Category Archives: grenache

Santa Barbara Wine Country

Here are the main highlights of my trip to Santa Barbara. We stayed at the Hadsten Inn and Spa. Location wise, Solvang is the best jumping off point to all the wineries. Food wise, definitely hit Brothers’ Restaurant at Mattei’s Inn and Los Olivos Grocery Store for some snacks to go with all that wine.

Gainey

One of many tasting rooms, this is definitely part of the hook and look of Gainey.  Romantic and intimate this place looks like the site for weddings and events. Along with that however goes mediocre wine that isn’t too memorable. Most of it is drinkable, but none worth the price point or the heavy luggage to buy back. I would say this would be a pass for my next trip. Sorry Sideways!

Beckmen Vineyards

One of my favorite wineries in this region by far, Beckmen puts thought and time into every bottle. It was very hard to choose, but we ended up with a case of the marsanne. My sister bought a case of one of the whites. The tasting room is a lackluster basic room with the usual  tshirts and trinkets. What it lacks in presentation, the wine more than makes up for in taste. I recently bought the Grenache which is more widely available to a party and it was deliciously jammy yet complex. I am a fan!

Blair Fox

This little gem is a part of the stretch of tasting rooms found in Los Olivos.  The main event is really the syrah from this little vineyard. It definitely leaves an impression and hits all the right notes. With the blessing of demi-god Robert Parker, their wines are becoming more and more widely available outside the local area. Complex with good spice and character, I would reach for their Syrah above all else.

Epiphany

I’ve had some pretty tasty wines from this particular winery while perusing various stores in Chicago and NYC. So when I had the opportunity to go to the tasting room, I jumped. Unfortunately, my expectations fell a little short. Maybe it was the fact that my expectations had been high, but the pours seemed uninteresting but drinkable.  All the glasses were consistently good, but not great and definitely not worth some of the price points.  I would say stick with the edited selection of your local wine store, there is a reason why certain bottles gain their popularity.

Cold Heaven

The wines from this relatively new winery are definitely a labor of love and it shows. Focusing mainly on viognier, Cold Heaven brings out the complexity and elegance this particular varietal deserves.  What struck me the most about these wines is their ability to develop over time and open up like a red.  Many viogniers and whites are ready for the drinking the minute the cork is popped, but with these you miss out on an astounding development of character. The sommelier was kind enough to show us the difference between a bottle opened from the day before and one opened a few minutes ago. Both were delightful, but the former had a mellower character and developed a whole new flavor profile.  I would buy a couple bottles from here just to open and see what happens over time. The Saints and Sinners was one of my favorites.

Taste of the Valleys

Located in the heart of Solvang, this little tasting room has a well edited list of the brightest and best of the local wineries. If you are afraid of missing that one great find this is the place to seek it out at the end or beginning of your trip.  If I had to do it all over again, I think I would have come here first instead of towards the end of the trip to get a sense of where I wanted to visit. The best part of this place is their offerings of Au Bon Climat, lovingly nicknamed ABC. ABC doesn’t have their own tasting room so this is the place to go to get some tastes in.

Au Bon Climat

Don’t let the guy in the mullet on the homepage fool you, Jim Clendenen definitely knows what he’s doing. ABC has some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of this region.  Silky smooth with a leaning towards the Burgundian style of wine making, this winery plays to my heart strings, but not so much to my wallet. Like a true Burgundian the price point is a little steep for some of my favorites, however I suspect the cheaper bottles would age into beauties given a little time. Buy for now and drink for later.

St. Patty’s Day, the Wine Way

In a very miscalculated move, we didn’t buy tickets to the Metropolitan Opera’s live streaming of Britten’s Peter Grimes, mistakenly betting that the seats wouldn’t sell out. Who knew. So, after a hurried cab ride downtown later, I found myself forlornly standing outside the theatre, clutching my brown paper bag of toasted sandwiches I’d picked up for the 4 hour marathon.

