Showing posts with label California Grenache. Show all posts
Showing posts with label California Grenache. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Mother Vine Wine - From Croatia To Lake County

The Shannon Family of Wines in California's Lake County considers their approach to winemaking to be earth-first. They say they are committed to creating environmentally responsible wines that knock your socks off. I was given a sample of the 2023 Organic Mother Vine Cinsault Rosé for review, and where the hell are my socks?

The Mother vine originated in Croatia in 1870 and was brought to Lake County by the Ogulin family. The Shannons say this vine has thrived for 150 years on their Home Ranch, alongside a small vineyard, a hand-dug well, a livestock barn, and a quaint winery, all built by the Ogulins.

Proprietor Clay Shannon says they collaborated with Guillaume Nursery to propagate buds and create additional Cinsault vines. He calls their Cinsault based Rosé "a testament to the pioneering Lake County winemakers."

This wine is only made in years when the season is right for it," adds Joy Merrilees, VP of Production and Winemaking. "We use the saigneé method of gently bleeding the juice off the crushed grape must. The short skin contact time gives flavor and texture to the fruit and acidity that is naturally in the grape. A very cool fermentation brings out floral notes with a delicate fruit back bone."

This rosé comes in a distinctively tall, angular bottle. Winemaker Carolina Vargas reveals that the wine was made using grapes from High Valley appellations. She says Cinsault grapes from a one-acre plot were abetted by some Grenache to enhance the midpalate. Grenache actually plays the lead role here, making up 62% of the wine, while the Cinsault grapes account for 38% of the juice. The pink wine was vinified in stainless steel, carries alcohol at 13.5% abv and it retails for $38.

This wine has a very light onion skin color to it. The nose is gorgeous. Huge notes of cherry and strawberry are joined by a bit of Meyer lemon and a jasmine floral component. The palate has all that fruit plus a streak of salinity that expresses the wine's minerality. The mouthfeel is full and lush, and yet the acidity is as zippy as it needs to be. Lovers of pink wine should definitely try to lay hands on a few bottles for the warmer months. Mine was delicious with my French potato salad with tarragon. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Pink Wine From Monterey County

The Seaglass Wine Company is based in St. Helena, California, while making wines from vineyards south of Napa, in the state's Central Coast appellation. They notably pull fruit from the Los Alamos Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, but for their Rosé they went to Monterey County for the grapes.

The 2022 Seaglass Wine Rosé was made from 53% Grenache grapes, 23% Pinot Noir, 19% Syrah and 5% Viognier. The wine was crafted entirely from free-run juice, with no pressed grapes at all. The winery claims that this move helps produce a softer wine with a lighter body. Fermentation took place cold, in steel tanks, with no malolactic fermentation. Alcohol hits 13.5% and I bought the wine for less than $10.

This wine has a pale salmon color, like onion skin. The nose carries light aromas of strawberry and citrus, but easy on the lemon. On the palate, there is a lovely sense of fruit, with minerals along for the ride. Strawberry, raspberry, lemon and a very light flavor of cardamom. Acidity is fresh and the finish is lengthy. 

Monday, December 18, 2023

Great Grenache! CDP From Paso Robles

Halter Ranch Vineyard is located in the beautiful hills of western Paso Robles. The Santa Lucia mountain range is the backdrop to the 2700-acre estate. Only two hundred of those acres are devoted to organic grapes, 20 different varieties, as well as walnut and olive orchards. The rest is all Mother Nature, including oak woodland and wildlife corridors. Owner Hansjörg Wyss is described as a "Swiss entrepreneur, philanthropist, and world-leading land conservationist." Winemaker Kevin Sass spends a lot of time in the vineyard. He says that is where great wines begin. 

The 2020 Halter Ranch 2020 CDP is a blend of 70% Grenache grapes, 15% Syrah, 13% Mourvèdre and 2% Tannat. The CDP, of course, stands for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Rhône region where Grenache blends rule. This wine, though, is definitely from California. 

92% of the wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels, while the remainder was aged in concrete tanks. Alcohol rests at 14.7% abv and the retail price of the wine is $55. 

The wine looks very dark in the glass. The nose is bold, with big cherry, raspberry and blueberry aromas. There are also notes of oak, but just trace amounts. A caramel aspect floats from the glass periodically. The palate is full of bold fruit and a passel of tannins, as my grandparents might have said, had they ever talked about tannins. The fruit dominates the flavor profile. The name on the label isn't too far off. You might think it is a CDP while sipping it. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Get Offa My Grapevines!

