Category Archives: Grenache

Priorat Re-vitalised

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Most wine drinkers will be familiar with the name ‘Cava’ although, according to a recent survey, surprisingly few who bought it knew where it came from.  The correct answer is, of course, Catalonia, but this region in the north-east of Spain has far more than just the popular sparkling wine to offer.  I’m thinking, in particular, of the marvellous, intense red wines from the remote hills of Priorat. 

Vines were first planted there by Carthusian monks in 12th century and wine has been made there ever since.  But, by the 1980s, Priorat’s vineyards were regularly being abandoned and the area was in danger of disappearing from the wine map.  It was so steep and the stony land so difficult to work that most of the traditional farmers found winemaking there uneconomic and the younger generation were lured towards jobs in the larger towns or the tourist resorts along the coast. 

But a small group, led by Rene Barbier, were moving in the opposite direction.  They recognised the potential in the very old bush vines of Garnacha (Grenache) and Carinena (Carignan) and in the unusual llicorella soil, comprised of decomposed slate and quartz, which reflects the heat and aids the ripening of these late-maturing varieties.  Now, some 30 years later, the area has been re-vitalised and is producing some outstanding wines and, although the most prestigious ones sell for £200 or more, you can find some extremely attractive bottles for a lot less.

PrioratTake Arc de Pedra, available from Majestic, for example (£12.99).  At first sip, you find lovely sweet red fruits but, as it develops in the glass, it reveals raisins, prunes and subtle hints of vanilla and toasted almonds.  As you might expect, this is a big wine (14%) but it is well balanced.  The 2016 vintage that we opened was still showing quite prominent tannins, and although it went well enough with the strong flavours of a venison steak, in truth I probably opened it a couple of years too soon.  But, whether you drink it now or keep it, it would certainly benefit from decanting a couple of hours in advance, a comment that would apply equally to most of the deep, brooding reds from this – happily – rediscovered area.

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Acidity: Good or Bad?

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Tahbilk Viognier Alsace Gewurz Faustino 1

‘Lemony’, ‘citrussy’, ‘refreshing’, ‘clean’: you often see these words in descriptions of wine.  What they’re really saying is that the wine has plenty of acidity, but in a good way.  And, so long as the acidity doesn’t dominate and is in balance with the rest of the flavours, I’d generally agree that some acidity in a wine is a positive.  It can make the wine more refreshing and attractive on the palate and it can also help make it more food-friendly by cutting through any richness or greasiness in a dish.  But a few people – including a very good friend of ours – are particularly sensitive to acidity and my ‘lemony-freshness’ becomes their ‘tart and shudderingly unpleasant’.  As a result, they need to choose their wine very carefully.

Wines made from certain grapes tend to be naturally more acidic than others: famous varieties Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon all fall into this category.  So, despite their attractions for the rest of us, acidity-haters should concentrate their attention elsewhere.  But it’s not just the grape variety that’s important: as grapes ripen, the level of sugar in them increases but the level of acidity decreases, so wines from warmer regions of the world, where the grapes are likely to be riper, will, in general, be less acidic than those from cooler climates.  Those are two useful factors to bear in mind but, as with much in the wine world, things are not as simple as that:  some producers actually add acidity during the winemaking process – it’s quite legal and they would argue that they’re just compensating for what would otherwise be an unbalanced wine.

So, where should those who dislike acidity look?  The pictures above suggest a few good places to start: for white wines, Gewurztraminer, Viognier and Semillon are all varieties that are naturally quite low in acidity while, for reds, Tempranillo – the main Rioja grape – or Grenache – a key player in many Côtes du Rhônes, are the same.  And, watch out for wines made by less interventionist winemakers, as they are less likely to have acidity added.

But, most of all, taste widely and, if you find wines that suit your palate, stick with them.

 

A Glorious Grenache

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Some grape varieties are always being talked about: I’m thinking of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir in particular as well as more recently fashionable grapes like Grüner Veltliner and Alboriño.  Others, you rarely hear anything about.  Take Grenache, for example (or Garnacha, if you prefer the Spanish naming).  Even in the 1990 census, when it was the 2nd most widely planted variety in the world, no-one took much notice of it, it was just there, usually in a blend with other grapes: with Syrah in the southern Rhône, with Tempranillo in Rioja.  And, it was rarely credited on labels – although the Australians used the initial for their ‘GSM’ blends (the SM being Shiraz and Mourvedre).

So, I wasn’t entirely surprised when the latest grape census (University of Adelaide, 2011) showed that more than a third of all Grenache had been grubbed up in the intervening 20 years and the variety had slipped from 2nd to 7th place.  Yet, I think it’s a great grape variety when well handled and, happily, there are still some glorious examples around.  Perrin & Fils’ Gigondas Vieilles Vignes (West End Wines, £22) is one. 

GigondasDeep, intense and really savoury, this wine, from one of the best villages of the southern Rhône, shows the benefit of making wine from old vines (vieilles vignes) – in this case, according to the label, from pre-phylloxera vines (so, by my calculations, vines that are at least 140 years old – the deadly bug struck the region in the 1870s!)

Unusually for the appellation, this Gigondas is made from 100% Grenache, which probably accounts for the high alcohol (15%).  Although typical of this sun-loving, free-ripening variety, here, with all the other flavour elements in balance, there’s no burn and the alcohol complements rather than intruding.

So, while Grenache may never be as popular as Cabernet or Pinot Noir, look carefully and you’ll find some really great drinking.