Since we were downtown already anyway, we decided to go wine tasting. Just Grapes, right by my workplace, has free wine tasting from 1-4pm every Saturday, so we headed on there. In between sampling the 5 different tastings offered, we enjoyed a good chat with the store manager and the wine distributor. Ah, for a different career change. Anyway, here are my reviews of the wines:

2006 Riff, Pinot Grigio, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy $11
The store’s tasting notes: “The vineyard sources for most of this Pinot Grigio contain a substantial amount of dolomite limestone which has an obvious impact on the wine’s character and style. It is because of the contrinbution that these fossils (limestone) make to the wine’s character that they have been chosen to be incorporated into the label design as a reminder of its geological origin. Simple, with apple, lemon and light mineral character. Light body. Delicate finish. Drink now.” While I wasn’t too impressed with the body and finish (boring, with no obvious flavors or textures), I really liked its nose. I did get the scent of apple and some lemon, and could see it as a delightful cool drink on a sweltering summer day.

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2005 Franz Karl Schmitt, “Niersteiner Hipping,” Riesling Spatlesse, Rheinhessin, Germany $22
The store’s tasting notes: “The estate was founded by Jost-Schmitt in 1546, and has been in family possession since those days. Riesling is cultivated in some of the prime vineyards in Nierstein, including the classic Hipping. The grandfather of the present owner, also named Franz-Karl Schmitt, was renowned for his striving to produce great wines. He was the first to produce Trockenbeerenhauslesse in the Rheinhessen around 1900!” It’s difficult right off the first sip to pronounce that you don’t like sweet wines (which can be really tiring on the palate after a couple glasses), so it was with my experience with this. I prefered the bouquet proffered by the Pinot Grigio, but the gentle sweetness of this riesline was hard to dislike. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet, but the taste lingered on in my mouth long seconds after the liquid had been tipped down my throat.

2006 Rex Hill, Chardonnay, Oregon $22
The store’s tastings notes: “A crisp, yet complex wine, the 2006 Rex Hill Chardonnay represents the sixth vintage of Oregon’s original ultra-premium unoaked Chardonnay. To highlight the wonderful fruit and underlying minerality in some of the Wilamette Valley’s best vineyard sites, we ferment in small stainless steel to retain the fruit’s bright transparency and then age the wines on the lees to achieve a creamy mouthfeel. Aromas of candied citrus, plums, green apple. Good richness on the attack, with broad palate-coating flavors that echo the nose. The brisk acidity adds structure and freshness, focusing the mineral notes, and lengthening flavors.” It was quite exciting to identify the candid citrus (sort of like those sugar covered jelly beans one finds during the Chinese New Year festivities) and the green apple in the nose, but I couldn’t taste the same flavors in the body. I actually found the body and finish to be quite boring, but not achingly so – within seconds, no trace of its ever being there was left. I’m still not sure whether I prefer the oaked, buttery types of Chardonnay… should do a tasting sometime to tease out my taste.

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2006 Paraiso, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California $24
The store’s tasting notes: “Paraiso’s flagship varietal. Wonderful Burgundian character: rich cherry and plum flavors with hints of spice, smoke, and toasty oak. All wrapped by structuring tannins and acidity. Amazingly food-versatile: salmon, roast chicken, beef tenderloin, you name it.” I profess to be quite partial to Pinot Noir, my interest in the grape stemming from a road trip Peirui and I made, oh, two years ago now (!!!). The nose exhibited the characteristics of the grape, but I was quite disappointed by the finish, which I found weak, almost watery. Chatting later with Janel from WineStyles, she confirmed my tasting notes, saying that the area saw too much rain in 2006. Ah.

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2005 Chateau Saint Andrew Corbin, Merlot blend, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, $23
The store’s tasting notes: “Garnet with a violet rim, spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco on the nose. Medium weight with spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco, great structure.” If I closed my eyes and sniffed really hard, I could just pick out the scent of tobacco and cedar, but my god, the blueberries! It just jumped right out at you, unmistakeable and completely in your face. I loved the nose. But alas, the body was almost unbearably tight, the tannins completely sucking out the moisture from my lips. I suspect though, that a few years in the cellar might do wonders for this wine.

