Grenache: The perfect ‘not quite springtime’ wine

WASHINGTON — Is it getting warmer, or colder? I honestly can’t tell.

One week, we warm up to the mid-60s, the next, it plunges right back down to 30 degrees. I am developing weather paranoia.

More importantly, what wine do you drink when the weather has more mood swings than a teenager? Some red wines can be too big for the warmer days, and some white wines can be too thin for the colder ones.

Enter Grenache: a lovely wine known more for its supporting role in French Chateauneuf du Pape wines than as the lovely little star of the show it is. It’s like the last bowl of oatmeal in Goldilocks — it’s not too big, it’s not too little, it’s just right.

Surprisingly, Grenache — or Garnacha as it is known in Spain — is one of the most widely planted grape varietals in the world. I can be found in France, Spain, Australia and the United States, predominantly California and Washington.

The wine is generally spicy, berry-flavored and soft on the palate with a relatively high alcohol content. It is usually the dominant grape when blended with other Rhone Valley varietals, such as Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut. It is also used to make rosé wines in France and Spain. It is a star in Australia’s “GSM” blends with Syrah and Mourvèdre.

I grew up in Central California, where Grenache was extensively planted throughout the hot San Joaquin Valley and used mainly as a blending component for sweet jug wines. Eventually, it became the little darling of the “Rhone Rangers” movement in California, where it gained commercial success. Today, it can also be found thriving in the state of Washington, where it’s used in blends as well as varietal-specific bottlings.

Here are a few of my favorite Grenache wines to get us through these weird weather weeks:

From the adjoining regions of Languedoc and Roussillon in Southern France comes the delicious 2011 Le Cirque Rouge. Boasting an aromatic bouquet of black fruit and violets on the nose and flavors of ripe black raspberry and smoked meat on the front of the tongue, this wine is both bright and complex at the same time. A touch of eucalyptus and black olive on the juicy finish is enough to keep you coming back for another sip. $16

One of my favorite Spanish wines in the under $20 category is the 2012 QUO Grenache Old Vines from the Aragon region. This lovely wine displays aromas of cherry and strawberry on the bouquet and lush, silky flavors of raspberry, strawberry and jammy red berry that keep building and deepening through the finish. The seductive, intense fruit and fat, round flavors make this wine shine.  $15

Australian winemakers love experimenting with Grenache, and I think the 2009 d’Arenberg Derelict Grenche, from the McLaren Vale of South Australia, is a very successful result. It shows off wonderful aromas of black cherry, blueberry jam and pencil led, followed up by luscious flavors of kirschwasser, cherry, red licorice and pepper on a medium-bodied frame. The fruit-driven finish is round and expansive.  $30

If you want to splurge on a special wine, then try this lovely Grenache from my old stomping grounds in the Central Coast of California. The 2014 Stolpman Grenache from Santa Ynez is brilliant and delicious with a striking nose of red fruit, saddle leather and baking spices that is both intriguing and lingering. The palate is filled with juicy flavors of cherry, red plum, cedar wood and smoke that glide over the tongue and onto the finish. Hints of dried cranberry mingle with soft tannins to provide a medium-bodied finish. $34


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