A sense of place, grape, winemaker and culture are the magic of what we taste in a great wine.

The photo above is of a tiny plot of 80-year old Mencia grapes on this almost vertical slate cliff hanging just above the River Sil in Amandi in the Ribiera Sacra region of Northwestern Spain.

This vineyard was hand-terraced over 2000 years ago by the Romans to produce wine for their armies and for scores of generations, has produced wine for Ramon Losada’s family.

Ramon, the winemaker, with his assistant Gerardo Mendez, scramble over these steep terraces, moving grapes around in dumbwaiters. Sweltering in the sun, cooled by the roar of the river at their feet, they are making this wine to share with us.

This story is what I taste in this remarkable glass of 100% organic Mencia that I’m swirling in a huge goblet, evoking aromatic scents of the Galician landscape as I jot down these notes.

I’m a big fan of Ribeira Sacra (map of wine region). There is something about this isolated, obscure, landlocked region that is unique unto itself. Geographically and culturally with a common thread of passion toward these ancient vines and hillsides that permeates many of the wines I’ve tasted.

There’s historical gravity that has drawn winemakers like Ramon back to his ancestral vineyards to make wine naturally, by hand, with techniques that are not dissimilar to how they produced wine a thousand years ago on that very grouping of  terraces.

Ramon Losado is one of my favorite winemakers. He is a veterinarian by profession; winemaker by birthright. The D. Ventura brand is named after his grandfather who taught him winemaking and includes three small vineyards in Ribiera Sacra.

I reviewed his D. Ventura ’07 Pena Do Lobo Mencia last year and talked at length about the area, his family and his approach to winemaking in that post.

The Vina Caneiro Mencia is distinct, even though both vineyards are on the hillside above the River Sil. The Viña Caneiro vineyard (pictured at the top of this post) is seriously steeper and hangs on top of the river. This keeps it cooler and makes for a different microclimate than Pena Do Lobo. As well, Caneiro is Losa (pure slate) while Do Lobo is slate and granite.

Both sites are planted in 100% Mencia, grown organically and hand harvested to insure that each cluster is fully mature when harvested. Only indigenous yeast is used to start fermentation. None of the wines are filtered or cold stabilized.

The ’09 Vina Caneiro Ribeira Sacra Mencia is a bold wine with lots of zest.

Bright fruit, lively acidity and strong but silky tanins. The bouquet is layered and pervasive even through the lingering finish.

I tasted a few bottles of this over a week. I decanted it, and got more from the bottle in large goblets with a lot of air. Mencia is an intense grape. This wine with 14% alcohol has deep fruit flavors but remarkably, with graceful balance. It’s riper and more full bodied than the Pena Do Lobo, but still distinctly Burgundian in style.

This is a satisfying red wine, great with grilled food or with nibbles of cheese. I spent the week tasting raw sheep and goat’s cheese from Spain with it and it seemed a natural fit.

At $23 a bottle, this is a steal. A taste that satiates and intrigues. A complexity that is smooth yet firm. And organic and made by hand just for you.

I bought mine from Chambers Street Wines. If they are out of this one and you can’t find it online, the Pena Do Lobo is a bit simpler to source.

A huge thanks to Christopher Barnes, Spanish wine maven at Chambers Street and a good friend, who has brought these wondrous wines to lower Manhattan. It’s a labor of love for him. We are the beneficiary of his passion.