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Wine Discovery Pack

November 19, 2019 Leave a comment

My relatives, a young couple, are getting into the wine. In search of what they like, which they still have to determine, they are starting the process of discovery – taking notes, making records of what they like and don’t like – something which will definitely lead them to the right path.

I wanted to help them, so I decided to create a special wine set, which I called the Discovery Pack – 6 wines which can help the beginners to identify their preferences – yes, it takes a lot more than 6 wines to figure the wine world out, but still, it is a guided start as opposed to the pure trial and error.

While working on putting together a good learning set of wines, I came up with the following criteria to decide on what wines to include:

  • The wine should be reasonably priced, so I set the limit at $20 per bottle. Yes, you can find well drinkable wines under $10 – but finding such wines is quite difficult. Yes, I could go higher, but a lot of expensive young wines are simply not drinkable, they need to age, and besides, expensive wines might not be what the young family might be excited about.
  • The wines should be mainstream wines – there should be no problems finding these wines anywhere in the US. It doesn’t make sense to offer someone an amazing bottle of wine which will be impossible to find, as the idea is to help with finding the favorites, and then being able to buy the wines again with ease.
  • The wines should be representative of their region or styles. It is easily possible to find unique and amazing wines in any price range – however Bobal, Trepat, Teroldego, or Schiava, no matter how tasty, are hard to find and always a hit or miss exercise. Once you are a bona fide wine lover, you do as you pleased, but when you are just learning, missteps might have long term consequences – once someone decides “oh, I don’t like this type of wine”, it might take a very long (if ever) time to reverse that sentiment.

Okay, so the playing field is set. Let’s see how I managed to address my own requirements.

First, I decided that it will be all red wines set. A typical wine lover’s evolution is sweet – red – white – dessert, so red is a good starting point. There is some sort of uniformity between major red grapes, at least texturally – any whites will be all over the place (think of a range of expressions of Sauvignon Blanc: Sancerre – Italy – New Zealand – California – Chile). Red wines are easier to deal with. Secondly, I wanted to offer a trip around the world – not necessarily easy with only 6 bottles, but I tried.

My first selection was the easiest for me – Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah California ($10-$12). This wine is a solid, you-can’t-go-wrong choice in the $9.99 – $11.99 price range. The recommendation here is not the style or the region so much as the particular wine. It typically has good amount of fruit, nicely restrained and perfectly drinkable upon pulling out the cork. Always a safe choice when in doubt; will work perfectly with a casual Friday dinner or a Saturday BBQ. On a wider scale, California Petitte Sirah is a good grape to be familiar with – yes, you can always find renditions that require long aging, such as Retro or Runquist, but on the other hand, you might get lucky with Turley or Quivira.

Wine #2 is another favorite which first and foremost represents itself – Original House Wine Red Blend ($9.99). The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and other red grapes. In the older days, the wine was designated as Columbia Valley, Washington – now it seems to be saying just “American wine” on the website, however, the back label indicates Walla Walla, Washington. In any case, at around $9.99, this is an excellent wine – supple, fruity, bold – but not overboard. You can build upon this wine as it can be an introduction into the well-made blends, and it can be also a nice introduction into the Washington wines.

Wine #3 – Las Rocas Garnacha Catalayud Spain ($15). If you are familiar with this blog, you could easily predict that Spanish wine will be on the list – but you probably were expecting to see Rioja or Ribera del Duero wine. I went with Garnacha, known outside of Spain as Grenache because, in the under $20 price range, both Rioja and Ribera del Duero are hit and miss. Yes, I can find drinkable examples of Rioja under $20, but there are so many insipid Rioja wines in that price range that it will not do anyone any good. Garnacha is a much safer choice – there is a good level of consistency in this price range. Las Rocas Garnacha is a good example, with  a core of red fruit over the medium body. Easy to drink and at around $15, nobody needs to break the bank to enjoy another Monday night. This wine is selected to be more of a representative of style, grape, and the region, so you can continue trying a variety of Garnacha wines, maybe eventually graduating with Alto Moncayo Aquilon or even Clos Erasmus.

Wine #4 – Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone France ($15). There is absolutely no way France can be left outside of such a discovery portfolio. When it comes to France, the most obvious options are Bordeaux or Burgundy, however, Burgundy just doesn’t exist in under $20 price category, and Bordeaux will be extremely inconsistent. Besides, I wouldn’t recommend Bordeaux and Burgundy to the beginner wine drinkers. However, Cote du Rhone is an entirely different story. Cote du Rhone wines, which are typically a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (so-called GSM blend) in various proportions, are easy to drink. They are soft, simple, loaded with tasty cherries and plums smothered over medium body. Saint Cosme, which is a very good producer, simply represents the region here. Delas, M. Chapoutier, Guigal, Perrin, and many others offer reliable choices in the same price range. GSM blends can be found everywhere throughout the Rhone, so after you establish your palate with Cote du Rhone wines, you can graduate to Gigondas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and then slowly embrace the Northern Rhone.

