*The syndicate of the wine world is always trying to prognosticate about what the next big wine is going to be. During the rise (and leveling off) of Merlot in America, they ventured that it would be Pinot Grigio, Syrah and others, before being caught off guard by the national swell of support for Pinot Noir in the aftermath of the cult hit “Sideways.”
Since then, the syndicate has been trying to dictate what the next big “it” wine will be, as seen by the many investors setting up shop in Argentina and proclaiming the virtues of Malbec. It’s no irony that big name importers and producers just happened to have traveled there in recent years. Sure Malbec is good, but might all the excitement really be about the Benjamins these guys are making off of cheap real estate and labor, smaller taxes and fewer regulations? How many $10 bottles of Argentine Malbec does one have to try before they realize that they all taste relatively the same?
Malbec’s been around for years and there’s nothing wrong with it, but just as the Market (with a little nudge from pop culture) dictated the demand for Pinot Noir, so too will the consumer’s taste buds pick the next big grape. With that being said and with no dog in this race, I’m going to venture a guess that the next big “it” wine just might be one that’s made with the Grenache grape. It’s already planted extensively throughout the Greek/Roman/Anglo influenced world, and it’s an approachable red that the masses of America might take to.
So, before Grenache is passé here in the States, let me give you the skinny on it. First of all, Grenache is one of those tomato words: the French call it Grenache and the Spanish call it Garnacha. Second, when the grape is planted in the Rhone region of France it’s usually blended with Syrah, while the Spanish grow it on stucco and often blend it in sangria, among other things.
The AUSTRALIAN Version: 2005 Tir Na N’og Grenache ($25.99)
It may have a funny name, but it’s a serious wine. Tir Na N’og Grenache is an amazing wine made from hundred year old vines in McClaren Vale, Australia. Gaelic for “Land of Youth,” Tir Na N’og is easier to taste than to pronounce. Phonetically, (tier – nah – nohg) it may not flow all that easily, but this luscious red Grenache, starts off with a chewy wallop of rich black cherry fruit and spice before smoothing out to offer fine tannins and a ripe ample mid-palate.
The WASHINGTON STATE Version: 2005 McCrae Grenache ($21.99)
Here’s a great example of how Washington State is ahead of the California juggernaut when it comes to setting wine trends. The 2005 McCrae Grenache from Washington State is awesome. Raspberry fruit and sweet spices linger from start to finish and make this Grenache completely enjoyable. The brilliant fruit flavors are indicative of that new world push for fruit-forward reds that are ready to drink and don’t require aging. The McCrae has universal appeal and is a great treat for a weekend dinner.
The FRENCH Version
The French love to blend their Rhone varietals together, so I chose two that have been in the market for awhile and are indicative of what you’ll get in regard to the French production of Grenache. The first is the 2005 Chateau de Segries Cote de Rhone which is half Grenache blended with a nice chunk of Syrah and a few other Rhone grapes. It makes for an outstanding food wine with flavors of crushed berries and plum . A great value for $9.99.
For a second choice try the Domaine Brusset Cote du Ventoux, from the southern Rhone. Made from 60% Grenache, the Brusset is a drier style version with earth and leather notes. It’s another food wine that calls for grilled meats and may not be for everyone due to its austere character. Look to pay $11.
The SPANISH Version
Spanish wines always seem to be excellent values and when it comes to Garnacha the trend continues. The 2005 Castillo de Amansa is a great case in point. For a mere $9, the Almansa has a deep garnet color with flavors of black cherries and plums and a slight touch of heat. It’s great for autumn time stews and heartier soups.
Other alternatives include the well-touted Las Rocas Garnacha and the 2005 Almira Los Dos. Grapey with notes of candied cherry, the Los Dos is fairly simple and would be a solid pizza or burger wine. For $8 you can’t really expect more. And although the Los Dos isn’t a number one wine, it is a safe second in this Spanish listing.
A version of this column was published in 2007 in the Knoxville News Sentinel.