A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Grenache Blanc - Clarksburg, California, USA

Grenache Blanc is the fourth or fifth most planted white grape in all of France, which might lead someone to scratch their head at its inclusion on a site like this.  Well, I would say to the doubter, go out and try to find a varietally bottled Grenache Blanc.  Yes, the grape is widely grown in France and in Spain to some extent, but it is almost always used in a blend and rarely seen in a varietal bottling.  Further, today's wine isn't from France or Spain, it's from California, which is certainly not a hotbed of Grenache Blanc activity.  In fact, in the 2010 report by the California Food and Agriculture Department, Grenache Blanc is listed as having 266 acres devoted to it in the entire state (Colombard, by contrast, has almost 25,000 acres and king Chardonnay has about 95,000 acres). I generally only ask that a wine meet one of my three criteria for a Fringe Wine and this one hits two (unusual location and unusual style), so here we go.

Grenache Blanc is thought to be native to eastern Spain and it is still grown in Rioja, where it is allowed in the Rioja blend, but is seldom used due to its tendency to oxidize (the Spanish love long barrel aging for their Rioja wines which is an invitation to oxidation for grapes that are especially prone to it).  It is related to Grenache Noir (aka Garnacha Tinta or just plain Grenache, usually),  in the same way that Pinot Noir is related to Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris (as a skin-color mutation of a clone).  Southern France is where most Grenache Blanc is grown today, with significant plantings in the Rhone Valley (especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Languedoc-Rousillon).  It is also grown in southeastern Spain along the Pyrenees.  Tablas Creek is the winery in the US that is responsible for the cultivation of Grenache Blanc as Grenache Blanc here.  They took cuttings from Chateau Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and planted then in 1996 with the first harvest happening in 1999.  From 1999 through 2002, they were only allowed to label their wines as "Grenache," since Grenache Blanc was not yet recognized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as a legitimate varietal.  They petitioned in 2002 and won approval in 2003 to label wines made from this grape as Grenache Blanc.  The first varietally labeled wines were released in 2004.

The bottling I was able to pick up was the 2007 Spencer Roloson which  I got for about $24 (on sale).  The grapes for this wine are sourced from the Esperanza vineyard in Clarksburg, CA, in the Sacramento River Delta.  When the vineyard was initially planted, it was planted with red wine production in mind, but apparently a few Grenache Blanc vines ended up with the Grenache Noir cuttings and several acres were accidentally planted with Grenache Blanc.  They rolled with it, and this bottle is the result.  The wine had a lemon yellow color in the glass and a pretty reserved nose with some white peach and pear aromas.  On the palate, the wine was full bodied with medium acidity.  There were flavors of creamy pear, toasted nuts and some vanilla, along with a buttery kind of flavor.  It doesn't seem like this wine sees any new oak (I think it's fermented in stainless steel and then aged in neutral oak), but most of the flavors here are secondary, either from the extended lees contact or possibly a little oxidation.  The wine was good, but it was certainly a little past its prime (four years can be a very long time for grapes prone to oxidation and especially for wines without some new oak influence).  This bottling was similar to an aged California Chardonnay, but in their youth, they should be a bit fresher with more of a floral scent and a dill note.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Great post - didn't know GB was so widespread in France.

Tried a varietal GB the other day - it had a floral aromatic nose, a waxy texture, tropical fruit and some spice:


Cheers, Tom