It was still early when we were done, and the revellers were still crowding the hundreds of Irish bars in the city. So we made our way over to Randolph Wine Cellars right down the street, and engaged in an entertaining tasting with another distributor.

My notes:

2006 Licia Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain $14
Heh, this tasting was right down my alley, since we tasted both the Albarinos and plenty of Grenaches, both grapes of choice right now. I thoguht the Rias had a very light nose, such that I couldn’t quite place the smell. Or maybe sensory fatigue was setting in already. But even so, I could definitely place the lemony structure in the body and finish, almost akin to lemon juice with a kick. Would be a delicious combination with a lightly sauteed fish – mmm, need to do another canoeing trip down the Wisconsin River this spring…

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2004 Atrea “The Choir,” Mendocino County $20
It’s a rhone varietal blend, with parts of viognier and roussanne. This one had quite a pungent nose of wood and earth. The heavier body would make it an unsuitable pairing with fish, but the distributor suggested heavy aged cheeses.

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2005 Moulin D’Issan, Bordeaux $16
A Bordeaux Superior wine, which doesn’t fall under the 5 growth system, this wine can be found in the Margaux region. Blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. Lots of bright fruit in the nose, with a little bit of oak. I thought it tasted a little green.

2005 Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf-du-pape $30
My favorite tasting of the day, very smooth and balanced, with a hint of orange peel and black plum in the nose and body. It’s a blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvédre.

2004 Domaine Raspail-ay Gigondas, Rhone $22
Eh, to be honest, I’ve forgotten the taste of this, and didn’t take down any notes since I was busy enjoying a long conversation with the distributor about how she fell into wines and the various wine trips she’s taken in France (damn the weak USD right now). I do vaguely remember thinking that it was quite delicious though…

My palate was a little tired by this point, but the green clad revelers were still out on the streets, so we decided to continue the celebrations in our own way by making our way over to WineStyles, where Denise and Janel gave us two tastings of “green wines,” wines made the organic and environmentally friendly way. Erm, I don’t have any notes of those tastings either… but I did leave WineStyles armed with a bottle of Australian Grenahce that Janel says would go great with lambshank or spicy fish. Mmm.

We made a pit stop at Binny’s next, but boo, they didn’t have any tastings available. Disappointed but not deterred, we pressed on next to Sam’s Wine. By that time, I think the tastings were already concluded, so instead I tasted some cheeses (and picked up a slab of pate), and a pizza beer (beer brewed with pizza ingredients such as tomato, mozarella etc. very authentic!). And I also got the bottle of El Tesoro (thank you Cristalle!). 🙂

And then, I was done. 🙂

All about Grenache

I think it began when I had the flights of “Back to Earth Reds” at Bin 36 and then the Bitch from Barossa Australia that I noticed how every bottle of Grenache I tried was not only attractively priced, but was pretty amazing in its taste and body with lots of complex flavors.

Consequently, I think it might be time to take a closer look at the grape itself, and pay more attention to the different styles I’ve had.

Grenache 101 from Wine Pros:

Grenache noir is the world’s most widely planted grape used to make red wine, sometimes made into a stand-alone varietal, frequently as a rosé, but most often as a backbone of red blends.

Used as a component in some Northern Rhône reds, nearly exclusively for Rhône rosés and as the primary component in nearly all Southern Rhône red blends, Grenache is probably most notable as the base varietal for Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhône and Gigondas. In spite of its fame coming from French wines, Spain is most likely this grape’s origin.

