In the early days of the modern Washington wine industry, one grape that seemed to be making a bit of headway was Grenache, a red grape best known in the southern Rhone Valley of France.
In 1967, Seattle's American Wine Growers launched a new label called Ste. Michelle Vintners and produced a rosé from grenache grapes. American Wine Growers later became Chateau Ste. Michelle. But Grenache all but disappeared from the Pacific Northwest until the past few years, partly because growers and winemakers feared the tender vines would sustain too much winter damage.
While Syrah is king in the northern Rhone Valley, Grenache rules in the south, and Washington's fixation on Syrah for the past dozen years likely has helped usher in a renaissance of sorts for Grenache. At least one Oregon winery uses the Spanish spelling, Garnacha, for its Grenache.
Often, Grenache is blended away, vanishing into other red wines in small amounts. But a few Northwest wineries now are bottling Grenache on its own, and wine lovers are redisovering this plush and approachable red wine. Even Chateau Ste. Michelle has returned to its Grenache roots, producing a red wine available primarily to its wine club members.
Grenache is definitely a niche variety in the Northwest wine industry, so your best bet is to order it through your favorite wine merchant or contact wineries directly.
Here are some Grenaches we've tasted recently:
Barnard Griffin 2008 Grenache, Columbia Valley, $25: Nearly 35 years after arriving in Washington, winemaker Rob Griffin continues to display a remarkable ability to craft some of the Pacific Northwest's finest. This grenache opens with aromas of pie cherries, blueberries and plums, followed by rich flavors of ripe plums and black cherries. Its modest tannins and balanced acidity provide a beautiful mouth feel and lengthy finish.
Betz Family Winery 2008 Besoleil Grenache, Columbia Valley, $45: Bob Betz earned the prestigious Master of Wine award while working at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and put his knowledge to work with his highly regarded winery just a short drive from his former employer. This grenache is a bold, dark red with aromas of roasted coffee, toffee and dark fruit, followed by rich flavors of boysenberries, blackberries and Kookaburra black licorice. It is beautifully elegant on the palate with tannins that provide just the right level of grip.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Limited Release Grenache, Columbia Valley, $25: When Josh Maloney joined Chateau Ste. Michelle in 2005 as red winemaker, he was the youngest person in that position in the winery's illustrious history. He blended 14 percent syrah to this grenache, and the resulting wine opens with aromas of cinnamon, vanilla bean, strawberries and sandalwood, followed by flavors that showcase black cap raspberries, cola, blueberries and pomegranates.
Abacela Winery 2008 Garnacha, Umpqua Valley, $22: This Roseburg, Ore., winery is one of the few in the Northwest to use the Spanish name for this grape on its label. This is a lightly oaked red with aromas of boysenberry jam, strawberries and raspberries, followed by mouth-filling flavors of marionberries, cherries and raspberries. It's still quite youthful and lively.
Milbrandt Vineyards 2008 The Estates Grenache, Wahluke Slope, $25: Butch and Jerry Milbrandt grew up in the Columbia Basin and began planting wine grapes in the mid-1990s. They launched their own winery with the 2005 vintage. This impressive Grenache was the top red wine of our judging, opening with alluring aromas of plums, cherries, milk chocolate, raspberry syrup and fresh kindling. On the palate, it's loaded with flavors of Bing cherries and red currants. Bright acidity lifts the flavors and provides plenty of backbone.
Tagaris Winery 2007 Grenache Noir, Wahluke Slope, $35: Using grapes from the estate Alice Vineyards, winemaker Frank Roth has crafted an intriguing wine. It opens with aromas of strawberries, red currant jam and cherry pie with a scintillating hint of rosewater, followed by flavors of strawberry jam and ample acidity with chocolate notes on the finish.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.