Grenache, Halloween and Surprises!

The best part of Halloween is seeing the costumes. At a party, you never know what people will dress as. Last week-end I saw a zombie Fred Flintstone, an Oompa Loompa and a Spy vs. Spy.  But the most surprising costumes were the Downton Abbey couple. She was dressed as a chauffeur and he as the maid, the 6′ 5”, full-bearded maid. Part of the fun of costumes parties are the surprises.

Though long disputed by Italy, most would agree that Garnacha/Grenache is originally from Spain, and from there moved to the South of France and to Italy, Sardinia specifically where it is called Cannonau.

Garnacha is not a noble grape mainly because it doesn’t necessarily age well. It has low tannins and often low to medium acidity. It is often used in blends with other more tannic grapes to give the wine structure.

But, just because it is not a noble grape, does not mean that it is not a worthy grape. A typical Grenache, while low in acidity and tannin is high in alcohol and oxidizes quickly. It is a grape that thrives in the heat, thus the high alcohol. Its famous regions are Priorat, Rioja, and Navarra, in Spain, the southern Rhone Valley in France, Sardinia in Italy, and Australia, and California in the new world. Oz Clark points out that the grape can have, ‘wild, unexpected flavors.’ This is what makes the grape so intriguing. You never know quite what you’re going to get. The typical flavor profile of Grenache/Garnacha is red fruit aromas such as strawberry, sour cherry, cranberry with some purple flowers, such as violets and maybe a dash of black pepper or spice.

I tasted through several Grenache recently with my wine group.   The wines were from different regions and each one had something a little different to offer. The Priorat presented a marzipan, almond, almost Amaretto flavor, a flavor most often associated with white wines. But this highly oxidative red that was aged in oak presented the unexpected. The Riaza from Lodi had a strong tea flavor. Our second Spanish wine, Fabla, had a coconut flavor. The Dolia from Sardinia had a strong coffee aroma. The French Chateauneuf du Pape was very earthy. And the Black Hand from Paso Robles had dried fruit aromas. Each wine was a little surprising.

RiazaRiaza, 2011, Lodi Clement Hills 100% Grenache. Sight: Clear, pale, garnet. Aroma: Clean condition, no off odors. Medium intensity with aromas of oak, red fruit, spice and vanilla. Developed. On the palate: dry, medium acidity, no bitterness, medium tannin, medium/high alcohol, medium plus body with medium intensity flavors of red fruit, spice, tea, and vanilla. No off flavors. Medium finish.



Fall 2014 022La Cartuja, 2012, Priorat 70% Grenache, 30% Carinena. Sight: brilliant, medium ruby. Aroma: Condition is clean with no off odors. Intense aromas of spice, black fruit and nuts. Developed. On the palate: dry with medium/high acidity. No bitterness. Medium tannins, medium alcohol. Medium/plus body, medium/plus intensity flavors of black fruit, oak and spice. No off flavors with a medium to long finish.



Fall 2014 023Fabla, 2012, Calatayud. Sight: brilliant, deep, ruby. Clean condition, no off odors. Aromas: medium intensity of black fruit, red fruit, tea, nuts and coconut. Developing. On the palate: dry with medium acidity, no bitterness, medium tannin, medium/high alcohol. The body is medium with medium intensity of red fruit, spice and earth. No off flavors. The finish is medium.



Fall 2014 027Dolia, 2012, Sardegna. Sight: brilliant, deep garnet. Aroma: clean, no off odors. Intense aromas of oak, coffee, and black fruit. Developing. On the palate: dry with medium plus acidity. No bitterness. Low/medium tannins. Medium alcohol. Medium body with medium intensity flavors of red fruit, coffee, and oak. No off flavors. Medium finish.



Fall 2014 025Telegramme, 2011, Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Sight: brilliant with medium garnet color. Aroma: clean with no off odors. Medium intensity of red fruit, spice and earth. Developing. On the palate: Dry with medium acidity, no bitterness. Medium tannins, medium alcohol, medium body. Medium plus intensity of flavors of red fruit, spice and earth. No off flavors. Long finish.



Fall 2014 026Black Hand, 2006, Paso Robles. Sight: brilliant with deep garnet color. Aroma: clean, no off odors. Intense aromas of butter, oak and red fruit. Developed. On the palate: Dry with medium high acidity. No bitterness, medium tannins, high alcohol, medium plus body, medium plus intensity with flavors of oak, red fruit and dried fruit. No off flavors. The finish is medium.