It's the 30th anniversary vintage of Bonny Doon Vineyard's flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant.  Bonny Doon, the Santa Cruz-based winery that's on a self-described "adventure to make naturally soulful, distinctive, and original wine," knocks me out every year with the "flying cigar" release.

The label, by Chuck House, depicts a strange airship sending down a beam of red onto a pastoral vineyard.  Legend has it, in 1954 a UFO scare terrified the winegrowers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape so much that a decree was issued, banning any "flying cigar" from landing and destroying the vines.  To my knowledge, it's still on the books today because, why not?  It's a great story and one of the better back stories for any wine ever.

Le Cigare Volant is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape-ian blend of 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 16% Mourvèdre and 4% Cinsault.  The grapes came from six noted California vineyards, Rancho Solo, Bien Nacido, Ventana, Del Barba, Bechtold, Alta Loma.  Alcohol stands at the usual 14.5% abv, 2,400 cases were produced and the wine sells for $45.

Owner and winemaker Randall Grahm remembers the 2013 vintage as "cool and elegant" and says the 2013 release is "slightly less muscular than '12."  Grahm expects the wine to age well for 10-15 years.

The Syrah in the mix came mostly from Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, possibly my favorite vineyard, and one which Grahm says has the "closest analogue we have found to a Northern Rhone Syrah."

I love smelling the wines of Randall Grahm.  He makes savory walk and talk and jump through hoops.  This wine, the 30th anniversary vintage of Cigare, brings it home like it always does.  It shows a medium dark color in the glass and on the nose.  There is cassis and licorice, but the savory notes carry the load.  Black olive is the first smell I get, followed by a bit of tar and a whiff of smoke.  Cigar box, leather and bacon fat finish out a complex aroma package.  The palate is delicious as always.  Grahm says the '13 is "less muscular," but I think there's more to it.  This Cigare drinks with the weight and elegance of a Pinot Noir.  Black fruit is forward, while more savory aspects of sage and mint come in to join it.  The tannins are gentle, the acidity fresh and the finish long. 

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Syrah, Grenache, Tempranillo Blend

Morgan Winery is a Salinas outfit with vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County.  The winery's location makes me think of Steinbeck, but the wine makes me think of the Rhône Valley with a splash of Spain.

Dan Morgan Lee was making wine from other people's grapes in the 1980s, and bought the winery's Double L Estate - for double luck, twin daughters - in the 1990s.  The ink wasn't even dry then on the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA papers.  The vineyard is certified organic by  Monterey County Certified Organic, and it's certified sustainable as well.

Winemaker Sam Smith used grapes from from  northern and central Monterey County to create the 2017 G 17 Syrah.  It's one of those only-in-America blends featuring two Rhône grape varieties and one from Spain, all grown in Monterey County, of course.  The mix is 87% Syrah, 9% Grenache and 4% Tempranillo.  G 17 was aged for 15 months in French oak barrels, a quarter of which were new.  The grapes came primarily from the Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco Appellations of Monterey County.

Alcohol hits 14.4% abv, so it's hefty without being overpowering, and it retails for $22.  Just under 1200 cases were made,

The first whiffs of this medium dark ruby wine are pretty boozy, but they're loaded with black berries, tobacco, smoke, leather and spices.  The palate picks up black cherry and a ladle of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg.  The wine drinks surprisingly gently, with enough tannic structure for roast or pork.  A medium finish is noteworthy and is missed when it fades away.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

"Oldfangled" Wine

Bonny Doon's winemaker and guiding light Randall Grahm talks a lot about the "life force" of a wine, and about how his winemaking style seeks that quality. He calls his style an "oldfangled, unaffected manner" which eschews overripe fruit and the resulting high alcohol. His wines tend toward the "savory" side of the wine-o-meter. His wines don't shout from the hillsides about their time in oak. His wines allow the grapes to be the speaker, not the barrel, not the man.

