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
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
“Wow,” you yawn, “that’s really interesting. Why are you
boring us, Penniless?”
OK, 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 a 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.