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- More from Mary Ross
"Le Cigare Volant"
Bonny Doon Vineyard
• Suggested retail and availability: About $35 at wine and liquor shops (distributed by Heritage Wine Cellars, Niles)
Like an eager racehorse at the gate, there's a vital tension of tobacco, damp earth and juicy blackberry flavors straining to explode in this 21st vintage homage to Chateauneuf. Winemaker Randall Grahm "restored Grenache as the alpha grape" with Mourvedre, Syrah and other traditional grapes completing the other 50 percent of the blend. Curl up with a glass and Grahm's "Been Doon So Long," recipient of a 2010 James Beard book award. The book documents "winemaking and the culture of wine - a unique and metaphoric language that carries the suggestion of the sweetness and strangeness of life itself."
Grenache is a grape for all seasons.
During the winter holidays, Grenache-based Chateauneuf-du-Pape adds elegant power to the richest roasts. For tailgating season, the Grenache-blend Cotes du Rhone makes a hearty cocktail and quaff to wash down barbecued anything.
And this season, we can take a tip from our Mediterranean where Rosado Garnacha (the grape's Spanish translation) cools summer heat and summery dishes.
Grenache (gren-NAHSH) is a red-skinned grape that thrives in vineyards so hot and arid that little else will grow. Over the centuries, the vine grabbed acreage more for durability than quality of wine, which tends toward rustic charm over beauty.
Still, charm isn't a bad thing, especially in blending vats where Grenache contributes its stewed fruit and pepper flavors, low acid and dependable quantity to soften imperious, low-yielding varieties such as Syrah.
The grape's versatility at the table and its reliability in the vineyard make Grenache the world's most planted red grape, but one few wine lovers know by name, obscured as it is by traditional regional designations, such as Chateauneuf, or modern brands such as "Le Cigare Volant."
But Grenache's season for the spotlight has come, according to The Grenache Symposium, a think-tank of international producers that held its first meeting earlier this month. This gathering of mouths and minds is certain to raise the quality, stature (and hopefully not the price) of Grenache, as "Z.A.P." did for Zinfandel and "P.S. I Love You" for Petite Sirah. But until minutes are published, convene your own Grenache seminar with Ross' Choice and the following wines:
Chateauneuf du Pape, Chateau Beaucastel, Perrin et Fils (France): Dense and layered with a silky mouthfeel enveloping layers of flavors including roasted coffee, charred meats and braised fruits. Serve with game, roasted meats and rich cheese, such as Roquefort. ($120).
"Evodia" Old Vine Garnacha, Altovinum (Spain): Velvet-textured with raisin-y fruit and bittersweet chocolate accents like a vinous candy bar. Pair with rich, casual dishes such as cured meats, beef chop suey and kebabs ($12).
Rosado, Vega Sindoa (Spain): Orange peel, ripe strawberries and lively acidity combine for a dry-ish cocktail and complement to international tapas including sushi, spicy sausage, egg dishes and assorted cheeses ($9).
• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross writes Good Wine. Contact her at email@example.com.