Grahm writes that the Bonny Doon 2014 Grenache that he calls Cuvée R is made from grapes that are actually a "very special clone" from the Château Rayas vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These grapes were grown in his former estate vineyard, Ca' del Solo, now known as Rancho Solo Vineyard in Soledad.  He notes that "Soledad is not the easiest place to grow grapes," yet he feels that Cuvée R shows the "great potential of Grenache to produce wines of real elegance in the Central Coast." Grahm is now growing the same Grenache clone at an Estate vineyard in San Benito County, "with the greatest expectations."

This wine sells for $48, and only 270 cases were produced. Alcohol sits at the customary Calfornia setting of 14.5% abv.

Cuvée R is medium-dark in the glass and has those great savory nose notes that Grahm seems to pack into every bottle of wine he makes. Leather, black olives and smoke are the first to escape. The palate stays on Savory Street with a big olive play on the dark fruit. Acidity is positively mouth-watering and the tannic structure is quite firm. Pair it with pork or fowl easily. I had mine with an honest-to-god Pennsylvania nut roll and almost hallucinated. It was that good.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Le Cigare Volant Réserve 2011

The Réserve version of Randall Grahm’s flagship wine is aged en bonbonnes, which means it is aged not in oak but in glass carboys, or, less elegantly, jugs. It is also aged sur lie, or in contact with the used-up yeast cells that gave their lives making alcohol. We salute them. The former insures that you are tasting all fruit, the latter that it’s got a creamier mouthfeel than the normale Cigare.

As Grahm explains, "The Réserve has a slightly different texture than the 'normale,' tannins not quite as firm, rather softer, plusher and more velvety, with enhanced mouth feel and a slightly more savory aspect."

The varieties are 37% Mourvèdre, 34% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 9% Cinsault picked from eight Central Coast vineyards, Ventana, Del Barba, Rancho Solo, Evangelho, Bien Nacido, Alamo Creek, Bechtold and Gonsalves. At 14.5% abv, the alcohol is noticeable, but not an intrusion. 966 cases were made, and it retails normally at $79 per bottle. There was a pretty big sale going on, last I checked.

Le Cigare Volant Réserve is as fresh as a just-picked daisy. The nose full of ripe red fruit shows a touch of spice, while the palate seems even more youthful and exuberant. That’s something I might expect in a wine produced just last fall, but this one was made five years ago. Cherries, raspberry and blueberry cover the fruity side, while leather, spice and earth handle the savory lifting. It is an amazing wine, one of my favorites for the four vintages it has been produced.

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Another Vampire-Free Vintage For Clos De Gilroy

The little California town of Gilroy is the garlic capital of the world, so they say, and one sniff as you drive by on the freeway confirms that nickname. Bonny Doon Vineyards President-For-Life Randall Grahm gives a nod to Gilroy - and all things aioli - with his Grenache named Clos De Gilroy. It just one of Grahm's red wines that exude a compelling savory side.

Bonny Doon’s Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2014 is made from Monterey County grapes - 89% Grenache, 9% Mourvèdre and 2% Syrah - from five different vineyards: Alta Loma (80%), Del Barba (9%), Rancho Solo (6%) Ventana Vineyard (4%), and one percent from Camp Four. The ‘14 Clos de Gilroy was a gold medal winner at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition this year. It retails for $20 and 3,159 cases were made.

Grahm says that the 2014 vintage is done in a "slightly different style than the '13, perhaps a bit meatier and chewier." The wine is "still primarily sourced from the Alta Loma Vyd. in the Arroyo Seco," he says. "This is a superb example of what Grenache is capable of in cooler sites of the Central Coast, when not allowed to achieve a preternatural degree of (over)-ripeness."

Clos de Gilroy shows medium-dark purple in the glass, with beautiful aromas of cherry, strawberry and raspberry on the nose, augmented by an herbal note for which Grahm’s wines are known. Delightful red fruit on the palate joins some nice savory notes, earth and pepper notably. Light on its feet with a crisp acidity and fairly easy tannins, this is a great wine for sipping - it can even take a chill fairly well.

The wine will also pair nicely with a variety of dishes - anything pork or chicken is a cinch. It has the guts to go with beef stew and the elegance to make it a good match with salmon.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

California Grenache: Bonny Doon Cuvée R 2012

"There is a place in our hearts for Grenache at Bonny Doon Vineyard," states the winery's new website.  "It is the misunderstood, Ugly Duckling cépage par excellence."   The Now And Zin California Grenache series threw the spotlight on this misjudged, maligned and magnificent grape.

