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Hearty varietal has found a home in California

May 18, 2010 | 11:25 am

It is hard to take Grenache seriously. Oh, sure, it's serious enough in august bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat, where the grape fills out the lion's share of blends with an earthy depth and frequent profundity. But almost everywhere else the variety is grown, in Spain, Australia, southern France from Roussillon to the Rhône, it is a considerably more humble wine.

That seems to be its fate in California soils too, even though few red varieties are better suited to the state's congenial climate: It's one of those rare reds that stays in the game no matter what Mother Nature throws at it, as long as it's sunny and warm.

Grenache in California has four great virtues: its deep garnet color, its abundant bright red berry fruitiness, its bracing acidity and a tannic payload that tends to strike as soon as it hits the mouth. But these can feel like a few spindly chairs in a sparsely furnished room: functional but hard to integrate. An American Grenache can feel a bit primary, as if missing a dimension. It simply doesn't fill the room.

"Grenache grows beautifully and easily, makes wonderful components for wines," says Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles, which employs Grenache in two of its blends. "But it's hard to make a great wine with it on its own, or almost on its own."

That doesn't stop some wineries from trying, however, and the grape shows promise in a number of Central Coast locales, where, one way or another, winemakers are finding ways to bring out the gravitas in Grenache. Read more here.

-- Patrick Comiskey

Photo: Sashi Moorman checks a glass of Grenache at the Stolpman Vineyards tasting room in Solvang, May 20, 2010. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times