Happy Halloween!  Enjoy the surprises.


Fall 2014 036

The Three Sisters of Veneto

ItalyCorvina laughed an acidic laugh, a laugh that reflected not bitterness, but a crispness that was larger than her small stature,and lighter than her thick skin. She was clearly the bright leader of the three sisters of Veneto. Rondinella always dressed in full make-up, well-colored and perfumed, her displays of ultra-femininity disguising a stout, hearty constitution. Molinara, pale and light, the most delicate of the three, echoed her beloved sister’s acidic-voiced laugh, quietly, subtly. Their laughter and conversation blended and mixed until you could hardly tell one from the other. They became as one in Valpolicello.

When it comes to wine and grapes, Italy confuses me. Though it makes wines with noble grapes, most regions in Italy depend on indigenous grapes, so many indigenous grapes. Perhaps, if I personify them all, put them into a story, I’ll be able to keep them straight.

There once were three brothers. Moscato, Arneis and Cortese were like the three white knights of the Piedmont. Though he was often a very sweet fellow, few people would openly admit that they liked Moscato. “Do you like Moscato?” “Yes, I do.” “Well, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.” “Why would I be ashamed?” “Oh, no reason…” The truth was, spending time with Moscato was like spending a late summer’s evening in a fragrant peach orchard, lovely, but at times too soft, too sweet. Arneis was elegant and exotic, and like his brother, sometimes a little flabby, rather than crisp. Cortese, was pleasant enough. He didn’t exude the flair and perfumes of his flabby brothers, but what he lacked in exotic characteristics he made up for in his structure and acidity. The white knights stayed in Piedmont to defend and protect their beautiful sisters, Barbera, who was quite elegant in her kingdom of Alba, unlike her cousin, also named Barbera, who could be a bit rough, having grown up in the hills of Asti. Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino and Brachetto, though not as bold as the Barberas, had some similar qualities, such as a crisp demeanor. Alas, the white knights were no match for the strength and power of Piedmont’s queen, Nebbiolo, perhaps the strongest ruler of all time. She commanded many areas, including Lombardy where she went by the name Valtellina-Chiavennasca, but was especially known for her work in Barolo and Barbaresco. She spoke in more feminine tones in Barbaresco, though still with strength and conviction. Wherever she went, she was recognized for her large, muscular, powerful frame…and her mustache.

And don’t get me started on the Sangiovese clan! Good old Sangiovese, so well-loved in Chianti. But, what on earth is in his past that every time he moves to a new town, he changes his name? In Montalcino he’s Brunello. In Montepulciano he goes by Prugnolo Gentile. And in Scansano, he’ll answer to Morellino. Was it his recent dalliances in Bolgheri with the sophisticated Bordeaux girls that, while it gave him the reputation of being ‘super,’ forced him to go incognito? He may be a devil, but he ages well and has so many interesting aspects to him. It’s no wonder he goes by so many different names.

Hey, Trebbiano! Malvasia! Pipe down, with your Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone! I can hear you all the way from Latium!

The action of the story has steered clear of Trentino-Alto Adige, with its German-style natives, including Traminer and his old friend, Muller-Thurgau. Nor has the story ventured into Friuli-Venezia-Guilia where are harbored four native characters, Refosco, the sister, and three brothers, Verduzzo, Picolit and Friulano, a distant relative to Sauvignon Blanc. I have yet to introduce Verdicchio, Marches’ neutral white grape. I have left Umbria and with it Grechetto, himself a bit nutty and his sister, Sagrantino, an intense gal who smokes. Perhaps, Falanghina isn’t even worth mentioning. He may be weak, but he manages to stand up to the volcanic ash soil of Campania. Aleatico hides out in Apulia, being far outshone by his much more famous sister, Primitivo. And before I can make it all the way to Sardinia to introduce Cannonau, who goes by her French name, Grenache when in Rhone and her brother, Vermentino, whose ancestors traveled here from Spain in the middle ages, and who may be distantly related to Malvasia up in Latium, I said ‘quiet!’ I realize that if I did try to personify every indigenous grape of Italy, I would have to write a story with more characters than can be found in a Russian novel. But unlike the Brothers Karamazov, the three sisters of Veneto lived happily ever after as did Prosecco, their party-boy brother.