Becoming a wine lover can be easy and educating yourself about this fascinating subject can be as simple and fun as drinking a glass. How hard is that?
What often happens, alas, is that we drink ourselves into a corner by getting into a rut of always drinking the same thing. When I first started drinking wine, I was all about Napa Cabernet. I loved the stuff. And why wouldn’t I? This, of course, was in the late eighties when Napa Cab was still affordable. It’s practically all I would drink, and as far as my wine education, that was not necessarily a good thing.
How to Drink Yourself Out of a Corner
As my tastes grew and changed, I soon fell in love with Burgundy, and for a brief time, it became the wine I drank most often. Burgundy wine makes Napa seem downright affordable. Clearly my tastes in wine skewed to the pricey side. These are ruts I had to get out of if I was going to further my wine education and remain solvent. Not that I don’t enjoy and love these wines, but by looking beyond my usual choices, my palate as well as my cellar have expanded considerably.
Learning about a wine or grape variety requires little more than a willingness to explore a new aisle of your wine shop or to chat with the folks who work there. Tell them what you like, while staying open to suggestions and how much you’re willing to spend. Don’t be bashful. If you’re looking for a wine in the $10-$12 range, most shops have something that can accommodate.
You don’t have to seek out some exotic grape like St. Laurent or Bobal. In fact, there’s likely wine out there that you’re at least a little familiar with that you’ve never really delved into.
Please Allow Me to Introduce Grenache, Which You Already Know
You likely know grenache as a blending grape from the Rhone Valley. Grenache—or if you’re in Spain, garnacha—is a grape that had its beginnings in the hot, Mediterranean climate of Aragon; today, this region covers parts of Spain, France, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, Croatia and Greece. It can also grow in the United States, Australia and even Africa. Grenache is a versatile grape.
Winemakers have approached grenache with more serious intent in recent decades. By lowering yields and applying state-of-the-art winemaking techniques, wines made from grenache have soared in quality. Grenache thrives on hot, dry Mediterranean days and grows exceptionally deep roots, making it highly sustainable even as the globe warms. Its vines also often exceed a century in age and produce grapes late into the year.
Many grenache vineyards have vines averaging forty to fifty years old. All these attributes lead to wines of great depth and concentration, without being overly tannic. Like many great wine-growing regions, Aragon has a strong, dry and largely cold wind called Cierzo, which some feel affects the quality of the grapes. Grenache has a pinot noir-like ability to relay terroir, and because this grape grows in so many locations, there are a lot of flavors available in wine made from just this one type of grape.
Types of Grenaches
There are three most types of grenache you’re most likely encounter. Grenache Noir is the most common, typically showing flavors of red berries, moderate acidity and low tannins. White grenache has a moderately full, fleshy body and flavors of apple, pear and peach with a balanced acidity that works nicely with the body. Grenache Gris makes wine of great freshness, showing citrus notes.
On the French side of the border, you’re likely to find grenache blended (usually with the typical suspects, Syrah and Mourvèdre) whereas in Spain it’s not uncommon to find garnacha made as a varietal. In the Roussillon region, there’s a fortified sweet wine called Vin Doux Naturel. These wines are wonderful served chilled as an aperitif or digestif. Vin du Naturale is like port, but don’t say that to French locals: they’ll quickly refute any such assertion with typical Gallic pride.
In Spain, garnacha is commonly made as a varietal wine. The hot days of the Catalan summer combined with the cooling Cierzo winds, like the Mistral winds of the Rhône valley, make for ideal growing conditions. After a long summer on the vines, when the garnacha ripens, it produces a wine of bold body and flavors without being very tannic.
A Secret… And Some Recs
Okay, if you’ve made it this far, I’ve got a secret. Grenache and garnacha offer insane value. In Europe, many high-quality examples can be found for under ten euro, and in the United States these wines are easily found for around fifteen bucks or less.
So, move on from your typical pinot noir, cabernet, malbec or chardonnay and give a shot to a wine grape you’ve heard of, but don’t really know. Here are two very good, high-value wines made with grenache that you should check out:
Domaine Lafage Bastide Miraflors 2020
A syrah and grenache blend. Aromas of redcurrant, violets, dark mixed berries and black pepper. On the palate, flavors of black cherry, blackberry and peppercorns. Rich, full body with hints of smoked meat. A dynamite wine. $13
Bodega San Alejandro Evodia 2020
This one-hundred-percent garnacha offers aromas of blackberry, blueberry yogurt and violets. Flavors are bright and balanced with silky, smooth tannin. Perhaps a touch lean through the midpalate, but followed by a long, delicious finish. $11
These wines are value priced, so it doesn’t cost a lot to educate yourself about what might be a somewhat unfamiliar grape; it might be the least expensive education you’ve ever pursued… And the pursuit is the fun of wine.