D. Ventura Pena do Lobo 2013
D. Ventura is a project by Ramón Losada and his family utilizing old family holdings in this ancient wine growing region. Ever since the Romans inhabited the area, people have been growing grapes on the steep terraces lining the two rivers that form the denomination.
Working these lands is extremely difficult as the terraces in some areas are so steep that all the grapes have to be brought in on a dumb waiter. All farming is done by hand and Ramón, with the help of Gerardo Mendez (Do Ferreiro), changed the farming techniques to incorporate a more natural approach.
In addition to an organic approach to farming, winemaking has also changed. Only indigenous yeast is used to start fermentation. None of the wines are filtered or cold stabilized. Lastly, the maturation of the grapes is watched carefully to ensure that the grapes are fully mature when harvested.
There are currently three vineyard sites. Two border the River Sil and one borders the Miño River. Caneiro and Pena do Lobo are in an area known as Amandi. This area has been famous throughout time as being one of the best sites for making wines. Caneiro in particular is unique. Steep terraces line the river. The soil here is pure slate known as Losa. The river here adds a sweet freshness to this plot, cooling it during the heat of the day. Pena do Lobo is also on the Sil but the vineyard is less steep and is slighty further from the river. The soils are a mix of slate and granite. Viña do Burato is in a totally different area north of the other two on the Miño River. Here the landscape is lush. Streams flow directly through the vineyard on the way down to the river Miño. The soils here are more fertile and alluvial. All three of these plots have unique climates that create distinct wines.
One of the few northwestern Spanish regions with a focus on a red variety, Bierzo, part of Castilla y León, is home to the flowery and fruity Mencia grape. Mencia produces balanced and bright red wines full of strawberry, raspberry, pomegranate, baking spice, pepper and black licorice. The well-drained soils of Bierzo are slate and granite.
Calling the far western appellations of the Iberian Peninsula home, Mencia was once only deemed capable of producing simple and light red wines. But post-phylloxera growers only planted this variety on low, fertile plains, which produced high yields and uncomplicated finished wines. The recent rediscovery of the ancient, abandoned vines planted on rugged hillsides of deep schist has unveiled the potential of Mencia and added discredit to its old reputation. Primarily found in the Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras regions of Spain and in the Dão of Portugal (where it is called Jaen), Mencia is an early ripening, low acid grape that can produce wines of great concentration, complexity and ageability.
In the Glass
The best Mencia possess characters such as raspberry, red currant, boysenberry, pomegranate, black licorice, spice cake, black pepper, Asian spice and crushed gravel. Some styles remain light and fruit dominant while the more serious versions, aged in new oak, will be more complex and concentrated.
Excellent with all manner of meat dishes: Steak au Poivre, corned beef, charcuterie, game, carne asada, etc, Mencia will also work with many vegetarian dishes such as grilled portabello, mushroom risotto, wild rice pilaf and smoked tofu.
Never had Mencia? Well if you like Pinot Noir and other aromatic reds (like Gamay), definitely investigate Mencia. Many affordable options abound as well as higher-end, more complex versions. Often the latter contain other varieties for adding depth and complexity, or come from the extremely old vines.