Smokin’ hot…or Rhone if you want to
A little humor goes a long way – maybe more so when it’s unintentional. In this case, an amusing and almost unnoticeable gaffe helps me underscore the merits of Grenache, a less-than-mainstream grape that should be on your list. Even if you’re already drinking Grenache you may not realize it. Keep that in mind the next time you pull the cork on a red Rhone blend like Chateauneuf du Pape or Cotes du Rhone. The juicy, ruby fruit balancing the muscular and spicy Syrah (and often other varieties)? That’s Grenache.
To warm you to the punch line, I’ll start with the bottle, a 2010 Birichino Amici Grenache purchased during a 2011 trip to Napa. It comes from California’s Central Coast / Santa Barbara County region, a surging contributor to the state’s vinicultural scene. Wineheads, Rhone Rangers in particular, are quite keen on the Central Coast – primarily for its honest, terroir-centric efforts. At their best, these wines are typically lower in alcohol and short on trickery like oak infusion and grapey over-extraction. Producers like Melville, Margerum and Tablas Creek have dedicated European leanings, allowing the winemaking process to occur in the vineyard rather than, say, a lab. Their emphatic subtlety – forgive the forced contradiction – and food-leaning qualities like acidity and earthiness are a welcome counter to Big Dumb American Wine.
Back to the bottle. In keeping with their Rhone ways, the folks at Birichino designed a Frenchified back label for the Amichi Grenache. For those who don’t parlez, the copy is bilingual and this is when the funny comes in. Beginning with the benefits of the grape, the description moves on to food pairing suggestions. And I quote: Savor it over a smokin’ hot girll with boldly seasoned BBQ, or indoors, with braised leg of lamb, or seared tuna.
With that advice, my wife and I savored our bottle with friends at Matyson in Philly. No girlls were doused or otherwise disrespected in the process. The wine wasn’t exactly smokin’ hot or rapturous but it was called out favorably by our friends. It was a brightly flavored (think raspberry and cherry with a pleasant touch of leather) accompaniment to my appetizer of scallops with Vietnamese meatballs (dynamite).
Whatever your hedonistic intentions, adding Grenache to your must-haves is a safe bet. Don’t just take it from me. Take it from hundreds of years of French know-how (and a California come lately): In the higher order of life’s pleasures, food and wine are forever liked. Er, make that linked.