This week Roque and Luke once again decide to guzzle another VT wine from the sun-dappled Balearic island of Mallorca! They tackle a supple and soft bottle of Randemar from Celler Tianna Negre and chat nonsense is the noisy and rambunctious surroundings of the Casa Gonzalez wine bar!

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This week Roque and Luke set their sights, and their tastebuds, on another lesser known, hidden away corner of La Mancha: DO Ribera del Júcar, near the historic city of Cuenca. They guzzle down a bottle of La Duna from Vega Moragona. They get serious talking about cooperatives and get stupid talking about anthropomorphic wine!

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On the Spanish Wine Experience we have already covered the two stars of Spanish red wines in Meet the Grape: Tempranillo and Garnacha. They are the Premiership of red grapes if you will. However, it is within Division One that you find more and more varied grape styles.

One of my favourite grapes, that so often goes under the radar and is often criminally underrepresented, still, in the bars, is a little spicy and minerally number from the northwest: Mencía.

When people think about Spanish wine, they often think of medium to full-bodied and berry fruit-forward reds á la Rioja and Ribera del Duero. However, hiding in that top part of Spain is a grape that creates a very different style of wine. Spain’s answer to Pinot Noir, Mencía is a grape that deserves to be a superstar.

So let’s meet the damn thing!

The Grape:

  • For a long time these medium-sized red wonders were thought to have been related to Cabernet Franc – but DNA profiling has proven this not to be true.
  • In fact it appears to be one of our native varieties, although possibly introduced by the Romans.
  • It is identical to Portugal’s grape Jaen.
  • It’s also locally known, as always it seems in this country, by other names: Loureiro Tinto, Negra, Negro, Tinto Mollar. But I’ve never seen these, so just stick with Mencía!
  • The grapes are high in sugar and have good acidity.
  • In Spain its home are the northwestern regions of Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and, maybe its pinnacle area, Bierzo. Though it can also be found in Tierra de León, Arribes and Monterrei denominaciones.
  • After the Phylloxera plague ravaged the country at the turn of the 18/19th century, masses of Mencía were replanted on the high-yielding fertile plains in that part of Spain. This resulted in famously diluted, pale and aromatic wines.
  • The grapes have recently been enjoying a huge revival Spain – look up wine heroes Alvaro Palacios and Telmo Rodriguez – with winemakers rediscovering old, low-yielding hillside plots of Mencía.
  • Generally the grape grows, and grows best, on schisty hillsides which, along with the low-yield, helps give intensity to the resulting wines.
  • Mencía is occasionally blended with other local varieties of the area: Sousón, Caíño Tinto, Brencellao, Merenzao.

The Wines:

  • If the wines used to be limp and uninspiring, they are now quite the opposite. They are wonderfully complex.
  • This complexity is especially pronounced on the nose thanks to Mencía’s high levels of terpenoids.
  • Dark fruits, flowery notes like violets, earth, minerals and black pepper abound.
  • The wines generally have a rather deep colour with lovely violet hues towards the rim.
  • They usually are medium bodied with a fairly decent yet supple acidity which makes good Mencía wines both refreshing and suave.
  • That acidity also makes Mencía wines great for food pairing: grilled and smoked meats (especially with peppery sauces), roasts, stews, strong cheeses like Manchego, cooked mushroom and tomato dishes.
  • The wines take well to a touch of chill, so are great for summer if you just leave the bottle in the fridge for 10 minutes before serving.
  • Mencía takes ageing well also, as it can be a little tannic. Ageing adds vanilla, nutmeg and other sweet spices.

If Tempranillo and Garnacha are the Premiership League of Spanish red wine grapes and spicy Mencía was always stuck in Division One, then I think its about time this brilliant grape – a personal favourite – was promoted!

Happy 2017 from Roque and Luke. To toast this new year we tackle another Spanish classic. A bottle of Ribera del Duero, from Condado de Oriza Crianza. As well as the classic wine chat the two swap presents and chat festive nonsense.

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Over here in Spain we have a lot of different grapes, both red and white, that we plant throughout our more than one million hectares of vineyards. That being said, if you ask anyone about Spanish wine they’ll probably say ‘Um…Rioja? Red wine?…Tempranillo?’ And they would be right on all three counts. Spain is mostly famous for those three things. Its reds are more famous and better-regarded in the market than its whites and Rioja is the most venerable and venerated region in the country. However, its time to zoom in on something else.

Today we meet Tempranillo: Spain’s superstar grape.

The Grape:

  • A classic Spanish thick-skinned beastie. This is the country’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon, though according to wine kingpin Telmo Rodriguez it has the characteristic of Pinot Noir to show off terroir down to the village.
  • There is more than 30,000 hectares of it grown in Spain; and over 60% of that is in Rioja.
  • The name Tempranillo comes from the word temprano, ‘early’, because of the grape’s propensity to ripen early.
  • It’s been here in Spain for quite a long time indeed. It has been grown here since the Phoenicians arrived in 1100BC.
  • Its fairly short growing cycle means it can thrive in fairly harsh climates such as Rioja Baja, Ribera del Duero and Toro.
  • In Rioja it is often blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo, Graciano and Viura.
  • Just to be confusing, Tempranillo goes by many other names; so look out for:
    • Tinta de Toro
    • Tinto del País
    • Tinto Fino
    • Cencibel
    • Ull de Liebre
  • There are 500 variations in total. So that’s a lot of names and personalities.
  • Also grown in smaller quantities in Portugal (known as Roriz), USA, Argentina, South Africa, France and Australia.

