Don’t forget about Grenache!

Grenache, or as they say in Spain, Garnache (probably where the grape originated) sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s rarely mentioned next to the big grapes like Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir or Syrah. But I think many people would be surprised to find that Grenache makes up a portion, and sometimes a large portion, of some of the most recognizable and famous wines in the world. Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Tavel, Banyuls, Maury, Priorat, Cannonau di Sardegna all have pretty heavy doses of Grenache in them and some are made entirely from Grenache. There are also countless ‘table’ wines from France and Spain made entirely from Grenache that are soft and easy to drink and are usually quite inexpensive. Then there are the Rhone Rangers in California growing Grenache in the central coast and the GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) blends of Australia. They all take advantage of what Grenache has to offer to blends.

At roughly 500,000 acres, Grenache is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world. In fact, at the end of the last century only the white grape Airen was more widely planted. The largest plantings are in Spain, followed by France and then Italy. This century has seen a decline in acreage in favor of more popular varieties such as Tempranillo, Cabernet and Merlot.

It ripens late, so it needs hot, dry conditions. Spain, the south of France, Italy and parts of California are several places where the grape benefits from its tolerance to heat and drought. The aroma and flavor profile for Grenache is wide-ranging depending on where it is grown. Expect to find candied red berry fruits and cinnamon spice from higher-yielding wines and a bit more dark fruit, white pepper spice from lower-yielding vineyards. From old-world regions such as the Rhone and Sardinia you might find pleasant herbaceous notes. As these wines age they pick up notes of leather and meat.

The grape has thin skins which makes it perfect for light-colored read and rose production. The thin skins also mean lower tannins and a smoother mouthfeel. What the grape lacks in tannins and structure it makes up for in alcohol which is often high, in the 14% range. Wines made from high-yielding Grenache vines tend to produce fruity but simple wines (Cotes du Rhone, Languedoc, Calatayud) while those from older, lower yielding vines produce wines of power and concentration (Priorat, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Roussillon). When added to blends Grenache generally lends a softness and fruitiness along with an extra degree or two of alcohol.

2013 Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone ‘Les Abeilles’ (The Bees)                 12.99

Jean-Luc Colombo was studying Pharmacology at the University of Montpellier where he gained an interest in wine. He wound up graduating with degrees in both Pharmacology and Enology. Shortly after graduation he and his wife started a wine consulting firm in 1984. His outspoken views on the future of the French wine industry, winemaking, particularly about maceration times, organic viticulture and other topics rankled some of the traditionalist of the Rhone particularly in Cornas where he had purchased a small vineyard. He saw the potential of this under-appreciated appellation in the northern Rhone and was determined to make outstanding wines from his own estate. The rest is history. He is today considered to be one of the pioneers in the revitalization of the Cornas appellation. He has a thriving consulting business with well over 100 clients and now makes outstanding wines in the northern and southern Rhone, the Languedoc and Provence.

This wine is a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. The grapes are grown sustainably around the towns of Cairrane and Gigondas. They are hand-harvested, lightly crushed and then fermented in stainless steel where the wine will stay for 10 months. This is a perfect example of what a simple Cotes du Rhone should be. Fruit forward and soft with dark red fruits and a touch of spice on the finish. This is perfect for the barbecue, salads or pizza.

Les Abeilles translates as “The Bees” after the creatures that inhabit the vineyards where this Côtes du Rhône is produced. Jean-Luc Colombo’s appreciation for the natural environment of living creatures creates an atmosphere in which insects, animals and grape vines co-exist and flourish. This can only be accomplished with sustainable vineyard practices where no harsh pesticides are used. Honeybees pollinate more than 90% of flowering crops – including many of the fruit and food items we eat – so they play a vital role in our food supply. In many places around the world, however, bee colonies are in severe jeopardy. “Colony Collapse Disorder” is a mysterious 5-year-old crisis – and it’s worsening at an alarming rate! The cause is unknown, and it has currently spread to over half of the United States, with similar collapses reported in Brazil, Canada and parts of Europe. BEE HELPFUL is a program started by Jean-Luc Colombo to help fight this bee crisis. A donation will be made to UC Davis Department of Entomology for Honey Bee Research. The UC Davis Department of Entomology is ranked No. 1 in the country by the Chronicle of Higher Education. They have several programs and studies dedicated to the bee crisis. For each consumer purchase of Les Abeilles, a percentage of the suggested retail price will go to research to save the bees with a pledged minimum donation of $10,000 per year.

2011 Alvaro Palacios Gratallops, Priorat, Spain $49

Avalaro Palacios was one of a handful of producers who saved the Priorat region from wine obscurity back in the 1980’s and 90’s. Today, his wines are some of the most sought-after wines coming out of Spain. He makes wines that are true expressions of where the grapes are grown.

Priorat, in northeastern Spain, is an unforgiving place with lots of sun and heat but very little water. Garnacha does very well here. Because the vines are so old the wines are intense, perfumed and complex. This is a ‘village’ wine. The grapes came from vineyards planted in schist in and around the village of Gratallops; the first village to be recognized in the appellation.

Mostly Garnacha with some Carignena (Carignan) this is an intensely perfumed wine with red and black fruits intertwined with leather, smoke, dried herbs and game. The tannins are just now calming down leading to a very pleasant texture to round out the full body of the wine. There is a long finish marked by some peppery spice and a saline, mineral note at the very end. Delicious and should keep for another 5-10 years or so.