Wine #5 – Ciacci Collosorbo Rosso di Montalcino Italy ($19.99). The Discovery pack must include Italian wine, isn’t it? Choosing one Italian wine based on the 3 criteria set here is very far from easy. To stay under $20, Chianti, Salice Salentino, Montepulciano represent far better options than most other Italian regions. However, Chianti and Montepulciano can be hit and miss, and with Salice Salentino you will be limited to 1-2 choices your wine store will offer – if you are lucky. The original plan was still to go with Cecchi Chianti Classico, highly recommended by John Fodera – however, the wine didn’t make it into the stock, so I decided to go with the so-called baby Brunello. Rosso di Montalcino as a category is well approachable, offering wines which are unmistakably Italian with all of the cherry, leather, and tobacco notes – and easy to drink while young, without the need to cellar them. I might be bending the rules on this wine just a bit because while I got it at $19.99 here in Stamford, it might be a bit more expensive in many places. Well, it should be possible to find Rosso di Montalcino wines under $20, so we are okay here. And then the Rosso offers a graduation pass to the Brunello di Montalcino, and then maybe a jump to the Super Tuscans.

Wine #6 – Alamos Malbec Selección Mendoza Argentina ($16.99). There were multiple contenders for the last spot in our discovery set – Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa. Australia, Chile, and South Africa don’t offer consistency in this price range, and while New Zealand reds can be available under $20, it really doesn’t offer much of the selection. I decided to go with Malbec, as it is usually something most of the beginners can appreciate, with its soft dark fruit and vanilla notes. There is also a level of consistency associated with Argentinian Malbec, and $15 – $20 range allows for the higher quality wines such as this Alamos Malbec Selección or Trapiche Broquel.

Here you go – my 6 wines discovery set. Now, I have a question for you, wine buffs, snobs, and aficionados – what would you offer for the beginner wine drinkers as a learning introduction into the world of wines, also based on the three principals I outlined? Don’t be shy – comment away! Cheers!

 

Thinking About Grenache with Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha

September 22, 2018 3 comments

Grenache. Garnacha. Garnatxa. One of the 10 most popular red grapes in the world, one of the most planted grapes in the world (according to the Court of Master Sommeliers, “world’s most widely planted grape”). Some call it “unsung hero”; I generally designate it as King of the Blends. While Grenache can perfectly perform solo (think about Sine Qua Non, Horsepower, No Girls, Bodegas Alto Moncayo, some of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape), it typically plays its part in the blends – that’s what “G” stands for in all of the GSM renditions, whether coming from Australia, Southern Rhône, Southe Africa, or California; it helps with Rioja and Priorat, and with lots of other wines.

Yesterday, wine lovers celebrated International Grenache Day, which prompted some thoughts on the subject. As I confessed many times, I like aged wines. Of course, I thoroughly enjoy the exuberance of the young wines, but my honest preferences are with the wines which gain some complexity after been aged. Out of 10 most popular grapes – Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Merlot, Zinfandel, Malbec, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Syrah/Shiraz – Grenache is the one which concerns me the most with its ageability. Of course, the Grenache wines produced by Sine Qua Non, Horsepower, Bodegas Alta Moncaya Aquilon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Clos des Papes or Domaine de la Janasse can age perfectly for a very long time – but all of these wines will set you back for hundred(s) of dollars, so their ageability is rather expected. Meanwhile, I had lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah (oh well, pretty much all of those 10 major grapes), priced in the $15-$25 range and age beautifully (here is one example for you) – but I don’t have a great luck with aged Grenache in that price category – maybe because the most of it comes in the blends (don’t try aging Côtes du Rhône reds – it is just not going to happen).

If you are an oenophile who can spend 15 minutes pulling back and forth numerous bottles in your cellar, unable to decide what to open for the evening, I’m sure you really appreciate the grape holidays. Your selection shrinks down, as now only the appropriate bottle can be opened, so the life becomes much easier. This recent Grenache Day gave me a good reason to finally open the bottle of the 2011 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hill Lodi (14.5% ABV, $25) – I had this bottle in my hands a few times this year, but always put it back as “not this time” object.

Lodi was one of my relatively recent discoveries as one of the very best wine regions in California, and in the US in general – both with the wines and with the people who make the wines there. Lodi might be most famous for its Zinfandel vineyards, but it is really a capital of Mediterranean grape varieties in the USA, and so Lodi Grenache is something to look for as a category. And if Lodi is the capital, Markus Bokisch might well be the king of those Mediterranean varieties – he started planting Spanish varieties in Lodi back in 1999 and only made his first Zinfandel wines a few years back. Markus’s range includes all best-known Spanish varieties – from Albariño and Verdejo to Garnacha, Monastrell, Tempranillo, and Graciano.

