In the ever-changing world of wine, there are few constants. But every once in a while, you stumble on a wine that makes you remember why everyone makes such a fuss out of the stuff in the first place. I have found such a wine, and it has made me re-obsessed with a grape that I had all but forgotten.
First, the grape: Grenache, or Garnacha if you’re in Spain (we’ll get to that later). It is thought that this grape originated in the area of northern Spain/southern France around the Pyrenees. It traveled further inland in Spain and farther north into France, as well. It is now grown worldwide, but the classic versions of this grape remain the wines of the Languedoc region of France, where it is made into red and rose, the southern Rhone, where it is used as a major blending grape, and throughout northern Spain.
“Wow,” you yawn, “that’s really interesting. Why are you boring us, Penniless?”
Okay, you know how I’m always saying things like “hints of blackberry” and “notes of pipe tobacco?” And you know how sometimes you smell or taste a wine and, even if you like it, you’re like, “Pipe tobacco?! I don’t smell any pipe tobacco!” Well, I have found a wine so bursting with spice and fruit flavor that you will swear you just opened a jar of Smucker’s preserves.
The wine: Bitch Barossa Grenache 2008 ($10.99 @ America’s Wineshop, 398 Third Ave., betw. 28th and 29th streets, 800-865-0982). I know, I know. It’s an Australian wine with a coy and cutesy name. I hate them as much as you do, probably more. I was beyond reluctant to try this wine, simply because of the name and packaging. On the back, where there is usually a description of the producer or grape varietal, all that was found was the word “bitch” written 68 times. Adorable.
But I did try it, and I am happy to say that the makers of this wine have earned their twee-ness. First there was the color, which was ruby red and intense, but just barely opaque. The aroma was so powerful that I could smell it while pouring. The familiar scent of candy spice drops was the most powerful note, followed by more cinnamon and rhubarb. Then there was the flavor. To say that it tasted of strawberry is akin to saying the pope has a passing interest in peculiar headwear. Strawberry preserve, strawberry concentrate, baked strawberry, strawberry pie—call it what you want, it was utterly blissful and transporting. This was easily my number one or number two wine of 2009.
After my bitchy experience down under, I started to revisit the world of Grenache and craved more spicy, strawberry-laden juice. I was unable to find another wine that blew my socks as far across the room as the vino from Barossa, but I did taste some mighty fine wine that represented other styles of Grenache in a respectable manner.
From the Catalyud area of Spain (in the northeastern corner) comes a Garnacha (pronounced gar-NAH-kah) called Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha 2007 ($8.99 @ Yorkshire Wine and Spirits, 1646 First Ave. at 85th St., 212-717-5100). Not as plump or fruit forward as the Bitch, this Garnacha is still full of spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, with fruit ranging from baked raspberry to mild strawberry. It’s a little more rustic and earthy on the finish, making it a great wine to have with food.
For a good example of how Grenache is used in blending, go no further than the southern Rhone. Chateau de Montfaucon Cotes du Rhone 2008 ($12 @ Hudson Wine Merchants, www.hudsonwinemerchants.com) is a great example of the lighter style of this versatile and tasty French table red. Lighter in fruit, but heavier in spice, the flavor components range from under-ripe mulberry to black pepper on the finish.
But don’t take my word for it. Try these Grenache-based wines yourself. I guarantee you’ll be yelling “bitch” after your first sip.
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