2018 Veronica Ortega, Mencia “Quite” Valtuille, Bierzo D.O. Spain.
The lively and well crafted entry level Quite Mencia from the talented Veronica Ortega is a pretty, pure and highly enjoyable with layers of earthy dark fruits, delicate spice, mineral and bright acidity, it is a great alternative red to anything in this price range. The fresh light to medium bodied 2018 Quite Bierzo is a brilliant dark garnet in the glass and it reveals an array of blackberry, plum, cherry and currant fruits along with touches shaved cinnamon, minty herbs, anise, leather and a dark floral element, all is very compelling and held together with a satiny ripe tannin structure that feels almost Pinot like in mouth feel and in its vibrancy of flavors. Mencia is the star grape in this region of Spain, in the northwest of Castilla y Leon, as well as in Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra to the west near the Atlantic Ocean. The climate here makes for a denser and some profound versions of this grape and has made the career of some of Spain’s best winemakers, including Veronica Ortega, who was mentored by Raul Perez, the most famous of all of the local producers and who’s wines are absolutely legendary and have helped put this remote area into the spotlight along with outsiders Telmo Rodriguez and Alvaro Palacios playing no small part putting Mencia on the map. The Bierzo region was founded in pre Roman times, though the Romans expanded the wine growing here and gained attention when Cistercian monks moved here and set up wine production, but the vineyards were devastated in the 1800s by phylloxera that pretty much wiped all of vines out. After these vineyard sites were re-planted on the limestone, slate and clay based soils it took a very long time to re-discover the glories of this place and especially Mencia, which can be easily compared to Cabernet Franc, with wines that the soul of Chinon and the opulent character of Saint Emilion, though Veronica’s wines tend to be more racy and show a raw transparence, as this new release shows.

Veronica Ortega, originally from Cádiz from near the Sherry area, settled in Bierzo about a decade ago, and immediately went to work on developing her skills and understanding the terroir working under Raul Perez, later she acquired a few old-vine Mencia parcels near the village of Valtuille de Abrajo on sandy and clay soils that she made into her home base. She has developed into an important voice for this region and her series of wines has evolved over the years with her signature ROC lineup being the most intense, while the Quite Mencia offers a great value and shows the grape in its more quaffable form and is a great way to start getting to know Bierzo. The Quite Mencia is all de-stemmed now and sees a combination of natural yeast fermentation in stainless steel tanks and sees both neutral barrels and amphora in the short aging period, getting about 8 months in total. The sandy soils at elevation, around 500 meters up, and mature vines that average more than 80 years helps give this wine its personality with this vintage being less hot, allowing for a lower alcohol freshness, with this Quite 2018 coming in at 13%, making it wonderfully flexible with food and it can provide lots of smiles with your favorite Tapas as well. As with most producers here, Ortega farms her plots with all organic methods and all her vines are dry farmed with mostly old vines that are classic head trained or bush vines. Ortega’s Quite started with her 2012 vintage and she continues to carve her own niche and following, adding a new style called Kinki in recent years that is a carbonic, whole cluster and natural yeast version of Mencia that is kind off like a Cru Beaujolais, which I hope to try, as it is very hard to get here in California. The Quite Bierzo Mencia is more easily found and well worth the price, that last time I had it, in the 2014 vintage, I was impressed and this 2018 is even more fun and in my opinion up a notch in quality.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

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