In a word, I made an excellent choice of the celebratory wine for the International Grenache Day, as the wine was beautiful from the get-go. Garnet color; espresso and mint jump right out of the glass, intense aroma, tar, a whiff of the dark chocolate came as the second layer, minerality, spices – I could actually smell this wine for about … forever. The palate? Wow. Tart blackberries, tobacco, a touch of pepper, bright acidity, perfect firm structure, delicious. The wine was going and going, further opening up over the next two days and showing the smoke and rocky minerality which I previously experienced with No Girls Grenache (here is a bonus, Bokisch Garnacha is only a quarter of a price of No Girls Grenache). Drinkability: 8+/9-. The wine was a perfect example of Grenache which can age – and could’ve waited for longer to be opened, for sure – but it was definitely enjoyed (of course this was my only bottle, you don’t need to ask).

What do you think of Grenache? Do you have a favorite Grenache wine or a region? Cheers!

Time to Celebrate Grenache – 2017 Edition

September 15, 2017 4 comments

This year, I managed to miss lots of the “grape day” celebrations. Well, life takes precedence. But – we have enough grapes to celebrate, and I’m glad to partake in festivities in honor of one of my most favorite grapes – Grenache, a.k.a. Garnacha, and sometimes a.k.a. Garnatxa (hmmm, should I also mention Cannonau?).

Grenache is one of the most versatile grapes I know, and the word “versatile” here truly has multiple meanings. Grenache does perfectly in the “old world”, producing delicious wines in France (think Southern Rhone and Languedoc), all over the Spain, and Sardinia in Italy. It reaches incredible heights in the “new world”, producing cult level wines in Australia and the USA (Sine Qua Non, anyone?). Grenache wines are delicious in its purity, made out of the 100% of the grape; Grenache also performs splendidly in a band, often known as GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) blend, where it can play multiple roles, from leading to minor and supportive. Yes, it is one versatile grape.

Grenache from Carinena

When it comes to Grenache, especially on its special day, province of Aragon in Northern Spain deserves special mention. It is widely considered that the Kingdom of Aragon was a birthplace of Grenache, and from there the grape took on to Italy and France, before conquering the rest of the world. In Aragon, 4 wine regions – DOs of Cariñena, Somontano, Calatayud, and Campo de Borja – produce what we can call a “classic Grenache” (I guess “classic Garnacha” would sound more appropriate), boasting some of the oldest Grenache vines in the world.

We can’t celebrate with an empty glass, can’t we? For this special day, I would like to share with you the notes for 3 of the “classic Garnacha” wines, coming exactly from the DO Cariñena in Aragon:

2015 Paniza Garnacha Rosé Cariñena DO (13% ABV)
C: deep pink
N: fresh strawberries, berries and leaves
P: fresh strawberries all the way, succulent, generous and round. Perfect presence in your mouth.
V: 8-/8, delicious wine

2014 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha Cariñena DO (14%ABV)
C: garnet
N: fresh plums, mocha, eucalyptus, inviting
P: tart cherries, clean acidity, fresh present tannins, touch of blackcurrant, a bit of white pepper
V: 8-, perfectly playful, very good wine.

2014 Corona D Aragon Old Vine Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV)
C: very dark garnet, practically black
N: sandalwood, spices, dark chocolate, touch of roasted meat
P: medium body, good acidity, touch of cherries, fresh, hint of dark chocolate
V: 7+/8-, nice rendition

What is in your glass? How do you celebrate the noble grape? Happy Grenache Day! Cheers!

Fun #GrenacheDay Celebration on Snooth

September 17, 2016 2 comments

Does Grenache, a.k.a. Garnacha, deserves its own celebration? It used to be the third most planted red grape in the world (in the year 2000), and the most planted red grape in Spain; now it is 5th most planted red grape in the world, and second most planted in Spain. In this particular case, size might not matter (how many of you drunk the wines made from Airen, the most planted white grape in the world?) – what important is that Grenache is an essential part of lots of amazing wines, coming from everywhere in the world – France, Spain, California, Washington, Australia, Italy, there is really no limit here. Grenache is capable of amazing solo performances (think Clos Erasmus, Sine Qua None, No Girls), but more often than not, it is a great team player (Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Southern Rhone, Australian GSM and thousands of others).

