January Dirt – The Grenache is Great Edition


Grenache is a super-alluring grape variety. It is also a widely mishandled grape variety, one that requires a ton of time on the vine, and rarely gets the patience it deserves. Overcropped and under-ripened, most consumers drink grenache bottlings that taste green, gritty and lack any resemblance to the plush, complex wines grenache is capable of producing. Often drinkers who come across that first bottle of well made grenache get hooked. They come back for bottle after bottle of the same wine. Why? Because serious depth deserves exploration.

All The Great Grenache
Well made wines from the southern Rhone offer up loads of complexity. So much so that it is very difficult to get bored with them. Wines from grenache specialists like Domaine Gramenon, Vieux Telegraphe and  Sang des Cailloux produce irresistible wines and enjoy cult followings around the world. Their wines are terroir driven – expressing all of the earth-forward, garrigue-laden beauty of the southern Rhone with precision and power. But what about the new world? Where’s all the great grenache? It turns out I’m not the only one wondering why better grenache isn’t produced outside of southern France. Master Sommelier Richard Betts has been asking that same question for years. Happily, he is also answering the question for us.

Turns out, there’s great grenache to be had down under. Yes, Australia. Yes, this is an email from Dedalus wine shop. Richard is no stranger to making killer grenache in Australia. A few years back, he brought us the O.G. and Chronique bottlings under what was then his Betts & Scholl label. Since then, he has been working on a hush-hush project, There’s been a lot of speculation in the wine biz about just what he was up to. Turns out Richard, along with his partner (in love and wine) Carla Rzeszewski were in the Vine Vale area of the Barossa Vale tending to old vine grenache planted to sandy soil. To be clear, these are really old vines. They are pushing past 90 years of age, and they are own-rooted. This combination of sandy soils and wild old vines yields the kind of perfumed, delicious grenache I want to drink all the time. I could have just given you this one bottle for this month’s club selection. You might have been a bit miffed at first, but trust me, you would have been ok with it after your first whiff of Sucette. But you need context, right? So I searched far and wide for a southern French bottling that I could squeeze into the club. I was about to give up, when a friend of mine showed up at the shop with a bottle of 2013 Vacqueyras made by Chateau des Roques.

Why Vacqueyras
Vacqueyras is the little appellation that could. Often overshadowed by Chateauneuf-du-Pape, this is the place for great  wines that hit the pocket like a lightweight and hit the palette  like Evander Holyfield. The Chateau des Roques is an earthy, herbaceous beauty. It’s a great example of just what drew Richard and Carla to grenache in the first place. My recommendation to you is to drink the Chateau des Roques first. Decant it for about 20 minutes then have at it. Look for that garrigue – aromatics of rosemary, thyme and lavender – that mark it as a southern Rhone grenache. A day or two later, pull the cork on the Sucette. Check in on that garrigue, you’ll find it in the background. The real stars of the show here are the wild floral and red fruit perfume, the sweet tannins and that lazer beam acidity that sits right below the opulence of the wine.

Cooking & Drinking
If you’re going to do some cooking to go along with these wines, I’d recommend this recipe for braised lamb shanks with gremolata as a meal that would work wonderfully with the Chateau des Roques. With the Sucette, try the bacon burger on brioche buns from the Wayfare Tavern.