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Lightening struck on a Spanish grenache

April 13, 2011

Sometimes things just sneak up on you. You only start to connect the dots when lightning strikes for a second time and then it takes a while for your vision to clear. This phenomenon struck recently when tasting an absolutely delicious Spanish grenache, the 2009 Picos del Montgo Carinena ($9) which we recently complimented.
It brought to mind another Spanish grenache (“garnacha” in Spanish) that we wrote about many years ago. The Borsao Campo de Borgia ($7-9) is still an amazingly good, widely available grenache that drinks way beyond its modest price point. Both of these wines offer lusciously abundant, berry fruit flavors with notes of black pepper, in a fruit forward generous uncomplicated style.
The two wine experiences got us to reflect on the grenache grape and how fond we have become of it. In the past couple of years we have become increasingly enthusiastic of Chateauneuf du Pape from the Southern Rhone., which not coincidently is made up primarily of the grenache grape. These grenache-dominated wines are much more complex, more age worthy and more expensive than most of their Spanish cousins. Our opinion is that the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape represent the best expression of the grenache grape, albeit at a price, because of its emphasis on terroir. Although grapes like carnignan and syrah have been blended with this variety in this Rhone region, producers like Chateau de la Gardine and Domaine de la Solitude are using mostly grenache today.
The still-available 2007 vintage is legendary and shouldn’t be missed, and we’ve heard that the 2009s are also should superlative. Grenache is also the dominant grape variety in most Cote du Rhone and Tavel rose wines. Not all Spanish grenache is as simple or inexpensive as the Picos del Montgo. We recently purchased several bottles of the 2007 Atteca Old Vines Garnacha ($45) that was rich and complex. It is a very different style than the Rhone versions, but equally serious. Garnacha is particularly robust and rich when the grapes are grown on 50 to 60-year-old vines.
Australia also produces a good bit of grenache, although this once dominant grape has been supplanted largely by shiraz (syrah). Austrailian grenache tend to be less complex and more fruit-forward in style. However, there are several standouts made exclusively with grenache. D’Arenburg, for instance, has crafted reasonably priced, old-vine grenache under its Custodian and Derelict labels. If you want something more serious, try the Grant Burge “The Holy Trinity’ ($48) or the Clarendon Hills Hickinbotham Vineyard Old Vines Grenache ($45).
For some reason, grenache just hasn’t made a break-through in California. Some upscale California wineries, such as Beckman, Alban and Sine Qua Non, make a varietal grenache, but for the most part they are reserved for loyal customers who are on a mailing list. Grenache is included in many proprietary blends, but rarely does it have a starring role.
Grenache has slowly become one of our favorite grapes and we didn’t even know it. Because of the differences in influences like terroir, traditions and labeling laws, we hadn’t connected the dots. Amazingly, this is a versatile grape that can make outstanding wine at lower as well as higher price points. You would be hard pressed to find a cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir that pull that off.
Here’s a toast to the stealth grape, and maybe the next big thing.

J. LOHR

J. Lohr Vineyards is making some excellent wine on the Central Coast and its recent releases aim to please.
Known for their fruit-forward, jammy style, the red wines pack a wallop of flavor and seem to be made with the consumer’s thirst for bold flavors. There isn’t a throw-back in the bunch.
We thorough enjoyed the 2007J. Lohr Hillltop Caberet Sauvignon ($35) using six grape varieties from Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo County. There is even a little petite sirah in the blend to give the wine its dense color. If you like your petite sirah unblended, Lohr makes a separate version for $35. And, the J. Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot is a steal at $15.

Check out the authors’ blog at wine-guys.com. Some of the wines recommended in our column may have been provided for review by their producers. The authors can be reached at tmarquardt@capitalgazette.com.

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