When did Grenache/Garnacha become such a big deal? In the youthful days (the early to mid- 1970’s) of my wine career, I remember drinking Ridge wines with then winemaker and now winemaker/CEO Paul Draper at the winery on Monte Bello Road, sipping Grenache in cool mixed red blends. I always found those wines compelling and fun, but what did Grenache contribute to those wines? Was it just a part of the bigger picture? Could this grape stand alone and be successful and also play nicely in a mix with other varietals?
The winery writes, “Ridge became involved with grenache quite by accident when, in 1972, we first harvested the nineteenth-century vines on the eastern hills of Lytton Springs. Though we didn’t know it then, one of the hills—planted in 1902—had a high percentage of grenache interplanted with small amounts of zinfandel and petite sirah.” Yeow, the grape had history in California.
In January 1995, I was on a tour de Spain with a group of U.S. retailers. Led by a pioneer U.S. importer of Spainish wines, Jorge Ordoñez, my colleagues and I endured what we commonly say the “death march” of the wine business (when you travel abroad and visit wineries non-stop for a week, including long rides on buses and trains and even planes). I have endured these trips in France, Australia, Italy as well as Spain. This is where we all learn to sleep on buses and enjoy our music playlists.
This Ordoñez trip was quite fine, but one of the most memorable moments for me was my accidental discovery of Garnacha as a stand alone varietal. We stayed at the rustic Remellluri Winery in Alvara, Spain. The Riojas were outstanding, but the taste of glory came when Jorge asked me to join him in the kitchen to try this experimental wine that winemaker Telmo Rodriguez of Remuelluri had made. I looked at this bottle, with some skepticism. Hand-written, “T.R.S. Muestra “Navarra,” I had no idea what this was, but it was good and super delicious. Jorge then grinned and whispered, “You don’t have this wine (to sell).” All of this wine was earmarked for the U.K. He simply wanted me to do is to taste it and comment. Well, I eventually persuaded him to send a palate to the U.S. and he did. That first Spanish Garnacha was then labeled, 1994 Alma Garnacha (Navarra) and started me on my Grenache/Garnacha journey.
Where to go? First of all, I sold all of the Alma immediately to my customers at a small San Francisco retailer, moved onto a bigger retail position with a new company and immediately began to travel the wine world. I never lost sight of Garnacha, and my new position opened up a whole new world of the varietal. My palate spent lots of time in southern Rhône where I had opportunity to taste unblended Grenache in all of its red-fruit glory.
Today my first love goes to Spanish Garnacha, where the grape has become one of the world’s greatest red wine values. Often vibrant and soulful and enjoyed without discussion, but as a chief storyteller, I am prone to talk and this grape is now front and center in my discussion points. Our Wine.com team recently took part in a Granacha Tweet-Up #lovegranacha and all of us agree that we love a good Granacha! Not only the red versions, but the white, the rose and even the sweet! No matter your preferred wine style, it’s possible you can find a Garnacha to fit it!
While I will always have a soft spot for the GSM’s and other wines that include Garnacha, I am biggest on pushing the world to discover this red wine for the everyday dinner table. I encourage you to bring the 2012 Los Rocas Garnacha to your next get-together. Hola Garnacha!