From amontillado we go to a much more contemporary sort of wine, grenache from California.
Also known as garnacha in Spain, where the grape is thought to have originated, grenache has long been a part of the California equation. It was an essential component in old mixed black heritage vineyards, in which many different black grapes were planted and vinified all together.
Over the last 30 years, I’ve seen a few good examples of California grenache, but it’s really been in the last decade or so that grenache has stepped out in California as an interesting wine with a great potential to evolve.
Grenache is grown around the world, including the southern Rhône Valley, where it appears (sometimes alone and sometimes in blends) in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. In Catalonia, grenache is the backbone of Priorat and Montsant. The grape can be found in many other parts of Spain, in Sardinia and in Australia.
Grenache wines must walk a narrow path. The grapes thrive in hot, dry places. But if too hot, and the grapes get overripe, the wines can be sweet, hot and dispiriting. If grown carefully and vinified without solely power in mind, grenache can be spicy, herbal and complex.
Because of this balancing act, grenache is often blended with other grapes. They can add tannins, acidity and other characteristics that grenache lacks. But not always. Château Rayas, the great Châteauneuf that has become one of the world’s most coveted wines, is made entirely of grenache.
The three wines I recommend are:
Dashe Dry Creek Valley Grenache Les Enfants Terribles 2016, $25
Donkey & Goat California the Gallivanter 2016, $20
Jolie-Laide Sonoma County Rossi Ranch Grenache-Syrah 2015, $48
One of these, the Dashe, is pure grenache. The other two are blends.