Yes, Grenache is worthy of a celebration. Grenache wines are quite mendable at the hands of the winemaker, giving you a wide range of expressions. What is even more important, unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, even budget level Grenache wines (read: less than $10 a bottle) are very enjoyable, especially when they come from Spain. And don’t forget that under the word “Grenache” there can be three different grapes – Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris (rare), and Grenache (or Garnacha Tinta).

spanish grenache wines

A large group of “winos” assembled last night on Snooth, one of the leading online wine communities, to discuss virtues of Grenache grapes and, of course, to taste some Grenache wines. All the Grenache wines in the tasting came from Spain, two white Grenache Blanc and three of the 100% Grenache reds. Not only the wines were tasty, all of them also represented great value and great QPR, all priced under $14. The discussion was hosted by Master Sommelier Laura Maniec and Master of Wine Christy Canterbury – but to be very honest, the online discussion felt to me more like a wine bloggers conference attendees’ reunion, with lots and lots of familiar “voices” in the chat room, so I had a hard time paying attention to the presentation and was more focused on multiple dialogs taking place at the same time. Either way, it was a great fun, and wines perfectly supported the conversation.

Here are my notes for what we had an opportunity to taste:

2015 Cellers Unio closDalian Garnacha Blanca Terra Alta DO (12.5% ABV, $9, 100% Garnacha Blanca)
C: pale straw
N: intense, aromatic, white stone fruit, citrus
P: white fruit, lemon, herbal undertones, good acidity, fresh
V: 7+, very nice, food friendly (many people in the chat craved oysters)

2013 La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca Somontano DO (13.5% ABV, $14, 4 month in French Oak)
C: light golden
N: intense, vanilla, freshly crushed berries, golden yellow raisins, borderline Riesling profile with touch of petrol
P: plump, good body weight (medium to full), crisp acidity on the finish, round, firm structure – outstanding
V: 8, excellent overall

2015 Castillo de Monséran Garnacha Cariñena (13% ABV, $9)
C: dark Ruby
N: intense, freshly crushed berries, young
P: sweet fruit (restrained, not overly) with surprising structure and good acidity on the finish. Distant touch of earthiness and smoke.
V: 7+, simple and pleasant

2015 Evódia Varietal de Aragon Red Wine (15% ABV, $9, 100 years old vines, high elevation 2400–3000 ft)
C: Dark Garnet
N: very intense pure nose of fresh blueberries and blueberry pie, you don’t even need to be next to the glass
P: layered, soft, velvety, roll-off-your-tongue mouthfeel, fresh black fruit in background
V: 7+, needs time

2014 Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria Campo de Borja DO (14% ABV, $14, 100% Grenache, more than 100 years old vines, 4 months in French oak)
C: garnet
N: lavender, anise, cherries, fresh, intense
P: smoke, earthiness, sage, roasted meat, sweet fruit and tobacco finish, wow; added peppery notes on the second day
V: 8+, outstanding complexity, amazing value

I would like to thank kind folks at Snooth for arranging this fun tasting and providing such an excellent selection of the value Grenache wines.

How did you celebrate #GrenacheDay? What was your most memorable Grenache wine ever – if you have one of course? Cheers!

Garnacha from Cariñena

November 13, 2015 2 comments
Beautiful Cariñena Vineyards. Source: Cariñena DOP

Beautiful Cariñena Vineyards.
Source: Cariñena DOP

Today we will be talking about Garnacha, better known around the world under its French name of Grenache.  But the region we will focus on is located in Spain,  so let’s use regionally-appropriate name.

Garnacha is one of the most important grapes of Spain, rivaled only by Tempranillo. It is planted practically in all the regions, and used both solo and as a blending grape, delivering tremendous range of expression.

Let’s narrow down our focus a bit and talk about Garnacha from Cariñena. Cariñena is a region in the central part of Spain, second oldest official DO (protected origin) in Spain and one of the first in Europe, created in 1932. Most of the vineyards in Cariñena are situated on the mountains, from 400 meters to 800+ meters (1300 ft – 2600 ft) above sea level. One of the best known grapes from the region is … Cariñena, which I find quite  confusing considering that this is also the name of the region itself. However, the most planted grape is…yes, Garnacha, which takes 55% of all the grape plantings. Another interesting fact is that Garnacha plantings in Cariñena are some of the oldest in Spain, with age of some vines more than 100 years old.

I will not inundate you here with information which you can find on your own, for instance, on the official D.O.P. Cariñena web site. I recently heard that Andrea Immer Robinson, one of the 18 women Master Sommeliers, and an official Sommelier for Delta Airlines, selected Cariñena Garnacha wines to serve to the Business Class passengers on Delta flights due to its affinity to the high altitude. Obviously I got intrigued with this statement, and I was lucky enough to reach out to Andrea and ask a few questions about it. Here is what I was able to learn:

Q: It sounds like different wines might have different affinity to showing best at the high altitude? Is that really true? Can you elaborate on this a bit?
A: Yes it is true. At altitude your sense of smell is muted and your palate is less hydrated. Consequently, more restrained wine scent/flavor profiles or more intensely tannic wines may not present as well in-flight.

