They Say “Garnacha” We say “Grenache.”

Grenache makes compelling drink. The French might think they own it, but they would be sadly mistaken.

Do the French produce admirable efforts at Grenache?  Yes, they do – great plantings dot the entirety of the Rhone River Valley, the southern provinces of Languedoc and Rousillon and are they inky unctuous aromatic efforts? Yes, they are.

But when the discussion turns to Spain, therein are the oldest greatest patches of Grenache in the world and there are many who make a study of such things that would argue that Spain is the region of origin.  Toreador indeed.

Spain is a high desert plateau and many of its prime vineyard areas share similar attributes to our own climate; dry, arid, nasty soil where weeds refuse to grow (organic soil whether they like it or not), tremendous diurnal temperature swing (high daytime temperature /low nighttime temperature) and very old vines with very low yields.

These are catnip words to the serious wine dork and they should be as they invariably point to wines with tremendous richness framed by bright acidity.  For some strange reason, these wines are perversely underpriced.  Considering the production parameters on many of these hidden treasures, should these have California labels they’d be 2 x or 3 x the price.

It’s a sturdy and hearty little bugger capable of surviving in arid windy conditions where lesser vines would suffer and despite its thin skin it produces colorful deep rich red wines with lusty flavors and aromatics, this is tough stuff and it makes a compelling bottle of juice, especially when Spain is the country of choice, and thankfully, like so many other categories, Spain is the king of value for the wine consumer.

Where to start?  It doesn’t take much money to enjoy this stuff. Or even do a regional study of Spanish entries alone!  The best however come from two different regions: Calatayud in the northeast and Navarre in the north.  My choices start cheap and stay cheap.

Vina Borgia Spanish Wine

My picks?  The tremendous bottlings from the ancient Roman town of Borsao’s benchmark producer Bodegas Borsao; beginning with the tremendous value that is the Vina Borgia (UDABC Code 914133/ $14.49  – for a 1.5 L bottle), a tank fermented rendition from 50 year old vines, the Camp de Borja bottling (UDABC  Code 914925 / $8.51) and the utterly ridiculous Tres Picos (UDABC Code 914924/ $17.99) bottling which sources fruit from vines 80 + years old and allows some finishing time in French Oak.  The Tres Picos bottling is named for the peaks of the Alto Moncayo mountains which dot the horizon of Calatayud from all  directions and is one of the most tremendous wine values in the world today.  It fools many Very Serious Palates.

In that same neighborhood are wines from a neighboring bodega, Bodegas Atteca.  Atteca is a newer concern run by the Gil family from Jumilla.  Their two bottlings offer serious gravitas to the field with their value priced Garnacha de Fuego (UDABC Code #915230 / $ 8.49) and their contender the Bodegas Atteca  “Atteca” (UDABC Code #915232 / $16.99).

For the professional wine dork, these two properties offer a study of Garnacha terroir, which is abundantly evident; the Borsao bottlings are grown over red gravel and the Atteca bottlings are grown over slate.  Either way, these two sumptuous properties offer pleasure year round but seem especially suited for a cool fall night’s  table filled with harvest bounty.

They are the Goldilocks wines of choice for me, not too heavy, not too hard, as always, they are just right, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee (they average 15% after all).

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The Year 2009

There’s much to be said about 2009.  It’s a momentous year for a variety of reasons; an African-American president, an economic meltdown of historic proportions and a lengthy list of otherwise global chaos – but there was one corner of the earth that ignored the whole mess and responded with meteorological grace and style framed with a series of long warm days and cool nights, this one epic vintage in the south of France, this “year of the Comet.”  The releases are finally popping up like boozy daffodils all over the state wine stores racks.

My personal favorite is also the least expensive Louis Latour Grand Ardeche Chardonnay 2009 (UDABC Code 255425 / $11.49) This is quite frankly the finest Chardonnay value in the whole wide fucking world and it comes from far south of Burgundy in Languedoc, specifically an area called “Ardeche.” The vines are sourced from the great Grand Cru hillside of Corton and farmed exactly the same way as it’s more expensive northern cousin.  Yields here are less than two tons an acre and once the wine finishes fermentation, it rests in two year old French oak barrels, specifically those that had been the home of a much more expensive wine, such as the utterly fabulous Corton Charlemagne.  Keeping in mind production parameters, were this wine made in California, it would have been three times the price.

