I am all about worldly wines… wines from around the corner to the furthest ends. Wine I think is seemingly an unfolding story–an old story both ancient and quite new all at the same time. Ancient because the wine trail is a constant unwinding story of tradition, merriment and intertwined with food culture for at least six millennia but new because of a constant refinement of this beverage art form.
My latest further reach was to visit Bierzo D.O. in northwest Spain in Castilla y León. In the collective imagination it is hard to think of red wine in this part of Spain. That is due in part to Albariño and this white wine grape thriving in Galicia in Rias Baixas. Galicia being an solidly Atlantic Spanish region and Albariño popularity takes that share of imagination of what is grown in northwest Spain. I think the collective imagination of the most northerly regions for red wines are Ribera del Duero and Rioja. I have known about Mencia for quite sometime and yet it was only a little over a half decade ago I got my first glass of Mencia.
Mencia is a grape found in several regions in Spain: Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Liébana; Jaen (Portuguese name) has been DNA fingerprinted as being Mencia. Mencia has about 10 synonyms and an exact relationship to other Vitis vinifera grapes has yet to be established. One thought of Mencia is that it is a clone of Cabernet Franc and that had perhaps transported via the Camino de Santiago. Ponferrada is the capital of the El Bierzo in the Province of León; a very historic and charming city on several crossroad: Camino de Santiago, the Knights Templar castle, mining and viti-viniculture all come together here. Bodegas Estefania whose label is Tilenus is quartered in Ponferrada. The Tilenus label features several very fine Mencia wines as well as Godello – the first in class wine grapes in Bierzo D.O.
Bodegas Estefania founded in 1999 is producing 200,000 bottles (16,666 cases) per year are devoted to Mencia. The label name Tilenus is a Latin name for Teleno a name for an ancient Celtiberian god that Roman’s dedicated to Mars. The label name and ancient coin on each label truly pays homage to this part of Spain’s ancient history.
Bodegas Estefania produces a very small production of 10-15,000 bottles (1,250 cases) maximum per year of Godello. Over 80% of all of the grapes utilized are from estate vineyards of Bodegas Estefania and 20% is purchased from wine grape growers where there has been a long relationship. Pablo Frias, the General Manager, spoke about the emphasis of keeping production levels at the current rate and that quality is the vanguard of the Tilenus label. Pablo mentioned that the aging potential for Godello is approximately 10 years and Mencia up to 20 years but Bodegas Estefania has yet to reach that anniversary but will do so shortly. From what I have tasted I do think Mencia does have good aging capability and I look forward to tasting Tilenus wines when they reach that 20th vintage. I was privileged to the their 2002 bottling known as Tilenus Pieros–so this was the glimmer of how the wines age with grace.
Bodegas Estefania has about 30 hectares (74 acres)–I was fortunate to have visited Finca La Florida in late March. The weather was chilly 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit / 7-10 degrees Celsius on a very moist day. The transport was via truck to the steep hillside of Finca La Florida of very old vines 60-90 years old. Being at Finca La Florida for me was to appreciate the coolness, the moist earth of clay, sand, and slate. As I have mentioned before that I love wine regions in winter, early spring and late Fall–these are moments to be in touch with the vineyards renaissance and promise. And I was keenly aware of the warm days that will blanket this vineyard with essential sunshine and heat. This is a continental climate and a dash of influence from the Atlantic.
I was excited to taste Tilenus by themselves, with Tapas as well as a very wonderful meal of regional cuisine in stone town of Castrillo de Los Polvazares, This town reminded me of New Mexico in the U.S. New Mexico with it’s roots in The Spanish settlers still has things for me reminiscent of New Mexico. I was thinking of Acoma Sky City with it’s ancient homes and church high atop a high elevation Mesa. This stone town and I cannot find a reference as to how old it its –this town feels very ancient and special.
Tasting the cuisine in Castrillo de Los Povazares in a style known as Cocido Maragato. I have eaten a large number of regional cuisines in Spain but this for me was so different and unique from other cuisine styles. The meal starts off heavy and then goes to lighter dishes. I was eating this meal with the team from Bodegas Estefania and Tilenus wines and other wine writers the following dishes La Ración consisting of sausage, chicken, pork shoulder, pork cheek and ears. I was able to taste the 2002 Tilenus Bierzo Pieros Mencia–a hauntingly memorable wine and hope to be fortunate to taste once again.
Here are the wines I had paired with fantastic fare from Castillo y Leon that made such an impression on me:
Tilenus Bierzo Godello – 2013 – 9.2 (92)
Tilenus Bierzo Vendemia – 2014 – 9.0 (90)
Scent characteristics: Black cherry, bay leaf dicideous forest and lavender
Flavour profile: Tayberry, wild strawberry, cinnamon and hint of Thyme
Tilenus Bierzo Mencia – 2011 – 9.2 (92)
Scent characteristics: Red cherry, hint of game, crashed red candy, blackberry and suede
Flavour profile: Tayberry, strawberry preserve, Cardamom and hint of red pepper
Tilenus Bierzo Mencia – 2010 – 9.2 (92)
Scent characteristics: lavender, graphite, germanium, and rose petals
Flavour profile: warm black plum, strawberry, and baking spices pepper
Tilenus Bierzo Mencia – 2008 – 9.3 (93)
Scent characteristics: black/blueberry pie, hint of dark flower floral garden.
Flavour profile: blackberry, very slight hint of Ethiopian coffee
Tilenus Bierzo Finca La Florida Mencia – 2008 – 9.4 (94)
Scent characteristics: Blackberry, cassis, rose garden in afternoon heat, leather, Ethiopian coffee and geranium
Flavour profile: long and complex strawberry and blackberry tones, anise, Cardamom and clove
Tilenus Bierzo Pagos de Posada Bierzo Mencia – 2006 – 9.4 (94)
Scent characteristics: blackberry, strawberry, game and leather bound books
Flavour profile: pulsating acidity, strawberry, cassis, pepper, clove and graphite.
Tilenus Bierzo Reserva Mencia – 2007 – 9.5 (95)
This wine spends one year barrel and two years in bottle
Scent characteristics: black berry, red tea and thick forest
Flavour profile: blackberry, Acai, tea, pepper, cinnamon stick and Black Krim Tomato
Tilenus Bierzo Pieros Mencia – 2002 – 9.6 (96)
The grand dame of fine Mencia.
Scent characteristics: Blackberry confit, mountain strawberry, raspberry, cinnamon, rose petal and hint of forest.
Flavour profile: Cassis, Tayberry, blackberry Coulis, Heirloom coffee, sweet spices and lavender
Tilenus is one of the finest producers of Mencia in Spain. A must experience producer.
James the Wine Guy
Website for Tilenus
“Demystifying Wine—One Bottle at a Time”