Q: Do you have an example of the wine which is delicious on the ground, and doesn’t taste that well up in the sky?
A: It is less that a wine doesn’t taste well in the sky, and more that it may seem less expressive or flavorful. The subtlety of Italian Pinot Grigio is an example of a style that classically seems muted and less flavorful at altitude. But I did find a great one that belies the broad-brush experience I have had which is exciting.
[TaV comment]: Obviously this is where the limitations of the virtual conversation kick in, as I would love to ask Andrea what was that great Pinot Grigio which she was able to find to serve at the high altitude.

Q: What do you think makes Garnacha from Cariñena good wines to drink at the high altitude? Do you think all Garnacha from Cariñena wines are equally good to drink at the high altitude, or is it only few particular wines?
A: The Garnacha from Carinena is expressive and concentrated and the tannins though present, are soft and ripe – so, the wine shows a lot of character and is not drying to the palate in flight. The particular example that is getting rave reviews presently is a 9 year old Reserva – that extra bottle age gives complexity that customers are going ape over. I don’t thin every wine would garner this type of response–I think the bottle age and complexity of the Reserva level are a big part of it.
[TaV comment]: Yep, here we go again – would love to know what Reserva wine was that…

Q: What are your favorite Garnacha from Cariñena wines, whether on the ground or on the board of the plane?
A: I love the Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva that we are serving on Delta now. I also really love the Castillo de Monserran and the Paniza Vinas Viejas on the ground (haven’t tried them in flight). Perfect as we get into stew season!

I also was able to taste a few of Garnacha from Cariñena wines, and below are my impressions:

2012 Viñas Viejas de Paniza Garnacha Cariñena DO (14% ABV, $18, 100% Garnacha, 6 month in oak)
C: dark ruby
N: lavender, espresso, touch of dark fruit
P: hint of chocolate, cherries, medium body, good acidity
V: 7+

2012 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha Old Vine Cariñena DO (14% ABV, $14.99, 100% Garnacha, 14 month in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: intense, whiff of alcohol, dark fruit, raspberries
P: fresh raspberries, open, bright, medium body, herbal undertones, pronounced acidity, short to medium finish, but then tannins come in after a while.
V: 7+ at the moment, needs time. Judging by the acidity and late tannins, this wine needs at least 5 years to develop

2013 Corona de Aragon Special Selection Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV, $14, 50% Garnacha, 50% Cariñena, 5 month in oak)
C: Dark garnet
N: restrained with herbal undertones, pencil shavings (rarely use this descriptor, but it was very deserving here), hint of blackberries
P: fresh, delicious, dark chocolate, cherries, classic Grenache rendition with good acidity and excellent balance
V: 8-, my favorite of the tasting, would happily drink this wine every day – definitely an excellent QPR

Have you had any of the Garnacha Cariñena wines? What are your thought on the wines at the high altitude? Don’t be shy, comment away! Cheers!

P.S. I would like to thank kind folks at Gregory White PR for providing samples and reaching out to Andrea Immer Robinson

Grenache! Grenache? Grenache!, Few Rare Grapes and a Recipe

January 27, 2015 20 comments

Grenache tastingWhat’s up with Grenache? One of the most planted grapes in the world, a star of Spain, and often a foundation of greatness in the wines of Australia, France, California and Washington. A grape with the range of expression from light, fruity and frivolous to the dark, firm, brooding and confident. Yep, Grenache is well worth an oenophile’s attention. And a special wine dinner.

The theme was set, and then the dinner’s day arrived. This time around, we were a small group (6 adults), so we decided to skip the usual formal blind tasting with the multiple glasses, and instead simply integrate the tasting (still blind) into the format of the dinner. Each couple brought a bottle of Grenache wine, wrapped in  paper bag. The wines were numbered at random and then poured one by one. All in all, quite simple.

But before we got to the Grenache, I wanted to share two special bottles. Don’t get all jumpy at the word “special” – it means different things for different people. Your idea of special bottle might be Chateau Latour, Penfolds Grange or Amarone from Quintarelly – well, if you want to share any of those with me, I’m available any day of the week. However, my idea of special is often limited to something simply unique and different, such as “rare grapes”, for instance – an opportunity to add to my grape count and reach the coveted Wine Century Pentavini (500 grapes).

Along these lines, the first “special” was the white wine from Spain, which was made mostly from Roussanne, but also contained the grape called Albillo2011 Navaherreros Blanco de Bernabeleva Vinos de Madrid DO (14.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Roussanne, Albillo, Macabeo and other varieties) had beautiful golden color, inviting nose of white fruit, touch of vanilla. Full bodied, creamy, luscious on the palate, touch of earthiness and baking spices, touch of vanilla, good acidity. (Drinkability: 8). This was definitely a delicious way to start the evening.

