By Celia Strong
Beginning anew. So nice in so many ways, especially when wine and drinking it are concerned. Since we ended last year with a selection of three white wines, I though we could start this year with three red wines that are all made from the same grape variety. A common denominator for sure and it helps keep us organized. By now, we must have all learned, keeping organized when wine is part of something can be a bit harder. So, you learn how to outsmart yourself when you have to.
Our first grape variety for the new year is Grenache. This is one of the most widely planted red varieties in the world, with France and Spain the biggest producers. In fact, it probably originated in Spain. Grenache needs hot, dry growing conditions because it ripens late naturally. Generally, the wines made from Grenache are lacking in acidity, tannin and color so it is often blended with other varieties. Which other varieties depends on where it is grown — other Rhône varieties in France, Tempranillo in Spain, etc.
Grenache wines are usually spicy and berry-flavored. Also, they have red fruit flavors, raspberry and strawberry and white pepper notes. They are soft textured and have high alcohol levels. (Late ripening means higher sugar levels, which in turn means more alcohol in the finished wines.) Best results for these wines come from controlling the yields of the vines. These wines have a tendency to oxidize easily, which shows as color receding from the rim of the glass. As they age, Grenache wines lean toward more leather and tar flavors.
Grenache is known by several names, also depending on where it is grown. Most likely, the grape known as “Garnacha” originated in the Aragon region in northern Spain. From there, plantings spread to Calatayud and other lands controlled by the Crown of Aragon, including the Italian island of Sardinia and the Rousillon area in southern France. By the 19th century, Grenache was well established in southeastern France, in the Rhône Valley and the Languedoc. In the 18th century, it was one of the first varieties introduced into Australian vineyards. (It did well there, until it was surpassed by their now famous Shiraz wines.)
Beginning in Spain, Garnacha is grown in Calatayud, Carinena and Campo de Borjia. Garnacha is also, sometimes, used in the Rioja region. Since the last part of the 20th century, total plantings of Garnacha in Spain have been declining, down from over 400,000 acres to about 203,000 acres.
Our Spanish wine this week comes from a growers’ co-op, Bodega San Alejandro (BSA), founded in 1962. Today, over 350 growers are members of BSA, with almost 3,000 acres in Calatayud. This is a Spanish DO region, declared in 1989. Eleven varieties are allowed in the DO, but Garnacha is by far the most popular and most planted. Our label is BSA member Las Rocas. (Literally translated, “rocas” is rocks, so now we know what the land here looks like.) Las Rocas Garnacha is a vibrant red color with dark cherry and blackberry flavors and aromas. There are some subtle oak (vanilla) notes and round, soft tannins. Part of the finished wine is barrel aged, in both French and American barrels. At $10.99, this is an easy to approach version of Spanish Garnacha.
Moving on to our second Grenache wine, we have D66. An Orin Swift California version of this variety? No! It’s a French version. But no, actually, it’s kind of both. What does that mean? Orin Swift is a winery in Napa, California. But, they do own some vineyards in southeastern France. France is divided into numbered “départements;” number 66 is the one in which these vineyards are located. This Grenache wine is very much an American in style — big, rich, heavy and full-bodied. It is dark red, so dark it is almost opaque, with dark cherry aromas mixed with oak and vanilla notes. The body is intense and concentrated in your mouth with strawberries and more red fruit flavors and a long, lingering finish. There are small amounts of Syrah and Carignan blended in. Most Grenache wines are not as full and heavy as D66, but fans do love this wine. For $39.99.
Our third Grenache wine is from Sardinia, an island located about 150 miles off the west coast of Italy. Of the 20 Italian DOC regions, this is the one with the smallest production level. Our impression of Italy, with all its wines and foods and culture based around them, does not seem to apply to Sardinia. Wine here, both culturally and historically, is much less important and noticeable. Most of their vineyards are on the western side of the island. Sella and Mosca is in the northwest corner of Sardinia.
Interestingly, in Sardinia, our Grenache grape is known as Cannonau. Their version of the legend of its origins says it started on the island and spread from there to Aragon, the reverse of the more excepted version. The Grenache, or Cannonau, that grows here is slightly different from the grape from mainland Europe, having adapted to the conditions on Sardinia, meaning clay and sand soils, salt air. Sella and Mosca’s Cannonau, for $13.99, is made from estate grown grapes, 100 percent this variety, and aged two years in Slavonian oak barrels. It, too, is a dark red colored wine, with red fruit and violet aromas and some plum flavors.
The most interesting thing about our third wine comes from an article by Dr. Oz. It seems that the residents of Sardinia tend to live much longer and healthier lives. Longer, like many live past 100 years old with no serious health issues. Their lifestyle and their dark red wine are given a lot of the credit for this. Apparently, the concentration of flavors and textures in Sardinian Cannonau wines are above and beyond those in other Grenache wines. So, I guess, so are the health benefits? Ever since this article by Dr. Oz was published, some customers have started drinking a glass of Sella and Mosca Cannonau every day. Some claim to feel better, some claim better cholesterol numbers, better blood pressure numbers, etc. Maybe the wine is helping. Maybe they are just relaxing a bit. Maybe we don’t know and never will. But, it might be worth a try.
And, if we don’t like one Grenache wine, we’ve got others to go to. And, if one glass a day is good, maybe one and a half is too? Trying some of these wines can be fun and relaxing. Our new lifestyle? Healthy and happy! Enjoy.