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July 2020

Satellite Wine Club, July 2020

Mencia Means Magic


Raul Perez & Antoine Graillot - ‘Encinas’ - Mencia - Bierzo, ES - 2018 $46/Bottle $442/Case 


Orlaigh - Mencia - Alonso Family Vineyard - Agua Dulce, Sierra Pelona Valley, Santa Clarita, CA - 2017

$38/Bottle $365/Case


Winestronauts,

If you don’t know Mencia - don’t worry ‘bout it! Hardly anybody knows Mencia! This little known grape varietal is rare, almost entirely grown in a little-appreciated corner of Spain, and made by a tiny handful generational farm families largely disconnected from the happenings of the world. The thing most people know about Mencia is that they’ve never heard of it. 


BUT PEOPLE! This grape has a deep history, amazing flavors, and it’s very fun to say! (That’s right - it’s not Men-See-ah but Men-THEE-ah! - Thanks, Spanish King Pedro of Castile for that awesome lisp!). Originating in the Bierzo, in the north west of Spain’s massive central Castilla y Leon region, the grape is closely associated with the cooler Atlantic influences and high, steep mountains of Galicia’s Ribiera Sacra and Bierzo’s Alto mountainous region. 


This wine is so regionally specific, so rare that until mid June I couldn’t honestly tell you if there was more than a single vineyard producing it outside of NW Spain. Little did I know that just down the road, a few miles east of Santa Clarita, lies a 30+ year old vineyard of Mencia (and a whole host of other rare Spanish grapes). We’ll dive in deeper below but when the Alonso family planted the vines most of what they planted weren’t recognized as actual known grapes by the US TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) so for many years it was called Sangre de la Tierra - Blood of the Earth… I think you’ll recognize why when you taste it! 


So what are we really looking at this month with our inquest into the mysterious Mencia grape? Beyond it’s damn delicious juice and, frankly, it’s status as almost a complete unknown, the people behind these wines are special. It’s the story of Raul Perez, the undisputed savior of the grape and possibly the greatest winemaker alive today (also, I’m certain he’s a character from Lord of the Rings) and of Raul’s partner in the Encinas wine project, Antoine Graillot - heir to one of the greatest Northern Rhone wineries and by association a master of Syrah (lots of similarities to Mencia). It’s the tale of Juan Alonso, a native Galician classically trained as a French Chef who planted [likely] the first Mencia in the USA at his Agua Dulce Restaurant, Le Chêne. Finally, it’s the story of Patrick Dorsey and Shiri Nagar, two LA Restaurant badasses who decided to start making wines from hidden vineyards and unusual grapes across California… and they’re doing a damn fine job. 


This month is about discovery and friendship. Two wines from regions less travelled, by passionate friends who honor the Mencia grape by adapting it to new winemaking styles. It’s kind of like a road trip buddy comedy movie but with more Spanish, more lisping, and more drinking. My kind of road trip buddy comedy! 


Let’s dive in on this thing!


Raul Perez & Antoine Graillot - ‘Encinas’ - Mencia - Bierzo, ES - 2018 $46/Bottle $442/Case 


Who are Raul and Antoine?


Well, they’re the best. 


Raul Perez is truly the star of this missive. The unofficial Wine King of Bierzo in NW Spain, he’s a proud and emphatic Spaniard and the face of “The New Spain” - a whole class of young visionary winemakers rediscovering the importance and excellence of the Iberian Peninsula.

 

Raul comes from a deep history. In his hometown, Valtuille de Abajo, his family has tended native vines for over 300 years amassing acres of some of the oldest vines in the country. While the main grapes of the village are Mencia and Godello, Raul has been noted for his Albariño, Bastardo (Trousseau), Garnacha Tintorera, and a whole host of other minor native varietals which add a unique layered character to his oft-blended wines.


Raul approaches winemaking from an entirely traditional sense. Focusing on single vineyards farmed to the absolute highest quality standard, without any chemical pesticides, natural fermentations, minimal manipulation, and always in surprisingly small quantities. Raul’s traditionalism and excellence in &U production weave together creating wines that are transcendent and world class, yet incredibly welcoming with exceptional clarity and world-class composition that obviously excel above the vast majority of wine produced. He does this all in an ancient stone winery, with hardly any equipment aside from a small bladder press and a mix of old oak barrels and foudres (and the single cement tank used to create this wine!)


