Happy International Grenache Day! Didn’t realize that today’s the day? Don’t really know what Grenache is? It’s the grape varietal represented by the “G” in GSM (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre) a popular (and wonderfully balanced, delicious) Rhône blend. It is also a primary ingredient (out of a possible 13) in Châteauneuf du Pape. This warm weather grape produces a bright, red-fruity, easy drinking to elegantly complex wine. Grenache speaks with a different accent in different parts of the globe. You may love Garnacha from Spain for instance – same grape. I had a particularly striking Lomita, Pagano Garnacha in Baja, Mexico recently. Being a Californian I’m partial to expressions from our very own Rhône Rangers (Tablas Creek, Bonny Doon, Dashe, Donkey & Goat).
But I’m here to tell you about wine from a growing region that might not immediately jump to mind: the Côtes Catalanes, a sub-appellation of the Roussillon in France. We’re talking Spain-adjacent, a bit west and south of the Rhône. Steep windy hillsides, black schist soils, plenty of sunshine and a cooling maritime influence allow the old vines planted there to offer up a ripe, savory bouquet to the nose and palate. Winemaker Dave Phinney, of The Prisoner and Locations fame, fell in love with the area and set up shop in Maury, France some ten years ago. France has Departments, the way America has States – so Dave named his winery Department 66 after Maury’s location.
Don’t worry if you neglected to get me a gift for International Grenache Day. Dave’s team generously sent me a trio of his Grenache based gems to try.
- Department 66 “Fragile” Rosé 2017 SRP $18
Nose: floral, rhubarb
Palate: crisp white peach and nectarine, juicy (but not overly sweet) strawberry and perhaps a touch of kiwi flow over a stony river bed. Refreshing and invigorating, a lovely complement to cold poached salmon both aesthetically and culinarily.
- Department 66 “Others” Red Wine 2015 SRP $25
Nose: herbs! garrigue (typical for Southern France), earth, plum
Palate: both savory and sweet, damson, cherry cola, raspberry mid-palate, mushroomy earthiness, somewhat rustic with a lingering mineral finish.
Grenache gets the masculine treatment here, smooth yet firm tannins and good acidity that would pair nicely with a bacon cheeseburger.
- Department 66 “D66” Grenache 2014 SRP $38
Nose: savory, bright, red fruit, spicy
Palate: round, medium-plus body, pomegranate, currant, anise, lovely balance, powerful with a watermelon Jolly Rancher finish.
Serious punch from ample alcohol, feisty fruit expressive of warm climate. To sip and savor with or without food. Yum.
At the risk of sounding hackneyed, I submit that Grenache Is The New Pinot. If you love an elegant, balanced dare I say “feminine” wine (as opposed to a big brawny manly fruit bomb), give Grenache a try. As one of the world’s most widely planted red wine grapes it’s easy to find –you can even order Department 66 wines online. KEN