The Wines:

Of course this is going to depend a lot on the region where it is grown, both in Spain and around the world. Everything from climate to soil; from regional grape variations to the quality and talent of the winemakers themselves. Here’s a quick breakdown of three distinct styles.

  • Rioja:
    • The climate is generally more moderate in the principal regions of Rioja Alta and Alavesa.
    • The resulting wines are the classic all rounders. Mr. Medium. Medium-body, medium-acidic, medium-tannin. Elegance and sometimes quite dainty flavours and aromas shimmer out from good Riojas.
    • The cooler temperatures bring out gentle touches of strawberry and other red fruits.
    • Famously spicy and leathery, smoothened with sweet spices and vanilla, when aged. Rioja just loves to age their wines!
  • Ribera del Duero:
    • A warmer climate with both brutal winters and summers. Swinging from -18C to 40C.
    • Also looking at medium-acidity and tannin, though a little more full-bodied than the Riojas.
    • The wines are darker here; inkier with plummy and blackberry fruits abounding. These are bigger and more masculine wines that yearn for cooked meats, yet still retain their suave style.
    • Also loves a bit of ageing in barrels à la Rioja.
  • Toro:
    • A very hot and stark region, whose climatological violence is represented in its wines.
    • The wines historically, and we are talking medieval fame here, were heavyweights. Without care and intense management the alcohol will shoot up to 16% and beyond when you’re not looking. The bull has been tamed in recent decades and an elegance is creeping in.
    • The heat punch is presented in both big booze, big body and big dark fruits like blackberries and sloes and rusticity.
    • Known for being the kind of wine that slaps you in the face and reminds you it means business, Toro wines are often blasted with American oak to soften them.
    • These hefty, jammy wines also follow the Rioja system of ageing and do take to it well.

All this being said, Spain as a country is so diverse geographically, climatically, and topographically, that trying to pen down one style of Tempranillo is almost impossible. It can be grown in both moderate temperature areas and screaming hot ones; from low gentle valleys to the highest mesetas a kilometre in the air. This noble grape’s genius has been its ability and willingness to let the country throw it about this way and that; to test its limits with some of the harshest winters and highest temperatures on the continent.

In the hands of great winemakers Tempranillo can take many forms, but it is and will always be the joyous ruby grandmaster of Spain and is unlikely to be toppled any time soon.

The act of pairing hopefully good food with hopefully good wine is one of the most important facets of the drink. In smarter restaurants sommeliers are there to aid the client in choosing the correct wine to go with whatever dish is ordered. At home you must rely on old adages and rules.

Red wine goes with red meats and heavier food.

White wine goes with white meats, fish and greenery.

Rosé wine is ignored.

Sparkling wine is for celebrations, right?

Sweet wines are for desserts.


Now, these old tricks are based in logic, but of course, as with everything in life, nothing is that simple. Here at SWE, and indeed here in Spain, the most important thing is that you are drinking a wine you like and are having a good time. It’s no use drinking a bottle of red wine with your steak and chips if it cost you 1.50€ and is disgusting just because it’s red. Similarly the detail to which you could dive head first into the act of food/wine harmonies is as great as the range of food and wines themselves. Having a fairly spicy Indian curry? Have an off dry or semi-sweet chilled German Riesling. Having a sweet and spicy BBQ? Try a big Malbec.

Generally speaking there are tastebud sensations at work that will affect the perception of flavour of both the food and the wine when they hit your tongue.

ACIDIC FOOD: Best to pair with high acidity wines. E.g. Lemony grilled fish and shrimp with Albariño.

  • When food is acid, the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness goes UP; but the perception of acidity goes DOWN.

BITTER FOOD: Best to pair with low or non-tannic wines, perhaps with salinity or a touch of sweetness. E.g. Almonds and olives with sweet, red vermouth.

  • When food if bitter, the bitterness in the wine goes UP.

SPICY FOOD: Tricky, but cold off-sweet or sweet wines will work here. If in doubt, have a beer. E.g. Indian curry with German Riesling.

  • When food is spicy, the perception of bitterness, acidity and alcohol burn goes UP; and the perception of body, richness, sweetness and fruitiness goes DOWN.

SWEET FOOD: Best to pair with sweet wines as it’ll make dry wines taste bitter. E.g. Sauternes with dessert. Anomaly? Port and strong blue cheese.

  • When food is sweet, the perception of bitterness, acidity and alcohol burn goes UP; but the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness goes DOWN.

RICH FOOD: Fatty, heavy, salty and rich food are best paired with high-tannin or acidic wines. E.g. Steak and chips with Rioja.

  • When food is salty, the perception of body in the wine goes UP; but the perception of bitterness and acidity in the wine goes DOWN.

Generally speaking, the more complicated, aged, sweet, or structured the wine is, the more complicated it will be to pair. Younger, unoaked wines are always less stressful.

The other, less sciency way of looking at it is to think about generally what kinds of food generally pair well with wine types. Here is the SWE shortlist on what to pair your wine with. General consumers only. Don’t get angry at us sommeliers.


Red meat, cured meat, white meat, cheeses, spices

Though lighter, slightly chilled reds, like young Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Garnacha, could pair with heavier fish.


Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, vegetables, spices

Rosé, though much lambasted incorrectly, is one of the great pairing wines when dry.


Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, vegetables


Cured meat, white meat, shellfish, fish, cheeses, vegetables, spices, dessert

Another of the world’s great pairing wines. Young Champagnes and Cavas go with almost everything.

So, as you can see, there’s a lot of nuances and variations. But if there was one golden rule, just one, to help you navigate the world of food and wine pairing? Match like for like. Sweet with sweet; heavy with heavy; light with light; acidic with acidic etc.