One of the most difficult things to do when writing about wine is to resist the temptation to criticize what others like. Yes, it’s easy to write witty lines and to bask in the glow of self-snarkiness. But what does that accomplish? The goal should be education, always.
Which brings us to the Mencia ($10, purchased, available at Central Market), a Spanish red wine that many people apparently don’t like. "Bitter." "Innocuous." "Not memorable." Another tasting note I saw compared it to a wine that cost three times as much and, not surprisingly, found it lacking. To which I ask: Are you judging the wine on its merits, or are you judging it based on what you want the wine to taste like?
Why am I getting so philosophical in a review for yet another $10 wine? Because I keep seeing this crop up in how people view both cheap wine and regional wine — the attitude that if the wine doesn’t fit the perception of what the drinker wants it to taste like, then it’s not any good. Which is doing it backwards. One must taste the wine, and then judge it.
The point is not that the Mencia is bitter, innocuous or unmemorable. The point is that the grape used, the mencia, should not be judged as if it was tempranillo or merlot. Because, compared to either, it will seem bitter. And compared to a $20 or $30 wine, it will seem innocuous and it won’t be memorable. So judge it against itself. You’ll find a cranberry aroma, some juiciness (though it isn’t especially fruity), a bit of tannin, and enough acid to balance the fruit. It’s a burger and barbecue wine, and it does what Spanish wine is supposed to do. Which, to me, is memorable.