The grapes for the Bonny Doon Grenache Cuvée R 2012 were grown in the Rancho Solo Vineyard, formerly the Ca' del Solo Vineyard in Monterey County town of Soledad.  Winemaker Randall Grahm says he has planted it at the new vineyard in San Juan Bautista. "It looks promising."  Grahm says, "This was the most impressive single batch of Grenache fruit I have ever chanced to encounter chez Doon."  And he has encountered quite a few.

If you want to get downright geeky about the grapes, Grahm reveals that the fruit for this wine was grown "from a selected clone of Grenache alleged to have originated from an extremely well-regarded, let’s rephrase that, from the most well-regarded domain in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, one known for making 100% Grenache cuvées of atypical elegance."

It retails for $48, but is only available to Bonny Doon’s DEWN Club members.   Cuvée R rocks a 14.9% abv number, so it’s a rather potent quaff.  The label art cartoon by Gary Taxali is worth at least a portion of the price.

The Cuvée R Grenache is extremely dark, with no light getting through the glass.  Upon opening, the nose was rather tight, a situation that resolves itself over time.  One sip makes it clear this is a very tasty, dark and delicious wine, but it’s not a big ol' California fruit stand.  This Grenache is dark, like the forest.  A nice level of acidity is refreshing in the mouth - but not the sort that takes your breath away - and the tannins are firm, provide a lively mate for meat.  Actually, the tannins seem to increase over the three nights I had this bottle open - quite the reverse of what I would have expected.  On the first night, the wine seemed a little dull, blunted.  On the second night it was a much livelier experience and by the third night it was brighter still.

The wine is full in the mouth and smooth as a bonus.  Not a bad choice for the holiday table.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Bonny Doon Vineyards

Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon Vineyard has been providing holiday-worthy wines for more years than I have been drinking them - at least more years than I have been obsessed with them.

Grahm - the eloquent Rhône Ranger - has his own obsessions with which to grapple.  A pioneering spirit if there ever was one, he is currently obsessed with growing grapevines from seeds, rather than from cuttings.  His experimentation in that arena is rather new, so there's nothing to report.  Yet.

Being late in the year, he has been keeping himself busy lately with the rigors of harvest and the business of bottling his latest releases.  It is those we put forth as suggestions for your holiday table - or your holiday chair, if you prefer.  The man's wines are not only a cinch to pair well with food, but they also go down real well in sipping and thinking mode.

From his recent email, all descriptions by Grahm:

"Harvest 2014 came and went like a freight train through California, and apart from apocalyptic intimations of drought-related devastation/ruination, it was a very good, relatively abundant, if not preternaturally early vintage.

2013 Le Cigare Blanc, "Beeswax Vineyard"  $28
(55% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 19% Picpoul)  We've made a very slight label change with this vintage.  An echo of the mineral character that we were able to express in the wonderful '11, but perhaps a tad richer on the palate. 1,965 cases produced.

2012 Syrah, "Le Pousseur"  $26
(48% Alamo Creek, 18% Bien Nacido, 18% Spanish  Springs, 16% Ventana)  From a number of cool climate sites, a fair amount of whole  clusters included, this is a savory Syrah of great restraint.  2,126 cases produced.

2013 Clos de Gilroy  $20
(75% Grenache, 17% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre)  Grenache from the impeccable Alta Loma vineyard in the Arroyo Seco (a relatively cool site in every sense),  a rather textbook Grenache, with a lovely mineral aspect.  3,400 cases produced.

2013 A Proper Claret  $16
(46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 13.5% Petit Verdot, 7.7% Syrah, .8% Petite Sirah)  Nothing of course "proper" about this wine; it is the febrile imagining of what a restrained, elegant Cabernet-based wine might taste like in the New World.  15,920 cases produced.

2010 Le Cigare Volant  $45
(28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre, 16% Carignane)  Continuing in our series of "Burgundian" vintages of Cigare with old-vine Cinsault playing a very important role in keeping the Syrah in check.  Yes, Carignane ain't a proper grape for faux-Châteauneuf.  We knew that, (but it does provide the wine a nice steely exoskeleton).  1,344 cases produced.

2010 Le Cigare Volant Réserve, "En bonbonne"  $79
This wine began life as precisely the same wine as the "normale," but was subject to élevage in glass, which has imparted a most unusual textural element and a great degree of savoriness. (Yeast lees are very rich in glutamate.)  547 cases produced.

