Braised pork belly (butta no kakuni) is one of the ultimate Japanese comfort foods. Marinated, slow cooked, the pork has a deep, slightly sweet flavour, unctuous texture and just melts in the mouth. Like many Japanese recipes there is an inherent sweetness from the use of mirin and a rich umami character from the soy sauce. Not necessarily an easy one to match with wine. But it gives us an opportunity to showcase an up-and-coming red grape from Spain that is turning heads around the wine world.
Today’s Wine Pairing: Mencia x Japanese pork belly
Mencia is native to north west Spain and Portugal (where it is known as Jaen). It is often likened to a cross between Pinot Noir and Syrah. On the nose, it’s reminiscent of Syrah: violet, roses, lavender and bramble fruit. But on palate, it’s like a Burgundian Pinot: bright cherry, raspberries, with a silky, elegant texture. In Spain, the two best DOs to look for Mencia are Ribera Sacra and Bierzo.
For this match, we had Licis, DO Ribera Sacra by Franck Massard. A perfect example of what this grape can achieve. It had enough fruit to meet the sweetness in the marinade, and the high acidity to cut through the fattiness of the pork. Then you’ve got those beautiful floral and herbal aromas that just give an extra savoury lift to the whole combination.