The next wine was Rosé. It was not just some generic Rosé – it was actually made form the grape which is practically impossible to find, at least in US – and it was on my “target” list for the very, very long time. Just to explain – if you will look at the original Wine Century Club application, you will find 186 grapes listed there, so we can consider those 186 to be a mainstream. In that list, there are still 6 grapes which I never tasted. Well, let me take that back – now there are 5.

There is a good chance that you heard of or even tasted the wine called Picpoul de Pinet, a light, crisp white wine from Rhone made from the grape called Picpoul Blanc. Picpoul Blanc has a cousin, a red grape called Picpoul Noir, which is literally impossible to find. During one of my countless searches online, I found that Picpoul Noir Rosé was available in one (!) single store in US in San Francisco – and luckily, I had a friend there who was kind enough to get it for me. Here is what I thought of the Rosé made out of this super-rare grape: 2013 Julie Benau Pink Poul Rosé Vin de France (12.5% ABV, $17, 100% Picpoul Noir) – restrained nose with a hint of strawberries. The same restrained profile continues on the palate – limited fruit expression, medium to full body, good acidity, food friendly. (Drinkability: 7+)

Okay, now we can finally talk Grenache, which I mentioned 3 times in the title of this post, right? I think when it comes to the range of expression among 7-10 most widely known red grapes, Grenache offer the most versatility, competing may be only with Syrah. From over the top dark chocolate, tar and sweet cherries to the soft, earthy and even acidic, Grenache can showcase quite a range of winemaking styles and terroirs. Thinking more about our tasting, it served exactly as a confirmation to this statement.

The first Grenache we had was that exact over the top style – dark, concentrated, firm, loaded with sweet pleasure in every sip. The second Grenache couldn’t be more different than what we experienced – smoke, mushrooms, forest floor, earthiness, herbs – a restrained beauty which I would never even think of as Grenache – but it was. And the last bottle was all too shy and closed at the beginning, showing again differently from the first two – but as it opened up, it became a younger brother of the first wine – same traits, only dialed down. The 3 bottles we chose completely at random managed to demonstrate that tremendous Grenache range. When we removed brown bags, we learned that we traveled from Spain to Washington and then to France – a very interesting journey.

Here are a bit more formal notes for the the wines, in the tasting order:

2007 Vinyes Doménech Teixar Garnatxa Vella Montsant DO, Spain (14.5% ABV, $75) – Delicious! Dark chocolate on the nose, very intense, ripe red fruit. The same continues on the palate – firm texture, dark chocolate, touch of plums, earthiness, perfect balance and long finish. 8+/9-

2008 No Girls Grenache La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.2% ABV, $65) – very interesting. Both nose and the palate show a profile of concentrated Oregon Pinot Noir. Smokey fruit, earthiness, very concentrated, touch of coffee, licorice, raspberries, sage and lavender. Very unique. 8

2012 Domaine La Manarine Côtes du Rhône (14% ABV, $16) – closed nose, similarly closed palate. Opened up after a while, just enough to show some dark fruit (plums, cherries) and a touch of chocolate on the palate. 7+

Okay, enough about wines. Now, this was a dinner, and I promised you the recipe, remember? The dish I made, and the recipe I would like to share will perfectly pair with the cold weather, and it is one of the ultimate comfort dishes ever – braised short ribs. Starting from the ease of cooking and the simplicity of the recipe, and then admiring the goodness of the smell during the long, slow cooking – this is definitely one of the ways to properly spell the word comfort.

Braised short ribs

Doesn’t it say “comfort”?

Here is the recipe:

Braised Short Ribs

Prep time: about 1 hour. Cooking time: 4-5 hours

Yield: 10 servings of two ribs each

8-10 lb beef short ribs – I don’t go specifically by the weight – I generally like to cook considering 2 ribs per person

1 bottle of red wine – Pinot Noir or Beaujolais

5 medium yellow onions

8 sticks of celery

4 large carrots

BBQ/Grilling spices – I use Penzeys spices

4 tbsp Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Serve with: mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.

