Grenache: one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, yet hardly among the most widely recognized. Grenache is the primary grape in many iconic wines from around the world (Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Priorat, and Banyuls to name a few) and is now popping up in regions other than its traditional homes in the Southern Rhone and Spain. This week we’re celebrating Grenache with three different Grenache-based wines that are helping to strengthen the reputation of this often overlooked grape.
But first, a brief background for all you history buffs out there. Grenache (or Garnacha as it’s called in Spain) is thought to have originated in the area of northern Spain known as Aragon. In fact, it is sometimes called Tinto Aragones (red of Aragon) in parts of the Iberian peninsula. It then spread along the Mediterranean coast and found a comfortable home in the southern Rhone Valley as well as parts of southern Italy (where you may know of it as Cannonau) and the Mediterranean islands. Somewhere along the way, it mutated a number of times, producing grapes with various color berries. Today we have Grenache Noir (or simply Grenache) and Grenache Blanc, the white skinned variety. Typically, Grenache is a rigorous grape and can have high yields that can produce wines with little structure and a high alcohol content. With that in mind, the best Grenache wines are those from old vines with low yields that are often planted on poor soil in dry areas. The more the Grenache has to struggle to produce fruit, the more character the resulting wines will retain.
In 2001, Tracey and Jared Brandt quit their tech day jobs and went to France to study winemaking with the iconic Rhone producer, Eric Texier. They’ve since become local winemaking stars with their hands-off approach to winemaking. They work closely with various growers around California to source grapes grown to their specifications: no chemicals, no irrigation, and minimal intervention in the vineyard. They produce a variety of wines, different each year, out of their small warehouse in Berkeley using traditional techniques like stomping the grapes, fermenting with only native yeasts, aging in neutral barrels, and using little to no sulfur. This latest release of their Grenache is from a small plot in the Sierra foothills and is blended with a small percentage of Mourvedre. Bright cherry and fresh strawberry aromas lead to a more savory palate with flavors of herbs, spices, and smoke. Medium bodied with great acidity. Perfect Pairing: Merguez sausage with pepper relish
The wines of Yves Leccia have often been referred to as the “Rolls Royce” of Corsican wines due to their consistent elegance and sophistication. Born and raised in Patrimonio (Corsica’s northern coast), Yves worked as a young boy in the cellar helping his father make wine. Today, Yves still makes wine expressing the unique terroir of Patrimonio. He’s extremely meticulous and does all of the vineyard tending and cellar work by himself. His last name, Leccia, is Corsican for oak, which is ironic since none of his wines see any oak at all. This bottling is a blend of mostly Grenache with a small percentage of Niellucciu (the native clone of Sangiovese). Spicy and peppery aromas are followed by scents of tart cherries. It’s medium bodied with a long and elegant finish; and tastes way more expensive than it is! Perfect Pairing: Heirloom tomato and gruyère tart
Chris Brockway is another one of our Bay Area winemaking celebrities. He has a hands-off approach to winemaking, similar to Donkey and Goat, using very little modern equipment, native yeasts, and little to no sulfur. His winemaking philosophy is that one does not get to choose the style of wine one wants to make. Rather, the site from which the grapes come (and all aspects of that site: soil, slope, climate, farming technique) determine what the resulting wine will be like. Chris chooses vineyard sites that are located in what some would consider marginal climates, but he believes the vines should struggle a bit in order develop true character and complexity. This new release of his Vine Starr White is a blend of 85% Grenache Blanc and 15% Picpoul (a high-acid grape from the Languedoc) from a vineyard in Paso Robles. Light floral and stone fruit aromas are followed by flavors of white peach and a lightly salty minerality. This mid-weight white is sure to stand up to heavier dishes. Perfect Pairing: Grilled whole trout and romano beans