European variety is finding its feet in Australia.
AUSTRALIAN winemakers have always been up for the challenge, whether it’s taking on and adapting new wine styles, pushing into new regions, or experimenting with alternative wine varieties.
It all started 50 or so years ago when travel to Europe became more accessible, allowing exposure to new varieties and styles from the world’s main wine-producing regions.
It grew to become a confluence of winemakers seeking more technical knowledge and wine drinkers looking for new tasting experiences.
Initially, the focus was on varieties now considered staples: chardonnay, merlot and pinot noir.
And then came others such as tempranillo and sangiovese.
The trickle has become a flood, with so many varieties it is often hard to keep up.
One of the newbies is mencia. This is a variety that I started to see on my tasting bench in late 2021.
It is still only early days but there are now a good number of mencias being produced from warm, cool and somewhere in-between wine regions across Australia.
And the results are super promising. For me, mencia is among the most exciting new varieties I have tasted in the past 12 months, and I have no doubt it will continue to grow in number and popularity as new plantings come online and wine drinkers experience its many virtues.
So, what is mencia? What are its essential characteristics?
But first, pronunciation.
You can say it with a soft ‘c’ with the emphasis on the ‘cia,’ but if you want to get closer to its European sound then try ‘men-thee-ah’.
Mencia is a medium to full-bodied and quite fleshy variety of high quality that produces wines of beautiful florals and vibrant red fruit flavours.
Its home is Spain and Portugal, but already it has shown it can adapt easily in other places, most notably in Australia where some of the climates are quite similar.
If you are looking for similar varieties then pinot noir, grenache, gamay and tempranillo gamay are perhaps the closest.
But it is not a case of one size fits all with mencia.
It can be a supple, relatively simple wine that might be ideal as a cafe quaffer, or it can be more complex and structured demanding some serious flavoursome food.
And it can be perfect as a rose style, much like the other four varieties I mentioned, where the natural aromatics and delightful fruit characters work beautifully.
In Australia, one of the first to produce mencia was McLaren Vale’s Oliver’s Taranga, a producer of the highest order with an exceptional range of wines.
McLaren Vale, with its mid-palate opulence, is ideal for this variety.
Mencia has started to appear in Western Australia with outstanding examples from Larry Cherubino and Swinney, where it is made into a terrific rose.
If you have not tasted mencia, I strongly urge you to get into your local liquor store and check it out.
And its floral fruity characters also work when ever-so-slightly chilled in these warmer months.
Ray Jordan is one of Australia’s most experienced and respected wine journalists, contributing to newspapers and magazines for more than 40 years. In 2017 he co-authored The Way it Was: The History of the early years of the Margaret River Wine