First of all, decide on what spices you want to use. I generally combine different Penzeys spices, but really – feel free to use anything you have:

Penzey spices

Next, take the meat out of the fridge and line it up on the prepping board, then sprinkle with the spices on both sides, add salt and pepper as needed:

Let meat warm up to the room temperature. Preheat over to 325ºF. While the meat is warming up, you can start working on your “trifecta”. Dice the onions and start sauteing them in the skillet or dutch oven with 2 tbsp of olive oil on the medium heat. Dice carrots and celery. Once onions become soft and translucent and then start gaining color (usually takes about 20 minutes), add carrots and celery and sauté all together for another 10 minutes, then set aside.

roasted carrots, onions, celeryNow, put remaining olive oil into the dutch oven, and heat it up to the high heat. Start searing the short ribs, meaty side down first. You might have to work in the batches, as you want all of the ribs to be nicely seared on both sides:

Roasted short ribsOnce all the ribs are seared, combine them all in the dutch oven, then add the onions, carrots and celery:

short ribs are doneAdd a bottle of wine, cover, put it in the oven and forget it for the next 4-5 hours (you really don’t want to rush this process). When done, you probably will find something like this:

short ribs are doneAs you can imagine, hearty Grenache is a perfect pairing for such a hearty, homey dish – but of course this shouldn’t be your only choice.

Here we are, my friends. A few rare grapes, an amazing range of Grenache wines, and winter-storm-alleviating-ultimately-comforting dish. Stay warm and drink well. Cheers!

 

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Chardonnay Day, Wine Appellation Earth?, Best Blogging Tips and more

May 22, 2013 12 comments

Meritage Time!

wine quiz answers First and foremost, let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #57, Grape Trivia – Grenache. Below are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Name two grapes which are traditional blending partners of Grenache

A1: Yes, we are talking the famous GSM blends, and the blending partners of Grenache are Syrah (Shiraz in Australia) and Mourvèdre (known as Monastrell in Spain and often called Mataro in Australia).

Q2: Below is the list of countries which use Grenache in the winemaking. Sort the list by the area of Grenache plantings, from the highest acreage to the lowest:

A. Australia, B. France, C. Italy, D. Spain, E. United States

A2: The correct answer is France, Spain, Italy, US, Australia (so it will be BDCEA). The culprit here was Italy, in my opinion, there Grenache is known as Cannonau – I didn’t expect that Italy grows so much of it… Here is my source of data – an article at Wine Folly’s web site.

Q3: One winery in US is often credited with spearheading the success of  Grenache in US. Can you name that winery?

A3: Tablas Creek winery in California – they imported Grenache cuttings from France to the US in 1990, and it was the beginning of great Grenache wines in US. Here is an excellent article about Grenache on Tablas Creek’s web site.

Q4: A few centuries ago, Grenache was a popular blending addition in one of the regions in France, until it became illegal by the AOC rules. Do you know what region was that?

A4: Actually, it was Burgundy, where addition of Grenache was popular way to add body to otherwise finicky Pinot Noir wines. Of course it is illegal practice for the long time.

Q5: Same as for the number of other grapes, Grenache exists in three different grape variations – Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. There is one wine where it is absolutely legal to use all three grapes as the part of the blend. Can you name that wine?

A5: Châteauneuf-du-Pape! Well, I should’ve post the question as “type of wine” – but in any case, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CdP for short) AOC rules allow inclusion of all three different Grenache grapes into the same wine. I always thought that CdP allows 13 grapes to be blended together in production of CdP wines, but it appears that the rules has recently changed, and now there are 18 grapes which are all allowed for use as winemaker desires.

And the winner is…(drum roll)… The Drunken Cyclist with five correct answers! He is definitely on the winning streak for a while and once again he gets unlimited bragging rights. I want also to acknowledge The Winegetter, Red Wine Diva and Eat With Namie who all got 3 out of 5 questions right – definitely a commendable effort.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the web vine – boy, there is plenty to share!

First, sorry for the late notice, but tomorrow is 4th annual Chardonnay Day! Well, Chardonnay is not such a hard wine to get, right? You still got time to make sure you will celebrate in style, whatever your style is – Burgundy, Chablis, Big California, California-pretending-to-be-Chablis, I-am-unoaked-and-almost-like-Pinot-Grigio-chose-me  – anyway, any kind of Chardonnay goes. And if you want to officially assert your participation, here is a link to the event page where you can officially join the ranks of Chardonnay aficionados.

Next, I want to bring to your attention an interesting post by Mike Veseth of The Wine Economist fame. The post is titled Is This the Beginning of Juice Box Wine? and it is talking about true globalization of wine in terms of production – one of the new wines from Barefoot called Impression and it is produced from the juice sourced from all over the world, so the wine doesn’t state any appellation on the label. What do you think of such approach to winemaking? Will this be a fluke, or will we see more of the wines from appellation Earth?

As you know, I’m a big fun of Stéphane Gabart’s blog, My French Heaven. I find his food pictures as some of the most incredible I ever come across, in the blogs or on Pinterest. Now Stéphane was very kind to write a blog post called “20 tips for stunning food photography“, which definitely worth your attention if you want to master your food picture taking skills. Also, as this is not the first time I refer to some of the “best tips and practices”, I decided to create a dedicated page for the Best Blogging Tips, where I will be collecting all the references like this one. If you have any suggestions as to what should be included in that “Best Blogging Tips” collection, please let me know – I hope to make it into a very useful resource for all.

