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Cool-Vintage Grenache
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 14, 2013
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Quivira Vineyards and Winery, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) Wine Creek Ranch Grenache 2011 ($30):  Wines from the red Grenache grape are everywhere, but it’s not often that we have the chance to focus on Grenache as an unblended, varietally-labelled wine.  Cotes du Rhône blends, Châteauneuf du Pape, many blended Spanish reds, Sardinian Cannanou, and Provence rosés -- all these wines rely on the Grenache grape.  But generally winemakers feel that Grenache can use a little help, either because its color is weak, or its alcohol is too high and its tannins too soft, or it lacks heft on the mid-palate.  This delightful 100-percent Grenache is an anomaly.

Quivira Vineyards in Dry Greek Valley is one of California’s most prominent wineries specializing in grape varieties that are best known in France’s Rhône Valley, such as Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache; the winery also has a fine reputation for its Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.  Although Quivira has produced a varietal Grenache for several years, the wine typically contains some Syrah and Mourvedre.  The nature of the 2011 vintage, however -- a cool year, with slow ripening and a late harvest -- enabled winemaker Hugh Chappelle to make a fresh, lively, medium-bodied red in which Grenache stands alone.

Chappelle likes to call this Grenache “a Rhone for Pinot lovers,” probably because it has the freshness, red-fruitiness, depth and relative lightness of some Pinot Noirs -- the more delicate Pinots, not the dense, powerful styles we often see today in California.

Even before you taste, you’ll notice that the wine’s ruby color is only medium intense, which is appropriate for Grenache (as well as Pinot, for that matter).  The aroma boasts vibrant red fruits -- strawberry, cranberry, red cherry -- with a hint of vanilla and a certain woodsy perfume that I associate with Grenache.  In your mouth, the wine is dry and medium-bodied, with only a medium amount of dry but gentle tannins.  Together with the tannins, a firm core of acidity lends structure to the wine, gives it depth, and propels the wine’s energy across your mouth.  But this wine is less about structure than flavor: fresh red fruits, a hint of tart fruit, a tangy, vibrant mix of deliciousness.

The grapes for this wine come entirely from Quivira’s Wine Creek Ranch estate vineyard, an organic- and biodynamic-certified vineyard.  The grapes underwent a five- to seven-day cold soak before fermentation, which seems to have contributed to the wine’s vibrancy of aroma and flavor.  Fermentation occurred through the action of ambient yeasts, and lasted approximately two weeks; aging was in large oak casks -- 600- and 900-gallon foudres -- to maximize the evolution of the tannins and the wine’s own aromas while minimizing oaky character.  Although this wine has 14.1 percent alcohol, it is so well-balanced that it does not taste at all heavy.

I believe that this wine will be tremendously versatile with meals, accommodating rich fish, poultry, veal and pork, as well as dishes in spicy or creamy preparations.  The winery recommends it with grilled lamb -- and why not?

90 Points