Wednesday, May 21, 2014

California Grenache

California winemakers have been laboring under the apparently incorrect assumption that Syrah was the Next Big Thing.  They have heard and told the jokes about “getting rid of a case of Syrah” so often that the once-humorous lines now elicit a rolling of the eyes.  And those eyes are looking for a New Next Big Thing.  Why not Grenache?

The Grenache grape is thought to have originated in Spain - as Garnacha - before running off to France - does the name Châteauneuf-du-Pape ring a bell? - and Sardinia, where it goes under the name Cannonau.  It was one of the first varieties brought to Australia, where it did not feel the need to assume a nom de vin.  It was only natural the grape would come to California for a long vacation and decide to stay for awhile.

The buds break early on Grenache vines, and they take their sweet time about getting ripe.  Often one of the last grapes out of the vineyard, Grenache fruit tends to make a high-octane wine, which is why it has a habit of taking on a support staff.  Syrah and Mourvèdre finish off the Rhône trio of GSM.

In a recent article about California Grenache, Jon Bonné wrote that the grape, when left on its own, is sometimes responsible for wines that are just not pretty enough - "the Jan Brady of grapes," he wrote.  Then, he spent the rest of his article flipping the Grenache coin, citing examples of California Grenaches that are pretty - even beautiful and complex.

Grenache seems well-suited to California, particularly the cooler vintages.  Sporting plenty of what the wine-buying public likes - fruit, tannins, acidity - and often available at great price points, Grenache would seem to be poised to make some noise.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will sample some California Grenache from different parts of the state.  I hope you will check out the wines with me.  Most of the wines featured in the series will be varietal selections, all or mostly Grenache.  Some will be Grenache-based blends.  All will show various aspects of what Grenache has been doing since arriving in California.


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