Grenache is known by local names (alicante, carignane rousse) in the Mediterranean regions of France. Particularly important in the areas of the Languedoc and Rousillon, there are also variants with different colored berries: white grenache blanc, and pink grenache rose or grenache gris. Nearly three times as much grenache is planted in Spain as in France. The spanish know this grape and wine as garnacha or garnacha tinta, where it is the dominant red wine variety in Catalonia and prominent in Rioja. The grape is known in Italy as cannonau.

In the New World, Australia has extensive plantings of Grenache and has been very successful making full-bodied Grenache-dominated red blends. Until surpassed by plantings of merlot in the past decade, Grenache was the third most planted red variety in California after Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of this acreage is in the Central Valley and used to produce bulk rather than premium wine.

An abundant producer of fruit, grenache habitually will “alternate” a crop of 8 to 10 tons per acre one year and 14 to 16 tons the next. The vine is very sturdy and woody, lends itself well to head or spur pruning, and survives arid and drought conditions better than less vigorous vines. Cool and damp conditions can cause “deadarm” disease in grenache, however, and its compact and well-filled clusters are quite prone to rot. Grenache is also susceptible to shatter or coulure.

The grenache grape is relatively low in both pigment and malic acid, and oxidizes readily. Although some 100% varietal wines are produced from grenache, particularly in Spain’s Rioja and from some “old vines” plantings in California, it is mostly used to “fill out” red blends and soften harsher partners, such as syrah and carignan.

On its own, grenache makes fleshy, heady, very fruity wines in their youth. They tend to age rapidly, showing tawny colors and prone to oxidation or maderization after only a relatively short time in bottle. The general character and mouthfeel of Grenache wines are more distinctive and identifyable than any particular aromas or flavors.

Partly due to its commonplace abundance and partly due to its hardiness in warmer climates that are generally considered to grow lesser-quality wines, Grenache has never achieved as much of a premium reputation as other red varietals. The group of California wineries marketing themselves as the Rhône Rangers are committed to raising both the quality and profile of this and other lesser-known grape varieties.

Over the weekend, I tasted a couple different Grenache wines: one at The Drawing Room on Friday (whose name I unfortunately did not jot down / cork I forgot to take with me, given our haste to make the movie), and a Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Châteauneuf-du-Pape at Kiki’s on Saturday night. The Domaine de Vieux Lazaret is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre (the latter two grapes I should really start paying closer attention to too, since they seem to appear frequently in blends with Grenache), and the wine has some flavors of incense, licorice, and red fruit. Pretty enjoyable, especially when paired with the delicious duck confit, though sadly, by the time we got to the duck, we only had a little wine left in our glasses. We only stuck with a bottle of wine that evening, given that we were attending the DGS event at WineStyles directly after.

What a bitch!

Bitch Barossa Grenache 2004, Australia (~$12)

Usually, I steer clear away of bottles with fancy-pants labels – and most of the time with good reason. I mean, I’m Chinese right, and Chinese people know that the best eateries aren’t the prettily done up ones with mood lighting and nattily dressed wait staff; hole-in-the-wall places give the best bang for your buck. This is why I was skeptical, when, shopping at Sam’s Wine with Qian and Bruce in tow, the two excitedly jammed the bottle in my face and urged me to get it. They looked so ecstatic at their find, that I didn’t really have the heart to turn them down. After all, the fun in drinking wine is as much the shared experience of the bottle as the content itself (which is also why, it really sucks to be the only one at a dinner who is drinking).

I brought the bottle to Bruce’s big 30th birthday dinner last night, and we had many good minutes passing the unopened bottle around the table, laughing at its back label: “Bitch, bitch, bitch, ….and bitch some more.” When we finally opened it, we weren’t disappointed. At 14.7% alcohol, I had expected a really hot wine, but it turned out to be quite light and lively, with tastes of cherry and milk chocolate. Compared with the somewhat sharp and tart finish of the Estancia Pinot Noir that we also had, the Grenache’s finish was soft, and rounded. In all, a fun, simple, and easy to drink wine that would make the perfect centerpiece for any lively and engaging dinner.

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