Next subject is … beer! Yes, even in the wine blog there is a place for a beer. When you hear about the beer called Nuclear Tactical Penguin – is that the beer you would want to try? Well, okay, I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely interested. But turns out that this beer is practically impossible to get in US, so the best thing one can do is to enjoy it vicariously. This is what I did when I read this post at Wayward Wine blog. Outside of just great description of the beer, you can also learn about Frozen Beer category and how those beers are made – I think this reading will be well worth the time. Also, while looking for another beer from BrewDog company, this one called Sink the Bismark, I came across the list of 10 most expensive beers in the world! Now I want to try BrewDog’s The End Of History (55% ABV and still a beer!), but considering that it costs $765 for 330 ml, I will need a sponsor… anyone?

And last, but not the least subject for today – Wine Blog Awards finalists are finally announced. No, I didn’t make it to the list of finalists (sigh). But I would like to congratulate Jeff a.k.a. The Drunken Cyclist as he got into the finals in the Best Writing category. Anyway, this week is the public voting week, so you can cast your vote for the best blog here.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but more wine is coming. Cheers!

Re-post: Affordable Luxuries of the Wine World: Garnacha versus Grenache

September 20, 2012 3 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Affordable Luxuries” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

If you are interested as to “why now”, it is simple – Friday, September 21st is International #GrenacheDay – and I don’t have time to write the whole new post. I think this re-post will fit the bill quite well. Here it is.

So far we talked about and compared Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage wines, as well as sweet wines in our quest for “affordable luxuries” of the wine world. If you remember, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage are made out of the grape called Syrah. Today we are going to talk about Syrah’s brethren (totally unrelated, though), the grape which is often blended together with Syrah – we are going to talk about Grenache.

Grenache is one of the main winemaking red grapes in the world. It used to be the most planted red grape in the world, with biggest planting area being in Spain (Spain actually has the biggest area planted with grapes in the entire world). Grenache, which is known under the name of Garnacha in Spain, lost its “biggest plantings” status in Spain as a lot of vineyards were replanted with other grapes, such as Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and France took “the most planted” helm now.

Grenache is used in winemaking both by itself and as part of the blend. In Spain, Grenache, or rather Garnacha, is main ingredient of the blend in wines of Priorat, many of which have cult status, such as Clos Mogador. In another region, Campo de Borja, it produces amazing single grape wines, for instance, at Bodegas Alto Moncayo. In France, it is a key ingredient in wines of Southern Rhone, with Chateauneuf-du-Pape being most famous – there it is typically blended with Syrah. It is also used in production of Rose wines in Provence. In Australia, it is used in so called GSM wines, where GSM is simply an abbreviation for Grenache Syrah Mourvedre, three grapes used in production of the GSM wines. In California, it is very successfully used in production of the Rhone-style wines mostly in the Central Coast area, with many of the wines also achieving a cult status (which simply means that production is limited and wines are very hard to get – of course because they are good). As usual, you can take a look at the Grenache article in Wikipedia, which provides great depth of information.

When it comes to “affordable luxuries”, there are plenty of wines which can be compared. As this is Grenache versus Garnacha battle, let’s focus on pure Grenache wines. Of course blends would be fun to look at as well, but finding some of the better ones is a challenge in itself, so let’s stay our course.

So today’s contenders are: 2009 Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha Campo de Borja from Spain and 2009 Domaine du Grand Tinel Cuvee Alexis Establet Chateauneuf-du-Pape from France. It can’t get any better than that – we have here if not two of the best, then at least two of the most classic areas to produce Grenache wines. Both wines are 100% Grenache – which is very unusual for Chateauneauf-du-Pape, where blend can contain up to 13 different grapes.

Let’s start with 2009 Domaine du Grand Tinel Cuvee Alexis Establet Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The wine is unfortunately way too young (give it 8-10 years, if you have enough patience, of course), but it was very drinkable from the get go – at least you get a punch of tannins at about 10 seconds after the first sip. It is very classic Grenache, with purple color, violets on the nose, and perfect balance of fruit and acidity. Don’t want to repeat myself, but it will be gorgeous – given enough time to mature.

2009 Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha Campo de Borja is a full bodied wine, with hint of earthiness on the palate, with lots of dark fruit and hint of pepper. You can also detect violets, hint of cedar, spice box and tar. With supple tannins and medium finish, this wine is more approachable now than the previous one, but will also improve with time.

Is one of those wines better than the other? It is very hard to tell. And for the affordable luxuries, Tres Picos Garnacha costs about $12, and Domaine du Grand Tinel is about $70, so make your choice. And while you will be deciding, I’m going to raise my glass to the pleasures of wine discoveries – cheers!

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