Merenzao: A Grape with Many Names

Trousseau, Bastardo, Gros Cabernet. These are just a few of the names Merenzao answers to. Originally from the Jura region of eastern France, it was born Trousseau because the shape of its berry clusters looked like a bride’s trousseau (think fancy knapsack). But the ambitious little grape soon planted roots in other parts of the world, each time reinventing itself and its name.

In Portugal, it took on the masculine and showy Bastardo, dancing its way into port production where its rich, red berry notes could complement the blends. Interestingly enough, it also developed split personalities; in other parts of Portugal it is called Abrunhal or Tinto Lisboa. In a few areas in eastern Australia, it called itself Gros Cabernet. And, least creatively, in the United States went by the name Trousseau Noir.

Which brings us to Spain. In Spain the grape goes by so many names, I will not dizzy your eyes by typing them all. But the bottle of 2014 Algueira Rosco I purchased was 100 percent Mernzao, the name the grape goes by in the Ribeira Sacra region where the bottle was produced. This region is on the western coast of Spain, full of lush greenery and salty gusts of wind. I was excited to give it a try.

Views of a Ribeira Sacra vineyard

Upon opening the bottle, I instantly understoord why Trousseau, or Merenzoa, was so enigmatic. The wine was both lush and airy, dense with flavor yet transluscent. It’s certainly hard to pinpoint just one characteristic within this wine. Perhaps this is why no one can decide on its name.

One thing I know is that I kept coming back to my glass. At first taste, I would say the body was light with a mixture of both ripe and sour cherries. At the same time, it had a delightful earthiness with surprisingly structured tannins for a softer style of wine. As I continued sipping, I kept changing my mind. Was it perhaps more medium bodied with the notes of violet and nutmeg that began to pop out? Wait. No. A burst of bright sunshine hits me and I’m back to the drawing board. I finally decided that this wine was distinctly Merenzoa, fresh and breezy like the coastal Ribeira Sacra, while simultaneously rich and boisterous like Spanish cuisine.

I thought long and hard about what to pair with this wine. I thought game like lamb or veal would be perfect, but needed to be careful that the sauce or seasoning I chose didn’t overpower or underpower the wine’s flavors. I settled on veal marsala with a twist. Instead of using flour and heavy butter, which would create a sauce too dense for the wine, I chose to mix olive oil, chicken broth, and rosemary into the marsala. This created a fresh, light version of the dish that strode hand in hand with my Merenzoa.

The savory veal and mushrooms matched the cured meat and pepper qualities of the wine. The rosemary helped lift the fruit and salty quality. Food didn’t overpower wine, nor did wine overpower food. This may be my best pairing to date.

I especially enjoyed learning about Merenzoa’s torrid history. I now understand why it’s described as both tannic and silky, fruity and earthy. I know this may be a particular hard one to find (I found mine at a local, high end wine shop), but try wine searcher or the vivino app for any of its myriad of counterparts. If you do get your hands on one, please leave a comment to let me know your thoughts. Happy hunting!

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