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Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Winemakers like to tell a story of folks sitting down to a dinner table set with bottles of highly rated wines alongside their plebeian offerings.
At dinner’s end the bottles with the lofty ratings have more wine remaining than the pedestrian selections. The winemakers proudly point out the drinkability of their wine over the samples with the stratospheric ratings.
Such a wine could be exemplified by grenache, the primary grape used in Chateauneuf du Pape and planted ubiquitously throughout the Mediterranean area of Europe, as well as Australia and California.
A multitude of reasonably priced grenache-based wines are available in the marketplace. Because of European labeling regulations, they may not mention grenache on the label.
Wines from the southern Rhone valley, such as Cotes du Rhone, Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape as well as more southerly appellations such as Corbieres and Languedoc often feature grenache as the primary grape, blending it with syrah, carignan and mourvedre .
When grenache grapes are crushed and the pink juice is bled off after a short time, it can produce a delightful rosé. The region of Tavel is justifiably famous for this style.
Grenache is thought to have originated in the medieval kingdom of Aragon, which in the 1500s encompassed portions of northern Spain, southern France, Italy and Sardinia.
An ancient name for the grape is Tinto Aragones (Red of Aragon). In the 18th century, Burgundian wine merchants blended grenache with their watery pinot noir to add body and alcohol.
When the vineyards of Rioja planted with tempranillo were decimated by the phylloxera root louse at the beginning of the 20th century, many were replanted with hearty grenache vines. Grenache was one of the first grapes planted in Australia, and at one time was the most prolific grape, producing vast quantities of inexpensive fortified wines. Some California winemakers known as the Rhone Rangers have produced exceptional wines with the variety.
Grenache thrives in torrid, dry climates with long growing seasons and is resistant to drought with its deep roots. The grape has proved to be especially well suited to the Rhone Valley because of its ability to withstand the mistral, a powerful dry wind that accelerates as it is funneled through the valley.
The vines are woody and suitable to bush trellising. Tight grape clusters make them susceptible to mold and rot in moist climates. The grape is labeled as garnacha in Spain.
Grenache can achieve very high sugar content, which translates to wines with high alcohol, up to 15 percent, and flavors of raspberry, strawberry as well as notes of black pepper spice and mineral or herb notes.
The wines are usually not severely tannic, because of the grape’s thin skin. Grenache is supple and luscious on the palate with peppery notes that help it pair well with smoky or spicy foods. So put some grenache out at your next dinner party and see how quickly the bottle is emptied.
Gordon’s picks for grenache
*Prices and availability may vary
Finca Venta D. Quijote Garnacha Rose 2011 Toledo, Spain
The label states that this is an estate bottled wine, meaning that the estate grew the grapes and made the wine. Red garnacha grapes are crushed, and the juice is bled off leaving a salmon-colored wine. Unlike white zinfandel, the wine is fermented dry, leaving a fresh palate of watermelon, strawberry and rose petals. The finish tingles with zingy acidity. Serve well-chilled with spicy Asian dishes such as pad Thai. 12.5 percent ABV. $8
Altes Herencia Garnatxa Negra 2011 Batea, Spain
This wine is composed of 100 percent grenache from old vines grown in chalky soil of the Terra Alta region. The wine is fermented in concrete tanks and has a dense crimson color. Aromas of raspberry liqueur and smoke lead to rich flavors of kirsch, black and red fruits and a trace of minerals on the finish. I think this would pair extraordinarily well with grilled sausages. 14 percent ABV. $10
Honoro Vera Garnacha 2011 Zaragoza, Spain
Calatayud earned classification as a denomination area in 1990. The area is noted for extreme heat in the summer, moderated by the altitude of the vineyard. The wine is composed of 100 percent grenache and displays a deep red color. Aromas of blackberries and mineral lead to an opulent palate of luscious red fruit, finishing with soft tannins. Serve with a grilled steak seasoned with black pepper. 14.5 percent ABV. $10
E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2009 Ampuis, France
This wine illustrates how grenache can create synergy when blended with other grapes. A blend of 45 percent syrah, 52 percent grenache, 3 percent mourvedre, the grenache adds spicy fruit flavors while the syrah adds color and body and mourvedre a touch of saddle leather. The wine has a deep red color, silky, luscious red cherry and black currant flavors, finishing with soft tannins and a touch of minerals. Serve with creamy cheeses such as Brie. 14 percent ABV. $16
Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2010 Angaston, South Australia
Gnarly, bush-trained vines that are 35 to 70 years old produce the grapes that are transformed into this wine. The wine has a deep cordovan color and aromas of raspberries and road tar. On the palate it is viscous, leaving a delicious wash of blackberry liqueur and pepper flavors, finishing with soft tannins. Serve this delicious wine with pulled pork barbecue. 13.5 percent ABV. $14
Clos du Bois de Menge Gigondas 2009 Castillon-du-Gard, France
The producers of this wine, La Compagnie Rhodanienne, have been in business since 1963, use modern winemaking techniques to produce wines in an area known for rusticity. This blend of grenache, mourvedre and syrah displays a deep red color and aromas of meat and fruit. The velvety palate shows flavors of black cherry, smoke and a bit of earth. This refined wine would be great served with the white bean and sausage casserole known as cassoulet. 13.5 percent ABV. $20
Gordon Kendall’s column runs monthly in Extra.
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