If you’re on the hunt for a red wine that can please a wide variety of palates, Grenache may just be what you’re looking for. Grenache, or Garnacha in Spain, is an incredibly versatile grape that can be used to produce super refreshing whites and juicy, light-bodied reds or smokey, intense and tannic fuller-bodied varieties. France’s Southern Rhône Valley may be the most prolific Grenache-producing area in the world, and Spain may be the grape’s home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find beautiful expressions of the grape in the United States.
In 1992, Grenache made its way to Central California’s Paso Robles when the Tablas Creek Vineyard imported vine cuttings from France. These grapes are sometimes blended (generally with Syrah) but often stand on their own. And in this region, that versatility really shines through. According to Steve and Jackie Gleason, winemakers and owners of Four Lanterns Vineyard & Winery, “Grenache can be beautifully balanced here in Paso. It has the ability to be full-bodied, light-bodied or the perfect middle. In Paso, Grenache can be intriguing, elusive and beautiful in color and flavor, and incredibly strong or delicate.”
I decided to try an array of Grenache selections from Paso Robles, starting with a fresh Grenache Blanc and working my way to a fuller-bodied, rich red. Let’s get tasting.
2020 Grenache Blanc “Andromeda” from Midnight Cellars
This 100% Grenache Blanc expression from Midnight Cellars isn’t anything too wild, but if you’re looking for a crisp California white, you’re not likely to be disappointed. Light lemon in appearance, on the nose, you’ll find aromas of green apple, lime, and baked apricot. Its noticeable acidity is refreshing but not overwhelming. Although it may seem unfussy and unremarkable on your first sip, after you let it open for a moment, you’ll start noticing some yeasty, creamy secondary notes, which is unsurprising considering this wine was aged in 100% French oak barrels. It also has a distinctive touch of minerality to it that gives it an exciting savory spin.
This was a record-breaking year regarding heat in Paso Robles, but even so, the vineyard received little supplemental irrigation according to the winery. Harvesting began earlier than normal but was wrapped up by early November. This vintage is clean and structured, making it perfect for an elevated poolside sipper. This wine would pair well with salad, seafood or other lighter fare.
Winemaker Rich Hartenberger said of this wine, “I originally started to produce Grenache Blanc in 2004 as part of a Rhône-style blend. Paso Robles Grenache Blanc has great natural acidity and lean minerality. I eventually saw how well this variety did and decided to let those attributes shine on their own in a varietal wine.”
2017 Four Lanterns “Jacinth” from Four Lanterns Winery
For those who prefer a light-bodied, chillable red that’s as refreshing as it is flavorful, the 100% Grenache 2017 vintage of Jacinth from Four Lanterns Winery is a top-notch selection from Paso Robles. You’ll first notice the color; this light red is just a few shades off from a rosé and looks immediately inviting. It’s pale, it’s pretty and the color tells you you’re in for something special. On the nose, layers of fresh, juicy raspberry, strawberry jam, red apple and Fruit Roll-Up greet you on the first whiff. After that, subtler notes of spice and cinnamon start to set in.
And it’s not a disappointment on the palate either, with pomegranate and cranberry notes shining through. The finish isn’t exceptionally long, but it leaves you with an unexpected touch of pepper that will make you want to go in for your second sip.
This wine isn’t the most complex Grenache out there, but it has more than enough going on to keep things interesting. As someone who prefers a lighter-bodied red to a bold, tannic one, this is by far my favorite of the group. It’s fresh, fun, easy to drink and would ultimately pair well with a wide variety of dishes. When chilled, it’s perfect for those sunny summer days when you’re looking for a wine that’s relaxed and carefree.
2017 “Beguiling” from Law Estate Wines
This mix of 82% Grenache and 18% Syrah is really something special. This vintage contains the highest percentage of Syrah the winery has ever used for this wine, which sets it apart from the jump. Just complex enough, it was aged for in 30% new oak for 19 months. The result is a serious treat for Grenache lovers. It features notes of plum, black cherries, and tobacco on the nose. Just a hint of orange rind adds some freshness. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and brimming with strawberry and vanilla with an oaky vanilla finish. Noticeable, grippy tannins keep this expression from being too light.
Law Estate Wines cite this wine’s “sexiness,” and we think that’s an apt description. It’s both fruity and spicy, a nice middle ground between the lighter-bodied Jacinth and the next wine I tasted. If you’re looking for something slightly bolder but still not too intense, this Grenache-Syrah blend is a no-brainer.
2018 Austin Hope Grenache
When you’re searching for a bottle to open on a snowy day, the 2018 Austin Hope Grenache is sure to please. It has quite a deep, velvety color, which is your first sign that that this isn’t going to be the easygoing, light-bodied red you can sometimes expect from a Grenache. Plum, oak, caramel, and dark chocolate are immediately evident in the aroma, giving this wine a rich and luxurious feel from the jump. Caramel notes come through once it opens, adding even more complexity to an already-solid first impression.
Your first sip will not disappoint. You’ll be greeted with those dark chocolate flavors immediately, which makes us feel like this wine could be served on its own as a dessert. It’s just tannic enough to ensure that it feels powerful, but it definitely tastes lighter than its appearance would indicate. Creamy with an oaky finish, this may just my second favorite of the bunch.