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WoW 1 Ap 16
PHOTO BY WAYNE CRAWFORD

Grenache: from Spain to the U.S.

By Wayne Crawford

January 2016: United States wine sales total $38 billion and continue to increase, as reported by Wines & Vines. While I subscribe to “drink what you like” as a drinking strategy, I encourage readers to explore new wines, particularly with U.S. wine sales surging.

Grenache is one of those red grapes that is not only reasonably well-priced but also has light tannins, high sugar content and medium acidity for a delightful red wine to drink and pair with food. Think strawberry, raspberry and prune with anise and cinnamon aromas and flavors that are smooth on the palate with a medium-to-long finish, depending on where the grapes are grown.

Grenache is one of the most planted red wine grapes in the world. Modern DNA analysis marks its origins in Sardinia and Spain, the latter from as early as 1513. Both were part of the Thalassocracy or maritime realms of the Crown of Aragon, 1162-1716. Regardless, grenache, known as garnacha in Spanish, thrives in hot, humid climates, but – like pinot noir – can be hard to grow. In Spain, the Aragon region holds the largest concentration for grenache with the areas of Rioja, Navarra and Priorat relying on this grape, both as a single varietal and with blends.

Across the Pyrenees in France, grenache is a key red grape in the Rhone valley, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Tavel. While in France in 2014, I saw grenache serving as an important blending grape in Languedoc-Roussillon and as a varietal and a blend in fortified vin doux naturels (VDN) or “naturally sweet wine,” crafted in Banyuls and Maury. Two of our four wines “drinking well now,” while not VDN, were produced in Maury as still wines. Grenache is also a key grape in red and rose wine production in Provence.

In the U.S., we owe much to the Rhone Rangers for encouraging grenache planting in Washington and California in the 1960s and later. The Big Canoe Wine Group has selected a state of Washington wine this month.

Grenache pairs well with grilled lamb and almost any red meat that is roasted or barbecued. In a medium-body, low-alcohol form, it pairs well with pizza, particularly topped with sausage and wild mushrooms. Grenache is a nice complement to grilled hamburgers with rich baked beans. Certainly, pork and veal pair well with grenache, GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) or Chateauneuf-du-Pape blends.

‘Wines drinking well now’

Orin Swift 2009 Grenache "D66" Vins de Pay des Maury, Roussillon, France, $43.99. “D66” is a project based in the south of France in the village of Maury. The wine is 80 percent grenache with 12 percent syrah and 8 percent carignan. Most of the vines are a minimum of 60 years old with some parcels older. This excellent wine is dark-red in color with aromas of cherry, raspberry and strawberry with tropical fruit on the palate. These aromas match flavors with spice, fig and plum and complement a well-balanced wine with good acidity and a long finish. It was an overwhelming first choice in our blind-tasting and is available from Orin Swift at $38 for a 2013. A collector wine that should easily age eight to 10 years.

Alto Moncayo 2007 Garnacha, Spain, $38. Dark-ruby red color with aromas of blueberry, black raspberry and chocolate, on the palate this wine offers a smooth mouthfeel with soft tannins, mineral and spice complementing an old vine grenache long finish. This is a well-structured, complex wine crafted by master winemaker Chris Ringland and is the flagship wine of this winery. The importer for this wine is Atlanta Improvement Company owned by Parks Redwine. Highly Recommended. A 2012 is available.

Shatter (Trinchero) 2012-Grenache 100 percent Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, Maury, Roussillon, France, $18. A collaboration between Napa's Joel Gott and Dave Phinney, this dark-red wine offers aromas of cherry, blackberry and spice. Aged in oak, its vanilla flavors complement the fruit with a smooth mouthfeel. A lingering finish complements this grenache. Best Buy.

aMaurice Cellars 2010-Boushey Vineyard Grenache 100 percent Yakima Valley, Washington, $35. Deeply saturated with a dark-red color, this wine offers fresh fruit aromas of plum, cherry and red raspberry. On the palate, the fruit flavors of plum and cherry balance with herbs and minerality that counterbalance good tannins. Highly Recommended.

Other wines to consider: Donkey & Goat 2014, $24; Curran 2012 Rose Grenache, $18; Bodegas Ateca 2014 Atteca Old Vines Garnacha, $11; Scala Dei 2012 Negre Garnacha Priorat, $18; Rafael Cambra 2012 Soplo Garnacha Tintorera (Valencia), $15; Borsao 2013 Garnacha (Campo de Borja), $9; Las Rocas Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2012, $20; Tres Picos 2013, $18.99.

I am particularly fond of Australian grenache from McLaren Vale made by Clarendon Hills’ Roman Bratasiuk and d’Arenberg’s Chester Osborn. They make both GSM and grenache varietals.

‘Drink what you like’

In my next article, the focus is on the light-bodied red Gamay wines from 10 Beaujolais Cru areas in France. They are highly affordable, well-crafted and not to be confused with Beaujolais Nouveau, which is released every year in November for immediate consumption.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and The Wine Scholar Guild.

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