2012 Contra  $18
(56% Carignane, 17% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 11% Mourvèdre, 1%  Cinsault)  Some (former) colleagues and wholesalers were not so keen about the old  "couch label" and persuaded me to change it to something a bit slicker and more  commercial (perhaps too kool for skool?).  We added a bit of cool climate syrah and grenache to the very old vine Carignane and Mourvèdre.4,720 cases produced.

2012 Grenache, "Cuvée R"  $48
This is a "special" selection of Grenache grown at what was formerly our "Ca' del Solo" Vineyard in Soledad, and is available exclusively to our DEWN Club members.  It seems to produce an extremely complex and concentrated Grenache.  (We're planting it at our new vineyard in San Juan Bautista and it looks incredibly promising).  593 cases produced.

2011 Syrah, "Bien Nacido Vyd., Block X"  $50
The ultra-consistent older Block X, planted with the "Estrella River" clone of Syrah (I suspect without any foundational evidence that it may actually be "Serine"), produces an extremely peppery, bacon-fat version of Syrah, far more consistently than modern clones.  463 cases produced.

2013 The Heart Has its Rieslings  $16
(52% San Benito County, 48% Monterey County)  From the Wirz Vineyard in San Benito and the Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco, this is a Kabinett style with 3% residual sugar.  2,912 cases produced.

2013 Vinferno  $24/375 ml.
(100% Grenache Blanc)  Not air-dried, frozen or botrytised, this is just very late harvested Grenache Blanc, but has appropriately enough, taken on a certain honeyed/beeswax character.  987 cases produced.

2011 Sparkling Syrah  $36
(Méthode traditionelle)  It's lately been an aspiration of mine to explore the wine styles that are most challenging to me.  I've always adored the idea of Sparkling Syrah (or Shiraz), but even James Halliday couldn't find one that I could abide.  Maybe it's maturation on my part or just a sudden shift in consciousness, but this is one I adore.  Only one small caveat: The wine is very, very fizzy, so please open with caution.  378 cases produced."

Randall Grahm
Bonny Doon Vineyard
Tasting Room: 450 Highway 1, Davenport, CA 95041

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

California Grenache: Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas 2011

So, the wine pundits have concluded that Syrah has not fulfilled its promise as the Next Big Thing in California grapes.  Which variety will step up and claim that open position as the great purple hope?

Grenache seems well-suited to California, particularly in 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.

We have sampled some California Grenache wines from different parts of the state in this series.  There have been some all-Grenache varietal wines as well as some blends.  Today's entry in the California Grenache sweepstakes is a four-grape mix with Grenache playing the lead.

"Tablas Creek Vineyard," their website explains, "is the result of a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. The families created a partnership in 1985 and in 1989 purchased a 120-acre property in the hilly Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles for its similarities to Châteauneuf du Pape: limestone soils, a favorable climate, and rugged terrain."  The vine cuttings for the property were brought over from the celebrated French locale and propagated in the on-site nursery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas 2011 - a blend of Rhône varieties - is made of 49% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre and 8% Counoise.  The alcohol tips in at 13.5% abv and 1,560 cases were produced.  It is listed as "sold out" on the winery's website.  Neil Collins is the Tablas Creek winemaker.

They also explain there how the different grapes contribute to the wine: "Like most wines of the Southern Rhône, it is a blend of varietals, featuring the fruit and spice of Grenache balanced by the spice and mineral of Syrah, the appealing briary wildness of Counoise, and the structure of Mourvèdre."  All the grapes are grown in their 120-acre, certified organic vineyard.  The grapes are fermented separately in both steel and wood fermenters.  After blending, the wine is aged for one year in a 1,200-gallon French oak cask.

Medium dark in the glass, the wine's nose shows plenty of Rhône-style funkiness.  Savory and spicy aromas are met with a little bit of black cherry.  On the palate, the dark fruit is layered thickly with tar, tobacco and anise.  The minerality is awe-inspiring while the acidity gets the juices flowing nicely.  There are ample tannins to handle pairing with a meat dish, but the sipping is so smooth you may get sidetracked and forget to throw the steaks on the grill.

