Grenache, one of the most widely planted red wine grape in the world, was celebrated in all its glory during International Grenache Day, September 21, at a tasting hosted by Paso Robles Rhône Rangers chapter at Niner Wine Estates. Championed by Jason Haas, general manager and partner at Tablas Creek Vineyard, the Paso chapter established in 2007 has grown from the original 30 members to 60.
A two-hour tasting brought together 27 Paso wineries offering grenache in a variety of ways — rosés, grenache blanc and grenache noir (known simply as grenache), sparkling grenache and blended with syrah and mourvedre.
The excellent representation of wines reflected Paso’s diversity with this varietal ranging from ruby-hued to deep inky color and from spicy to berry-loaded. Widely planted in Spain, where it’s known as garnacha, the varietal is a prominent component of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines produced in France’s Southern Rhône region. In Australia and California, grenache is an essential grape blended with syrah and mourvedre, popular know as the GSM blend.
According to USDA’s 2017 California grape report, there are 110 acres of grenache blanc and 498 acres of grenache noir planted. In Paso, known for Rhône-style wines, there are 14 varieties planted, according to Haas. Besides the popular grenache, syrah, mourvedre, marsanne, roussanne and viognier, there are other such obscure grapes as terret noir, picpoul, picardan, counois and cinsaut. Add to this two more — bourboulenc and vacarese that have been recently planted at Tablas Creek Vineyard.
At the walkabout tasting I discovered a newcomer to Paso, Anita Kothari, who along with her partner Varinder Sahi acquired Copia Vineyards from its previous owners Michael and Andrea Dewitt. Wines produced from their Willow Creek district property on Paso’s westside were well structured and complex and are offered through Copia’s tasting room at Paso Underground downtown.
Kothari poured a vibrant 2017 grenache blanc, melodious with citrus and pineapple notes; the 2016 The Blend, a deep-hued GSM lush with violets, blackberry and lavender; and the 2016 Pope grenache, fragrant with aromas of wild strawberry and cranberry with medium body tannins. The latter wine, just-bottled, is not yet available in the tasting room.
Another grenache making its 2015 vintage debut at the event was from Le Cuvier. According to owner/winemaker John Munch’s whimsical and poetic tasting notes, the wine is “zafting, a delightfully vibrant ruby-bright and nubile teeny-bopper with a crimson pomegranate bob twirling.” That actually wasn’t a bad description.
At the Cypher table, its new tasting room manager Michelle Brice Kraker offered the 2013 grenache sourced from Villa Creek vineyards, a wine evocative of Paso garrigue, with herbal expression of anise and wild sage and singing with bright acidity layered with soft tannins.
Kim Roderiguez, whose 1,000-case annual production is crafted by winemaker Jeremy Leffert for her Rhône-focused Vigo label, served the 2017 grenache, a wine tart with tension and a rose petal fragrant rosé of grenache and syrah. Kukkula’s 2014 pas de deux, an equal blend of grenache and syrah, was a lyrical dance of balanced fruit and spice.
From its own scenic Heart Hill vineyard, now a landmark along Highway 46 West, Niner’s 2014 estate grown grenache flexed its muscle as it was co-fermented with some syrah to add that extra depth and tannins to a wine that is bold but not overpowering. Similarly, the lush Sculpterra 2014 grenache was blended with petite sirah to give the wine a deep inky color.
From Tablas Creek Vineyard, I tasted the 2017 vintages of a vibrant grenache blanc and the popular Patelin de Tables rosé, a strawberry-layered Provencal style blend of grenache, mourvedre, counoise and syrah.
Sparked by their maverick spirit, some Paso winemakers indulge in creativity that goes beyond crafting the usual GSM. Powell Mountain’s winemaker Bill Powell, for instance, offered a bold and muscular grenache blended with zinfandel, primitivo, cabernet franc, merlot and sangiovese.
The lineup of wines laid out on Niner’s scenic terrace also included impressive offerings from Derby Wine Estates, Dilecta, Calcareous, Stillwaters, Summerwood, Bodega de Edgar, Four Lanterns, Ecluse, Caliza and Kaleidos. All wines were savored with small bites from Niner’s restaurant and an impressive artisan cheese spread from Central Coast Creamery.