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Have Grenache, Will Travel

April 24, 2020 Leave a comment

“Have wine, will travel” is one of my favorite openings for a post about wine because this is exactly what wine does – even before you take a sip, just a glance at the label is often sufficient to let your imagination run wild and yes, imagine yourself instantly somewhere 5,000 miles away from where you are now. But never in my scariest, horror-filled dreams, I would imagine that wine, along with pictures, might become the only way for us to travel, even for a day. Sigh.

So today I want to offer you a quick trip with the help of one of the most versatile, most widely planted grape in the world – Grenache, also known as Garnacha.

Grenache is a versatile grape on many different levels. First, it is widely planted. While supremacy of Grenache can be debated between France and Spain, literally every other winemaking country – Australia, Argentina, Chile, Israel, Italy, South Africa, USA, New Zealand – all have significant plantings of Grenache. Next, when we say Grenache, we typically assume red grape and red wine, of course – but Grenache family also includes Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. Grenache is capable of an ultra-wide range of expressions – from light and simple, such as Borsao Tres Picos or Delas Côtes du Rhône to bombastic, tremendously concentrated expressions, such as Clos Erasmus, Horsepower and Sine Qua Non. Last but not least is pricing versatility. It wouldn’t surprise anyone that $100 bottle of wine drinks well – any grape can do this. But in under $10 range, very few grapes can excel – but Grenache is one of them, for example, in the form of Honoro Vera.

Today our journey will not be too long, but we are going to make two stops in the countries which can be designated as “classic” Grenache – France and Spain. To help with our travel we can even enlist the help of the website put together to promote European Grenache and Garnacha – you can find the link here.

Our first stop is in the south of France, in the small region called Maury, which in turn is a part of the Roussillon wine region. Winemaking in that area goes back a few thousand years. Maury located on the border with Spain, and it became a part of France only after 1659, so even today there is a lot of Spanish influence in the region. Grenache is the main grape used in the production of Maury wines, and it is considered to be one of the best in France. Maury is best known for its fortified wines, produced in the style similar to port, with the addition of the spirits in the middle of fermentation, which kills the yeast and leaves the sugar level high in the resulting wine. However, it is not the Maury AOC wine I want to offer to you today, but Maury Sec, which is a designation for the dry wines produced in the same region. Our first wine is produced by Jeff Carrel, and it is predominantly Grenache with the addition of Syrah:

2016 Jeff Carrel Le Grenache dans la Peau Maury Sec AOP (15.5% ABV, 80% Grenache / 20% Syrah)
Dark ruby
High Intensity, sweet cherries, cherry compote, tobacco, sweet basil
Sweet cherries, unexpected astringency, good acidity. High alcohol is surprisingly unnoticeable.
7/7+ on the first day, 5 minutes after opening.
8-/8 second day, much more balanced and round, adds a touch of pepper, astringency is gone, excellent.

Now, let’s go to Spain. As we are now in Spain, let’s switch to the proper name for our grape – now it is Garnacha to you. Once here, how about some Garnacha Blanca? The wine had been made in Somontano, an area up north close to the French border for more than 2000 years. Garnacha Blanca is one of the permitted and popular varieties in Somontano. Once in Somontano, we are going to visit Secastillo, the valley which takes its name from the seven castles overlooking it.

Vinas del Vero vineyards in Secastilla. Source: Gonzales Byass

Viñas del Vero produces the wines here, sourcing the grapes from 100 years old Garnacha vines, growing mostly at the elevation of 2,100+ feet.

2017 Secastilla La Miranda Garnacha Blanca Sonomontano DO (14% ABV)
Straw Pale
Lemon, fresh grass, lemon zest
Whitestone fruit, Meyer lemon, clean acidity, nice and refreshing
7+/8-, very good

Let’s continue our trip going a bit more down south. Now we are in Catalonia, in Terra Alto DO (Terra Alta means High land), where Cellers Unió had been producing wine from the beginning of Terra alto DO been formally established in 1982 (Cellers Unió is a conglomeration of cooperatives which operates across 5 DOs, 11,000 acres of vineyards and includes 20,000 families of growers across 186 cooperatives). Now it is time to drink some classic Garnacha:

2016 Cellers Unio Clos Dalian Garnacha Tinta Crianza Terra Alta DO (13.5% ABV)
Dark Garnet
Cherry Coolaid, sweet cherry, candy
Cherries, fresh sour cherries, wow. Touch of tobacco, earthy undertones, perfect balance, soft and round.
8, excellent

Our trip is over, unfortunately – but see how easy it was? I wish you many great journeys, all enabled with the power of wine glass in your hand. Until we travel again – cheers!

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!

 

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 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 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, the 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!

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