Posted July 18, 2013 A rather muscular style, with mint and tobacco leaf notes shading dark crushed plum and blackberry fruit that pumps through on the strong, pepper- and bitter espresso-spiked finish. Shows a chunky, slightly stemmy edge and needs some time to settle down, but this is loaded with dense grip and character.
Let’s begin by eliminating Tempranillo and Pinot Noir. Although more modern versions of both can be big and dense, like our mystery wine, these are typically the outliers. Both Tempranillo and Pinot usually produce light- to medium-bodied versions that lean more towards elegant than big and dense.
Next up, Cabernet Franc, a dense wine that often shows a vegetal or stemmy character. But it seems that the main attribute of our wine is fruitiness, which tells us it’s not a Cab Franc.
It’s possible that our wine is a Syrah, which is often muscular, peppery and fruity. But Syrahs will often offer a spicy note, missing here, and Grenache presents another, better possibility. Known for its plump berry character, Grenache grown in hot, dry conditions can be very dark and tannic. This wine's weight, along with the plum and blackberry fruit, leads us to Grenache.
This wine is a Grenache.
In Italy, the principal Grenache-producing region is Sardinia's Cannonau di Sardegna appellation. These wines are typically firm, leathery and more austere than our expressive mystery wine. This wine is not from Italy.
Moving on to South Africa, where the climate is dry, the earth is hot, and the wines sometimes exhibit an earthy, stemmy character, we can look to the grape to steer us away, as Grenache is not widely grown on the Cape. This is not a South African.
Texas is all about going big, but Hill Country wines tend to be leaner and more austere than this muscular, fruity Grenache.
Next stop: Spain, where Grenache grows most famously in Priorat. Priorats are bright and acidic with fresh berry flavors and tart cherry acidity. The wine we’re tasting has darker fruit that is riper and richer, which tells us that this wine is not Spanish.
In France, Grenache grows predominantly in the southern part of the Rhône Valley, where the wines are dark, lush and indulgent. Plummy fruit flavors like those in our mystery wine are a hallmark of Grenache grown in this region.
This wine is from France.
As the note indicates, this wine displays fresh fruit but still needs time to settle down, which eliminates the 6- to 9-year-old and 10-plus year categories. The typical current vintage for most French Grenaches is 2010, and this wine gives us no indications that it has aged any longer than that. This youthful wine falls in the 3- to 5-year-old category.
Grenache is not grown in the Maipo Valley or Chianti Classico, so those appellations can be eliminated. Tempranillo is the darling of Rioja, suggesting that this wine is not from Rioja either. Again, Grenache from Stellenbosch is atypical, which leaves us two final options: Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Côte-Rôtie.
In Châteauneuf-du-Pape the predominant base grape for these blends is Grenache, while in Côte-Rôtie (in the Northern Rhône), it’s Syrah, which gives us our answer. This wine is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The AOC was established in 1936, though the vineyards were cultivated initially during the Avignon papacy in 1308 as an attempt to try to make Burgundy-style wines. The soil in the region is uniquely characterized by galets, or stones, which form a layer over the soil and nocturnally release heat which they retained during the daytime, promoting the ripe fruit displayed in the wines.
This wine is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
This particular wine was produced at the Domaine Raymond Usseglio & Fils. It's the Cuvée Impériale 2009, which scored 92 points in a blind tasting. This wine is made from the oldest vines on their estate, vines that were planted in 1901, and is the top wine that they produce. For more information on the outstanding 2009 vintage in the Southern Rhône Valley, see James Molesworth's tasting report, in the Nov. 30, 2011, issue.
—Morgan Taylor, associate tasting coordinator
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