Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Secret Life of Grenache

It’s one of the world’s most planted grapes but tough to find unblended in a wine bottle. Jancis Robinson describes it as “noted for brawn rather than beauty” in her classic reference book Vines, Grapes, & Wines. A quote from a reader of What To Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page says Grenache resembles “Pinot Noir but kicked up a notch.

Oz Clarke, in his Encyclopedia of Grapes, suggests Grenache is “the wild, wild woman of wine, the sex on wheels and devil take the hindmost, the don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He adds that when the Aussies gave this often underrated grape their “sexy, lush, fruit-first, high-alcohol treatment, one more irresistible, irrepressible party animal was born.

Since party animals can be fun, for this month’s Great Grape Day, we chose a bottle of 2003 Old Bush Vine Grenache from Pirramimma in South Australia’s McLaren Vale (barrel room shown below).

The winery tasting notes let us know this vintage has “aromas of plums, cherries, violets and chocolate. These characters follow through to a complex palate that is long, rounded and flavoursome.” Okay, cherry for sure – but this is a bowl of cherries sprinkled liberally with rich, warm pepper that lingers long at the back of the tongue.

We agreed this is a wine that cries out for protein, and when we added some cold roast beef to the mix, we were rewarded with a deepening of texture and richness. Parmesan cheese was three blocks away at the local deli – a trek we didn’t feel like making – but it would probably also have been a good match. And though a Texas barbeque was even more geographically distant, we agreed a grilled steak or, better yet, lamb would be perfect with this wine.

As the evening progressed, the wine opened nicely, smoothing from a “really needs food” wine into the realm of “maybe we could sip this just because.” Still, this was one of the rare occasions when we saved part of the bottle for another evening – maybe we’re both simply still too enamored with the contemplative nature of a good Amarone or Spanish Tempranillo.

- 2003 Old Bush Vine Grenache from Pirramimma
- Bought at Liberty Wine Merchants in Vancouver
- Cost: $31.95
- Alcohol: 14%
- One and a half years in new American oak
- Bottled under Stelvin closure

- Grenache (also known as Garnacha) is believed to have originated in Spain before migrating to France and, later, the new worlds of America and Australia
- Grenache is typically blended with other varietals and is one of the major components in Chateauneuf-du-Pape
- According to Tom Stevenson’s Wine Report 2006, Grenache is the third most planted red grape in the world

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