This wine shows its terroir about as well as any wine I have tried.  Paso Robles limestone is all over this remarkable creation.  The bottle provided great pleasure over three nights tasting, becoming darker and funkier each night.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

California Grenache: Zaca Mesa Grenache 2011

Since the glow fell off the love affair between the wine biz and the Syrah, folks are looking around for the Next Big Thing.  They are poking around in vineyards, peeking under grapevine leaves, playing with winemaking technique - or leaving it out altogether.  If you want a Next Big Thing, why not Grenache?

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.

In the Now And Zin California Grenache series, we are sampling some of the choice Grenache wines from around the Golden State.  Today we look right in my SoCal backyard, in Santa Barbara County.

The estate grapes for the Zaca Mesa 2011 Grenache are sustainably grown in their Santa Ynez Valley vineyards.  This wine is all Grenache Noir, from their Cushman F Vineyard, with well-drained soil over gravelly beds of silt and clay at an elevation of 1500 feet above sea level.  The cooler nights at that altitude make for great natural acidity in the wine.  2011 was a cool vintage, anyway, with harvest starting two weeks later than normal.

Winemaker Eric Mohseni oversaw the destemming of the grapes and the steel tank fermentation on the skins.  The wine aged for 16 months in French oak barrels, 18% of which were new.  At 15% abv, it's a wine with some weight behind its punch.  Only 376 cases made, and they retail for about $35 per bottle.

The wine shines with a medium ruby glow and smells of cherries and raspberries.  A bit of smoke holds the aromas together like a savory string.  There is a floral note that struggles to grow through the darkness of this nose.  The palate is bold and brassy, as we might expect from a high-octane wine.  Don't be too quick, though, to paint "fruit bomb" on the label of this complex juice.  The ripe fruit is masked by touches of licorice and cigars while firm tannins scratch at the taste buds.

The winery suggests pairing this Grenache with mild cheeses, grilled salmon, or lamb kabobs.  I say it would fit well in those scenarios as well as with any sort of red meat.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

California Grenache: Bonny Doon Clos De Gilroy

In a recent article about California Grenache, Jon Bonné called Grenache "the Jan Brady of grapes."  He wrote that Grenache, when left to its own devices, is sometimes responsible for wines that are just not pretty enough.  He did offer, of course, that there are some great examples of California Grenache wines that are plenty pretty on their own.  Complex, even

Grenache seems well-suited to California, particularly in 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.

Today in the California Grenache series, we sample the Bonny Doon Vineyard Clos De Gilroy Monterey County Grenache 2013.

Bonny Doon "President for Life" Randall Grahm’s scent of humor comes to the forefront on the labeling of this wine - see below.  Gilroy is the garlic capital of California - a town that truly does telegraph its whereabouts to travelers on the nearby freeway.  Think what you will, but the town is amazingly vampire-free.  

After laying on a few aioli-related puns, Grahm gets to the business end of the wine.  Made up of 75% Grenache, 17% Syrah and 8% Mourvèdre, Clos De Gilroy's grapes hail "from the Alta Loma vineyard in Greenfield (a particularly cool site for grenache) the gravelly Alamo Creek Vineyard near Santa Maria and some truly ancient mourvèdre vines in the sleepy Sacramento Delta town of Oakley, CA. "

These grapes - together with Grahm, although he claims minimal intervention - produce a wine with an absolutely brilliant nose.  Aromas of cherry and plum are dusted with a leathery layer of anise and tobacco.  The palate is big and dark, with multiple shadings of the fruits involved.  The cherry of Grenache leads the way, followed by the dark fruit and spice of the Syrah with Mourvèdre's savory notes and tannins.  There is a brooding funkiness to this wine that I find riveting.  I think it is a little too masculine to be comfortable when called "pretty," but it definitely wears its complexity well.  

And, it was another vampire-free night at chez Now And Zin.

Friday, June 6, 2014

California Grenache: Lee Family Farm Grenache 2011 Monterey

As California winemakers accept that Syrah was not the Next Big Thing, they are looking for another contender.  Why not Grenache?

The Grenache grape is thought to have originated in Spain - as Garnacha - before running off to France - that's where it picked up the name Grenache - 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.

Grenache grapes seem well-suited to California, particularly in 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 become that Next Big Thing in California wine.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll sample some California Grenache from different parts of the state.  I hope you will check out the wines with me.  Most of the wines in the series will be varietal wines, all or mostly Grenache.  Today's entry - Lee Family Farm Grenache 2011 - comes from Morgan Winery in Monterey.

Morgan Winery claims their Monterey home is among the most perfect places for Grenache grapes to grow, even pointing out the boldness of that assertion.  "Grenache is the world’s most widely planted red grape," they say on their website, "and is responsible for some of the finest wines, from France’s southern Rhone Valley to the Priorat in Spain.  Monterey is now on the list for producing great Grenache."

Lee Family Farms is a label created under the parentage of Morgan Winery.  Dan Morgan Lee planted vineyards in Moterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands back in 1996.  Today he uses those grapes for his Morgan and Double L labels.  For his Lee Family Farms bottlings, he sources fruit from other quality growers.

The grapes for the Lee Family Farm Grenache comes from three different Monterey County vineyards - Wildhorse, Cedar Lane and Ventana.  All three benefit from the cooling marine influence of Monterey Bay.  The breeze and fog help lengthen the growing season so the grapes are picked as ripe as possible.

2011 was a cool vintage, and it shows in the acidity.  The cooler the growing season, the better the acidity.  The wine spent ten months in a French oak - 20% of which was new.  Alcohol clicks 14.3% on the scale and a bottle sells for $24.

Showing a medium garnet hue in the glass, a sniff of this wine at rest gives a faint smokiness, almost like a very light incense.  Swirl it a few times and the fruit wakes up - big, bright cherry and strawberry aromas blast from the glass like you scared them.  A note of lilacs in bloom follows.  The flavors are just as bold as the aromas.  Cherries and raspberries steal the show on the palate, but a very nice vanilla component plays in and makes a bit of a Creamsicle impression.  The acidity is fresh and delightful, while the tannins make a good effort, too.

Pairing the 2011 Lee Family Farm Grenache with chicken or sausage is a brilliant idea.  Even if the meat is a little lackluster, the wine's generous gifts will dress it up.  The finish isn't terribly long, but it is cherry-laden and dusted with anise and nutmeg.  It leaves you wanting more.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

California Grenache: McCay Cellars

California winemakers who are looking for the Next Big Thing in California wine are asking, "Why not Grenache?"

Grenache does have plenty of what the wine-buying public likes - fruit, tannins, acidity - and it is often available at great price points, Even though it is sometimes deemed not elegant enough without cohorts Syrah and Mourvèdre, Grenache is poised to make some noise on its own.

In this Now And Zin series, we will sample some California Grenache wines from different parts of the state.  Most of the wines featured will be varietal wines, all or mostly Grenache.  After starting in Santa Barbara County, we go today for some Lodi Grenache from McCay Cellars.

Michael McCay - a Lodi grape grower since the '80s - has made his own wines for a handful of vintages now.  He loves and lives Lodi, gushing on the McCay website, “Lodi has California’s best climate for producing wine grapes.  The Mokelumne Rivers’s sandy loam soil along with the Delta’s cool breezes provide the perfect and unique environment for growing the best wine grapes in the world.”

McCay thinks Grenache just may be Lodi’s Pinot Noir.  He thinks it could rival Zinfandel as the region’s big grape.  He explains, to Lodi Wines, “We can make can make an incredibly elegant style of wine in Lodi because of our consistent, predictable growing season.  The sun comes up over the Sierras and sets over Mount Diablo, giving the Delta the hot days that Mediterranean grapes love, and cool evenings with temperatures dipping down into the 50s at night.  That’s a home run for Zinfandel if you pick early enough, and you’re going for a more restrained, floral, layered, delicate style.  For Grenache, you get absolutely beautiful wines, with the prettiness that kind of reminds you of Pinot Noir grown in colder climate regions - with its own spice and bright fruit qualities, of course.”

McCay calls his latest Grenache his new favorite.  It is produced with 100% Grenache grapes grown by the meticulous Abba family, who have been at the grape-growing game since the forties.  The wine spent 18 months in neutral French oak barrels and lists an alcohol level of 14.1% abv - fairly reasonable in a region known for big and bold.  The wine is bottled under natural cork, sells for $35 and was kindly provided for review.

Medium red in color, the McCay Grenache is a great sensory experience.  The nose of strawberry and cherry lifts quickly from the glass and lots of spices join the parade in short order.  Flavors of cherry and spice adorn the palate, with a beautiful note of bramble and sage.  A smoky aspect becomes prominent on the second night the bottle is open.  The strawberry finish lingers a long time.

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