Eastward, through Spain and across Southern France there’s another storied producer with a history, standard of quality, and style markedly similar to Raul. For the past 50 years the Graillot family has held some of the finest land in the northern Rhône Valley in Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph creating some of the more ethereal and timeless wines found in the region. Employing entirely whole cluster fermentation for a more delicate extraction of color and tannin, as well as neutral oak and concrete fermentations which, similarly, offer a lithe clarity and transparent truth to the cuvées of the estate. Founded by Alain Graillot, his sons Antoine and Maxime now run the estate under their father’s watchful eye, and they’re doing a damn fine job. If you can get your hands on their wines, do it! 


Rhône based Syrah and the Bierzo-centric Mencia share many qualities: That purpley color, a savory and meaty complexion, and structurally they’re almost identical! Simple wines with heavenly qualities: that’s the jam! When Antoine and Raul met they hit it off and decided to create the Encinas project to experiment in blending the Perez and Graillot methods. 


There honestly isn’t much space between the Graillot family approach and Raul’s traditional Bierzo ways. Rather than Perez’s traditional old neutral oak barrels and tall foudre vats, Antoine brought a massive concrete vat from the Rhone (they had to cut a whole in the roof to crane it into Raul’s cantina!). In exchange, Raul introduced Antoine to extended maceration, leaving the grapes and stems in contact with the wine long after fermentation is finished to amplify the savory layered depths of the Mencia. Beyond those two elements the wine is produced just how it would at either winery! Organic, old vine grapes, natural yeast, long, large neutral vat ageing for 10 months, and a wine with everything we love in it. 


What elements do we get from the Concrete? A softened but texture-laden mouthfeel. And from the extended maceration? A deeper color, more refined savory character, and deeply layered, integrated flavors. Simple and lovely. Let’s put our mouths on it. 


This wine is legendary. To be honest, I’m excited to write this description just because I love revisiting this wine. I could drink it with my nose. I could taste it for hours. It’s incredible. Every sniff, every taste is satisfaction.

First off: the color. While the Orlaigh carries a redder brickish red tone this wine is ruby and heavily leaning toward purple. It’s crystal clear with no cloudiness to speak of. It’s damn pretty. 

Oh that nose! Popping out right away with blackberry bush followed quickly by intense saddle leather, lavender, sage brush, and a brambly, palo santo medley of aromas that transport me to myriad fancy men’s clothing shops. This wine is sex.

On the tongue we get that same rustic, stereotypical masculinity - fresh wild blackberry and plums, leather, lavender, and savory herbs like bay, sage, licorice, and thyme. Finishing with tobacco you might have flashbacks to the legendary Marlboro man, may he rest in peace!

While the flavors of this Mencia exude the masculine, hard charging cowboy; its structure is quite the opposite. There’s refinement and elegance under every inch of hard ridden saddle leather. The wine is silk to the tongue, with hardly a tannin to bite. While it certainly doesn’t fade to obscurity, the wine is delicate, lighter in body and not at all weighty. There’s a sense that this wine is classical in nature, like this is how this grape should be composed. While deeply flavored the wine is airy and delicate in presence, with acidity staying refreshingly high, and the finish exceptionally clear and long - highlighting the savory chaparral as the wine fades like a long Bierzo sunset. 


Folks, this wine is everything… ENJOY!






Orlaigh - Mencia - Alonso Family Vineyard - Agua Dulce, Sierra Pelona Valley, Santa Clarita, CA - 2017

$38/Bottle $365/Case


Two weeks ago, while daydreaming of ideas for July’s wine club I received a perfectly timed email. The name Patrick Dorsey from Orlaigh popped up on my phone… a blast from my past! Patrick is the former Wine Director of the now defunct Hatfield’s - the Michelin-Starred-Seafood-Heaven-Restaurant on Melrose in LA… I started my wine career selling him wine there! (when I was a very average wine salesman 🤓)


I still get regular flashbacks of sales calls to guys like Patrick! I remember him as a serious wine buyer who I always took extra time to plan tastings for… and I definitely remember my sweaty palms walking into Hatfield’s for appointments! But Winestronauts! As the world turns, so do the tables! I now find myself the buyer! Patrick makes his own wines and sells for one of my favorite distributors; Shiverick Selections. Time is a flat circle folks x_x


Anyhow, when I saw that email I was incredibly excited to hear I would be receiving a sample of California-grown Mencia! I hardly believed it actually existed and I could not miss the opportunity. 


Why am I excited about Orlaigh? It’s a really really cool winemaking project! Orlaigh is the love child of two restaurant stars: Patrick Dorsey who you heard about already, and Shiri Nagar, the pastry chef for Nancy Silverton’s world-renowned Mozza (across the street from dearly departed Hatfield’s). They met working at another awesome restaurant, Tavern, years earlier and shared a passion for drinking, eating, and drinking, and eating… and drinking! They began Orlaigh with one barrel of sparkling wine in 2016 (the source of which they now farm themselves) and have expanded production every year since. Thank goodness friends!