The southernmost part of the Burgundy appellation, the Macconais, is home to its greatest values.  Two other 2009 Maconnais values that defy description are the Latour Pouilly Fuisse 2009 (UDABC Code 962974 / $21.99) and the Latour Montagny La Grande Roche 2009 (UDABC Code 917092 / $19.99).  Both of these go through malolactic fermentation but do not see any oak treatment.  These are a much fresher brighter counterpoint to the more serious rich spicy tones of the Grand Ardeche, but they have terrific length and minerality with tremendous intensity and what I like to call “lift.” These wines are best served cool, not ice cold, which gives them a chance to show off their unctuous finery.  These Latour 09s are flat-out brilliant with the same length and intensity as the hard-to-find bottlings that cost two and three as this modestly-priced bottle.

There are two other wines that deserve notice.  The venerable Henry Fessy Beaujolais made their debut in Utah with this comet year vintage.  I have hated this grape for so long and with such blazing intensity that it required massive amounts of crow, grilled, sautéed, and otherwise, for me to choke back my shame.

They are quite frankly the most versatile cheese wines I have encountered in my brief career at gluttony (certainly the gluttony is a lifelong venture but having been paid for it is a recent development).  Tasted without food, these wines show modest charms and minimal alcohol, but with a little charcuterie (Jersey translation = meat & cheese plate), they become brilliant aromatic and intense. A.O.C. laws require that yields are kept low and that wines are treated to fine wood ~ so, in short, they are required to make quality wines. As a matter of fact in each of these designated villages like Moulin a Vent and Julienas, they aren’t allowed to make the infamous pink scourge Beaujolais Nouveau at all! Cru Beaujolais really does deserve notice.  Start here. Henry Fessy “Moulin a Vent” Cru Beaujolais 2009 (UDABC Code #917998 / $16.99) and the Henry Fessy “Julienas” Cru Beaujolais 2009 (UDABC Code #917997 / $16.99)


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A Classy Acid Trip

Ever find yourself rummaging in the fridge after a couple late night glasses?  You can thank the acidity in wine for stimulating your salivary glands.  Increasing saliva means you get an increase in digestive enzymes — this is your body signaling to the rest of you “INCOMING!!!!”.   I know that I always get the growls after a glass or two (which explains my ever increasing girth).

What are acids?  Well, some will tell you that acids are substances which concentrate hydronium ions in solution (not that I understand a word of what I just said, but in practical terms, think of acidity as “tartness”).  Grapes that are harvested at lower sugars will make wines that taste more tart thanks to higher acidity and lower sugar in the fruit, they will also have lower alcohol and feel more refreshing in the mouth.

Few grapes express that bright acid freshness better than Sauvignon Blanc.  Its most classic benchmark expressions come from France’s Loire River Valley where these wines show bright lemon-lime, mineral and citrus zest flavors and aromas.  New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc gives a riper show; with lots of pink grapefruit and in California it’s a bit of a free-for-all with a pastiche of flavors and aromas depending on the winemaker at work.    Either way, winemakers for the most part like to keep it clean and fresh, which means minimal oak and minimal second fermentations that soften the primary acids fresh charms.

My advice?  Buy and drink, same grape of course, but from different regions.  Three great places to start are with some of my new favorites; Honig Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Utah Code 912696 / $13.99). Winemaker Kristin Belair makes a textbook perfect clean style.  This wine never sees any oak or malolactic fermentation so it tastes fresh and snappy and clean as grapes off the vine.

Phenom Geordie Carr takes an entirely different look at Sauvignon Blanc with his Bump Cellars Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Utah Code 918097 / $14.99) This is a big, juicy, sumptuous fruit forward style that shows the tropical end of Sauvignon Blanc.

Perhaps the most intense of the group is the Saracina Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Utah Code 916733 / $17.99) this shows a stunning leesy richness with a backbone of steel.  This sees stainless steel only but the extended lees contact gives it a thrilling grip.  And just for fun, grab a bottle of one of my perennial favorites and see what all the fuss about New Zealand is about Spy Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Utah Code 915608 / $14.99) offers up a bracing blast of fresh grapefruit framed by sweet herbs.  Its all a win win win win from here.  Don’t forget to stop by Caputos and grab a little goat cheese (its always a perfect match with sauvignon blanc)

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