The Panache of Grenache

It’s a great grape, and a great value.

There are so many wines in the marketplace of too little variety that cost too much that I sometimes feel like it is raining the cold rain of sameness. My overdeveloped sense of injustice rears up at this, because while some of these wines may be worth it, at least half are not. How do you sift through the confusion? I recently went on the hunt for a reasonable splurge: a moderately priced wine ($20–$40) whose exceptional character made it an outrageous value. While I loved many of the wines I tasted, the ones I found most appealing were—perhaps not surprisingly—based on grenache.

Grenache is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world, yet it’s still remarkably unknown by most wine drinkers, as it is often hidden behind the label of a regional wine from its native Spain or France’s Rhône Valley. This is slowly changing with the increase in popularity of delicious and downright cheap Spanish garnacha. Sure, there are grenache-based wines with prices that will make your palms sweat, but typically grenache yields splendid wine that sells for a fraction of the cost of other “great” grape varieties.

Like an Irishman’s hair, grenache has mutated through the years from red (noir), to reddish-white (gris), to white (blanc), becoming increasingly aromatic the blanc-er it gets. I was seduced by the Curran 2007 Grenache Blanc. This wine, from the Santa Ynez Valley on California’s Central Coast, possesses such an alluring floral aroma that I wanted to leap into the glass, or at least persuade my wife to use it as a perfume in order to spend more time with it. Its peach-dominated flavors are a smash, blooming continuously into more exotic notions the longer the wine is open. A drier wine than you may have experienced, its initial stiffness softens and more than proves its worth at $24.

If there is a more soul-satisfying red wine than one made from grenache, then I’d love to taste it. A good red grenache grabs my id by its impulses, soothing it with velveteen grace. The stirring Domaine la Bouïssiere 2007 Gigondas (say zhi-gon-das and you’ll be on your way to learning the Rhône Valley dialect) does just that from the first whiff—it is as welcoming as a lover’s embrace. The prominent black raspberry and chocolate aromas and flavors—though not so shamelessly smooth as Graeter’s flavor—are thanks to small additions of companion grape varieties syrah and Mourvèdre. You could hide this in your cellar for a few years, but it is mighty good right now, developing secondary and tertiary layers of complexity as it aerates. Why buy a $100 trust fund cabernet when you can get this great wine for $33.

Despite the storm of similarity that continues to pervade much of the wine world, you can find sanctuary in the sheer breadth of availability. But rather than seek shelter, I’ll just head for where the sun is out with a bottle of grenache.

Originally published in the April 2010 issue.

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