Top drop… Spain’s As Caborcas Mencia

When you want a top drop with the X factor, here it is…

2014 As Caborcas Single Vineyard Valdeorras $93.99

If the name Mencia doesn’t ring any bells, that’s because it’s an old grape variety, which is currently having a new lease of life in north west Spain, thanks to pioneering winemakers, such as Telmo Rodriguez, who made this beauty.

Like most of Spain’s top reds, it is made from vines grown without trellising wires – en vaso (in the shape of a vase). Vines grown this way, as mini bush vines, can maximise heat from the granite soils because they are low to the ground, which aids ripening, leading to powerful flavours of wild berries, black fruit (plums, cherries) and licorice here. The flavours suggest a wine from a warm area, but its fresh zing comes from bright acidity which adds length of flavour, thanks to sensitive winemaking and great care in the vineyard – which is at 550 to 600 metres altitude on slopes above the Bibei River.

The grapes in this wine were hand picked, fermented with native yeasts and then aged for 15 months in old large oak casks. It’s actually a blend too – Mencia is the leading grape in this wine with fellow native Spanish grapes in supporting roles – these are Merenzao, Souson, Garnacha, Godello and Brencellao.

The New Zealand importer is Vintners NZ, phone 0800 687 9463 or


Vino of the week: $20 Spanish red

2011 Rioja Gran Familia $20, 13% ABV – 4 stars – Joelle Thomson

Where to buy: Farro and Fine Wine Delivery Company in Auckland; Regional Wines and Moore Wilsons, Wellington; Vino Fino, Christchurch.

This Spanish red is new to New Zealand this year…

Here is the low down: It’s a Rioja so it’s a blend of two Spanish grapes – Tempranillo and Garnacha – with (potentially) smaller amounts of Mazuelo and Graciano,which can range from zero to around 10% of the blend, but often do not appear at all. Tempranillo is an early ripening red grape that plays the lead character in Rioja, providing savoury flavours, acidity and structure that allows these wines to age. This one spent 12 months in oak and three years (in total – that’s including the time in oak) in the Bodega, prior to being released for sale.

Its flavours?

Like most Rioja, it offers significant complexity, particularly when you take the price into account. This wine wine has pronounced aromas of red plums, black cherries, fresh wet leaves, wet stones, cigar leaves and a clean earthy taste… While fruity flavours dominate, it’s interestingly savoury too and makes a very good value glass (or three) of wine right now and will hold for 3-4 years. Very good value for money.

Wines with tough names don’t sell easily…

Does pronounceability affect sale-ability?

If you’re looking for a new drink experience, which wine will tickle your fancy? A glass of unpronounceable Give-urtz-tram-eener, Vee-oh-nee-ay or Ree-ok-a?

A Sem-ee-on or Ar-nays?

Or maybe a new brand of Chardonnay or Pinot Gris that leaps onto your radar. After all, who wants to risk saying the wrong thing?

Well, some of us are gifted at saying just the wrong thing, but that’s another story. Ever since I wrote my first Under $15 Wine Guide back in the early 2000s, I’ve been a fan of wines with tricky names, such as Nero d’Avola, a lovely big soft red from Sicily and Verdicchio; a big full bodied white from Italy’s Adriatic coast.

Today I asked winemaker Lynnette Hudson of Tongue in Groove wines whether winemakers find that pronounceability and saleability are related and she said: “Yes, definitely, it’s really hard to get people to try things that are difficult to say because if you can’t pronounce it, then how can you tell your friends about it?”

It’s that intimidation factor that makes it tough to sell wines with unusual names.

How to find new flavours

Ask your local wine retailer how to pronounce names that are unusual

Spread your wings – and your wines Try the A to V of new wave wines

Arneis and Verdicchio are the tip of a far bigger iceberg of experimental wines in New Zealand – made locally and imported.

How do we pronounce weird wine names?








Sauvignon Blanc 






Rioja (the main ingredient is Tempranillo, hence the new found popularity of it)



The above may seem obvious, to some, but not to all and correct pronunciation can make all the difference between being able to sell – and enjoy making or drinking – a wine. 

 Three top weekend whites

2013 Villa Maria Private Bin Arneis East Coast $12-$14

“Ar-nays” is the name of a white grape that originally comes from the north of Italy and is now grown in New Zealand – it is a fresh, light bodied white with flavours of ripe lemons and a dry, crisp style. Refreshing and great value.

2015 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Albarino Gisborne $22-ish

“Alba-reen-yo” is the name of a white grape that comes from the border of north west Spain and north west Portugal (where it’s called Alvarinho). It’s a dry, medium bodied white with fresh, slightly salty flavours. Easier to say than most of the new wave of unusual, lesser known grape varieties.

2015 Umani Ronchi Casal de Serre Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi $23

“Ver-deek-ee-oh” is my favourite white grape (and wine) from Italy because it combines the full body of Chardonnay with the fresh lemony acidity of Riesling, even though it tastes like neither of these two – Verdicchio is a dry, full bodied and extremely good value white wine, which is available at specialist wine stores. This is a grape that I’d love to see growing in New Zealand – now, here’s hoping it may make its way to our maritime wine regions…

Happy weekend wine drinking – and thinking.

These wines may be challenging to say but their flavours are easy to enjoy – as  Oscar Wilde said; the true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

Listen to pronounceability and saleability on RNZ National’s podcast here: