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Great Gains by Golden State Grenache

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Nov 11, 2008 4:06pm ET

The quality of California Syrah continues to skyrocket, and its success is pulling along other Rhône Valley grape transplants, chief among them Grenache.

As we’ve tasted through dozens of new Rhône-style reds in recent weeks, it’s amazing how delicious so many of these infant wines are.

Today Grenache is on my mind. This grape and wine shares many flavor, weight, density, body and stylistic attributes with Syrah. For example, it can be made in a simple, fruity, easy-drinking fashion, or in a richer, more concentrated style.

The effusive flavors of a young Grenache can be fascinating. Yesterday’s tasting showcased some 2006s that exhibited deliciously pure huckleberry and boysenberry fruit. These flavors are not to be missed, and you only get them in youthful wines. With age, those flavors will evolve into more complex ones, but they’ll lose that unique berry flavor.

It’s also interesting to see the evolution of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blends. Using Grenache (or Syrah) as the core grape and then building on it allows for a broader range of flavors.

Alban’s Edna Valley Grenache has been one of my favorites (the 2006 Alban Estate is sensational but $94). But lately I’ve also given high marks to Denner The Ditch Digger 2005 ($40) and Terry Hoage Grenache-Syrah The 46 2006 ($40), both from Paso Robles.

Then there’s a handful from Santa Barbara, including Tercero Grenache Watch Hill 2006 ($38), Beckmen Santa Ynez Valley Purisima Mountain 2006 ($48), Dara Grenache-Syrah Gratitude Larner Vineyard 2006 ($35), Departure Grenache Alta Mesa 2007 ($35) and McPrice Myers Grenache L’Ange Rouge 2006 ($36).

Finally there’s Relic’s Ritual Napa Valley 2007 ($48), offering a cuvée of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah. I reviewed this in this week's California Tasting Highlights, and it, like the aforementioned wines, defines complexity and distinction.

William Keene
North Carolina —  November 12, 2008 6:38am ET

I have also enjoyed a handful of Grenache Blancs coming out of California. Any insight on those from recent vintages?
Patrick Mcdonough
wyckoff, n.j. —  November 12, 2008 8:47am ET
i love it when you talk about Cali-rhone wines, instead of cabs. i have been enjoying the Villa Creek wines, particularly the Garnacha
Larry Schaffer
Central Coast —  November 12, 2008 10:27am ET

I also make a grenache blanc and work for a winery that has over 30 acres of this wonderful variety planted at our Camp 4 Vineyards.

This is a variety that does not see huge swings in differences in the vineyard from year to year - cropping levels may be different, but the fruit still exhibits the same wonderful stone and citrus fruit qualities and retains very nice natural acidity levels.

One of the differences you'll see vintage to vintage are winemaking styles. Some prefer to ferment this completely in stainless steel, while others ferment in oak, and still others do a combo of the two (I fall into the last category, preferring a bit of neutral oak to add some midpalate richness to the wine). In addition, some tend to leave a bit of residual sugar in their wines while others ferment to dryness.

One more thing - the variety has very tough and tannic skins - it's important to treat the grapes and wines in a specific manner or you could end up with a bitter or 'tough' white wine - not something I or anyone else I know would like to have!

Hope that helps answer your question - at least as it relates to the Santa Barbara County area . .

And thanks again JL for shedding some more light on Grenache - a variety that is only starting to show its potential in our neck of the woods!

Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  November 12, 2008 3:13pm ET
I agree...there are a great many excellent grenache and grenache blends coming from the Central and South Coasts and the Foothills. For less expensive but still tasty wines in this mold, may I suggest Hollys Hill (the Patriache esp), Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec, Narrows Gate and Elyse.
Jimmy Yahnis
Myrtle Beach, SC —  November 12, 2008 4:47pm ET
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Relic and its winemaker, Mike Hirby. Ritual is an excellent wine. I expect that Hirby will be one of the stars of Napa Valley in the near future as his wines become more well known.
John Wilen
Texas —  November 12, 2008 6:54pm ET
I sense panic and fear among Napa wineries. I got not one but two cold calls today from mid-high priced wineries trying to sell direct to me. That's never happened before. Emails and letters yes, but not by phone. These were wineries I visited perhaps 5 years ago. Clearly someone was assigned the task to go through registration books and dial for dollars. With the restaurant channel having fallen off a cliff, I imagine we'll see all sorts of creative methods to raise cash.
Dave Corey
Santa Maria —  November 13, 2008 10:37am ET
It's good to see the Grenache I grow from Alta Mesa Vineyard get some mention. Congrats to Departure and McPrice!
James Salvito
Santa Barbara —  November 15, 2008 1:21pm ET
Kudos to Larry, Dave, Mikael and the other great Grenache pioneers from Santa Barbara County. They are really making some impressive wines.

I took an out-of-town visitor wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley this past Thursday afternoon, and capped it off with dinner at Mattei's Tavern. We shared a bottle of Larry's Watch Hill Grenache, which was excellent and complimented all of our meals nicely.
Greg Holland
Bakersfield —  November 20, 2008 1:26am ET
McPrice Myers is doing an outstanding job with not only his Grenache, but all of his rhone blends, I recently tasted his 06 releases of Altas Vinas and Les Galets and they were outstanding, great value for the money.
Jared R Flores
Peoria, AZ —  November 20, 2008 8:33pm ET
Greg, Just got my Mcprice Myers shipment today with the Altas Vinas (75% Grenache 25% Mourvedre), Les Galets Syrah, and the Hommage a Stevan Larner (82% Grenache, 18% Syrah). Can't wait to try them!

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