The Bierzo DO is a mountainous area surrounding the Sil River valley, situated right where the Galicia and Castilla y León regions meet—and is technically in Castilla y León. As with the Galician wine zones, Bierzo experiences a cool, wet Atlantic Ocean influence, but as you move eastward, to lower altitudes closer to the Sil, the influence of the warmer, drier plains to the east can be felt. At higher elevations (often 1,000+ meters) the Bierzo soils are a mix of slate and granite, transitioning to more “alluvial” material—sand, silt, and clay—in the lower-lying areas. Today’s Pago de Valdoneje bottling combines elements of both. On the one hand, it hails from vineyards in the village of Valtuille de Abajo, where the winery—known as Viños Valtuille—is headquartered. As its name would suggest, Valtuille de Abajo is close to the Sil in the ‘Bierzo Bajo’ (‘lower Bierzo’), and yet the Pago de Valdoneje vineyard—described as clay mixed with sand, with vines exceeding 80 years of age—sits at 600+ meters altitude.
This wine is designated as a ‘Roble’—a term you’ll see on various Spanish wine labels, denoting a wine which was aged in barrels but not for enough time to meet the minimum requirements for a Crianza designation. The 2014 Pago de Valdoneje spent 4 months in French oak barriques and a short period in bottle before release, giving it an even more youthful, exuberant personality than even a Crianza (in Bierzo, a Crianza wine must be aged a minimum of 6 months in barrel and 18 months in bottle).
One of the things you’ll notice straight away is the inky, opaque purple-ruby color of this wine, which, if you went on looks alone, would suggest a massive wine. But instead what you get is a bold but quite buoyant red—there’s great acidity, pronounced minerality, and tremendous energy. Some “big” reds bowl you over with viscous extract, tannin, and alcohol, while others—like this one—make a big flavor impact seemingly weightlessly. On the nose the wine offers up powerful aromas of black currant, huckleberry, plums, and violets mingled with more savory notes of crushed gravel, tar, pepper, and licorice. One minute you think you’re drinking cru Beaujolais from a ripe vintage (like ’15), the next you’re in Chinon, then there’s a stop in northern Rhône Syrah country…there are many familiar sensations packed inside, coming at you first in a big, fruity wave and then cleaning up on the tangy, mouthwatering, stonily mineral finish. In many ways it’s the vinous alternative to a ‘black and blue’ steak, well-charred and succulent. Decant it about 30-45 minutes before serving at 60 degrees in Bordeaux stems (there isn’t an alcohol issue here; the cooler temperature will tame the acid grip and highlight the aromatics). I foresee it improving over the next 5+ years, and indeed it’d be interesting to lay some down—as of yet I don’t think many of us know what Mencía is capable of with time in bottle! I’m certainly keen to find out, but in the meantime I will pop a bottle or two alongside a rustic stew of some sort, like the attached Galician specialty, Caldo Gallego. Oh man will this be good. I sincerely hope you try it—this deliciously unique wine is well worth the effort!