The wine in your hands is extremely rare, just a pair of barrels produced. It’s from an even rarer vineyard, with only a few rows of Mencia. The story of that vineyard is pretty remarkable and I’ll let Patrick fill you in below:


“Juan Alonso has lived a full life.  A native of Galicia, he moved to France in his youth and spent time in the French Army where he learned how to cook.  After kicking around some fine dining establishments in Europe he headed to Los Angeles in the early ‘70’s and ended up in, of all places: Agua Dulce, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County, California.  It was there that he opened Le Chêne (The Oaks) in the early ‘80’s, a classic French restaurant on a sleepy stretch of the Sierra Pelona Hwy.  Le Chêne quickly became a place to be in the 1980’s, a true destination restaurant.  In the mid-‘90’s he decided the next logical step would be to plant a vineyard on the property, because, why not?  The initial planting was tiny and would essentially serve as a nursery for what would still be a small but commercially viable vineyard, built on cuttings from his native Galicia that just happened to show up on his doorstep one day: Souson, Albariño, Godello, Trajadura, Loueiro, Brancellao, Graciano, Caiño Tinto, etc… oh, and Mencia.  At the time he grafted these into his northern LA County vineyard hideaway, no one on this side of the Atlantic really knew nor cared about Mencia.  Bierzo was still a few years away from making a minor splash in the American wine scene, and the wines of the dramatically terraced Ribeira Sacra, which ultimately seemed to solidify the varietal’s place amongst the wine cognoscenti, were yet another few years from making themselves known to any significant degree stateside.  We’re not the first people to have made wine from the 3+ rows of Mencia in Canyon Country.  Before it was a TTB allowable varietal in the US, a local winemaker bottled and sold it under the name, “Sangre de Tierra”,  or “Blood of the Earth”, appropriately enough.  Our interpretation remains bloody and full of an olive brine-like savory quality with fine, elegant tannins countered by a good balance of acidity on the palate.  We get all of the Mencia in the vineyard....which amounts to a whopping 48 cases in a good year!  If you ever make it to Le Chêne, which you should, have a bottle of our Mencia with their signature dish, Wild Boar Ragôut.”


Tasting Notes: 

Blood of the Earth turns out to be a perfect alternate name for this tiny growth of Mencia in Agua Dulce. When compared to the Encinas you’ll find this wine is redder in the glass, a kind of brick-ruby red with bluer, purplier tinges. You’ll note that the wine is deep and cloudy, no reading through this thing. No fining, no filtering, just juice!


On the nose I’m feeling the stems immediately. That’s that magical green olive brine element coming to the top of a bouquet loaded with layers of black berry and black cherry, and a whole mountain of California chaparral. Sage is here, Licorice is here, Lavender in the HOUSE! And, Oh hey, what’s up California Bay Leaves!! Aromatics: it’s what Mencia does! 


Pop it in your mouth and WOO!! It’s a rush of tart blueberry, blackberry, black cherry, and even Olive Brine all starting to stew up with a tea of those chaparral notes: Bay, Licorice, Sage. I like to think that all these herbs carry the dust from the hill they were grown on, a bit of truth in both flavor and texture. 


And how about that texture?! The wine feels alive, dynamic on the palate, neither light nor heavy; a study in the loudness of subtlety -  just the weight of a strong tea, but briney like salt water - in a good way. Hardly tannic, yet still presently drying to the tongue and cheeks, you feeeeeel it!


This wine is my perfect image of a California Mencia wine. It’s bolder, in a way, and less refined than its classic counterpart. It’s borderless, uncontained, and evolving: that’s the spirit of the west coast and what makes our part of the world so exciting for wine. 


While we were only able to show two Mencias this month, I implore you to seek it out. The examples from Ribiera Sacra are a great contrast to Bierzo - look into the producer Guimaro (we carry their wines often!). You’ll also find Mencia blended with indigneous grapes like Bastardo and Caiño… and they’re phenomenal.


Mencia for friends, by friends, friends ♥


Cheers to you Winestronaut.


--

Oh, I got a letter on a lonesome day

It was from her ship a-sailin'

Saying I don't know when I'll be comin' back again

It depends on how I'm a-feelin'


If you, my love, must think that-a-way

I'm sure your mind is roamin'

I'm sure your thoughts are not with me

But with the country to where you're goin'


So take heed, take heed of the western winds

Take heed of the stormy weather

And yes, there's something you can send back to me

Spanish boots of Spanish leather… 

and Mencia - by the boatload, k thx ♥


This is July at Satellite. 



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