Old World vs. New World Round Two: Grenache Noir!

Grenache Noir has always been ephemeral and hard for me to grasp. In some regions it manifests as a pseudo-earthy and funky nature-child. It has me rolling in the mud with it at Coachella before it discovers goth rock, changes its name to Garnacha and transforms to a vixen resplendent in velvet capes with a mane of Manic Panic purple hair. Then it goes to grad school in Sardinia where it studies environmental public policy, adopts the name Cannanou and churns out smart yet eclectic thesis wines. When it gets bored with its solo act, Grenache enlists other grapes to liven things up. Grenache is the G in GSM blends—Syrah and Mourvedre being its most loyal companions. And then there have been a fair amount of examples I’ve tasted from all over the place that are uncooperative and lack motivation to be drunk. Oh, and don’t forget the wealth of rich rosé that Grenache is responsible for. What I am saying is Grenache has many personalities. Although there have been arguments for Sardinia, it is generally accepted that Grenache originated in Spain. It’s thin-skinned but it likes the heat and sun. The fruit nature of the grape tends to be baked, dried and most popularly “stewed”, but let’s be real, how many of us wine people have been eating stewed fruit lately? The closest I’ve come in recent months was homemade lemon curd, but I’ll file that tasting note away for the next time I’m describing Condrieu. It oft looks lighter than it tastes—a garnet tone that gets orange at the rims. Prone to oxidation and volatile acidity, it can be rather temperamental yet can show impressive earthiness and downright heartiness backed up by dried herbs and flowers. I found that they all made me think of fabrics, so if you get nothing else from this, here are the Cliff(ord)’s Notes: USA: Red cotton shirt with bell sleeves, and whoever is wearing it is double fisting Coca-Cola and Bud. Ironically. Australia: Super suave maroon silk dress matched to red lipstick and a permanent wave. Priorat: Deep purple velvet lined with black velvet. Southern Rhône: Striped purple and red satin ribbons rippling free through the summer sun, but the ends are dragging charmingly through the dirt. Sardinia: Plaid tweed in shades of crimson, purple and the thin lines are green tones. Now for more thorough notes. Starting with the New World! Just for fun. CALIFORNIA Paso Robles is the place where California Rhône varieties are known to be thriving. And thank you so much, Rhone Rangers, for bringing innovation and education to California. BUT! I need to be honest; I’ve been vibing on the newer winemakers doing boss things in Santa Barbara. Maybe it’s the downtown LA artist in me, but I tend to think California’s motto ought to be “I do what I like!” California has a rebel vibe with a sense of humor and humanity when it comes to Grenache. We do what we like. And drink what we like. 2013 The Central Coast Group Project (CCGP) “Faces” Grenache, Ballard Canyon When the first three words from your mouth are “Oh F**k Yeah” and the follow-up is an oh-so-eloquent “Yum” (words are important) you know you’re in the zone. I was suspicious, honestly. This Grenache is a rather pale, garnet-tinged red but cloudy. On the first whiff it is alarming in a way that you aren’t sure what you’re getting into. But give it some air and sip. Sweet jeezus. It had a crazy long maceration of 123 days that gives it a richness its color belies. Jam stirred with brown sugar (yet not sweet), dried cranberries and a handful of allspice and cinnamon and perhaps a small handful of thyme leaf. Tread lightly (or don’t, I caved in and took down a half-bottle) as the abv is 16%, but who cares? Sink into paradise. 2013 Martian Ranch & Vineyard Ground Control Grenache Noir I’ve been a fan of Martian for some time now. I was before meeting Nan Helgeland and double time after. She’s a goddess of a winemaker who makes biodynamic wines with fun accompanying astronomic information. They taste fun too. “Ground Control” has that lightness of body and a rebel roughness of tannin—they are minimal and still make themselves heard. It is a friendly and pushy wine. It is rather ripe and red, and there is a network of herbs coursing through with a hint of cola. Extraterrestrial one might say! AUSTRALIAN Scot James Busby imported a set of varieties to Australia in 1832. He’d emigrated from the cool climes of Scotland to Australia when he was only 23. He then learned ever so much about wine and soon gallivanted to Europe (okay not sure if he gallivanted but surely he had fun) to gather vines and bring them back to his adopted home. Grenache was planted in Sydney botanic gardens--alongside 362 other varieties--and wouldn’t you know it, Grenache took to the Aussie land and climate like a champ. 2016 Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache, Barossa, South Australia First off, vegan! Thank you for letting this vegetarian know! This wine is pure elegance. It is none too ripe with lighter than air tannins. All red fruits: cranberries, red plum, and then mid-palate whiffs of herbs and flowers with a bit of dirt still clinging to them. Sprinkled with white pepper. And the finish hits you with tad of mint. Perhaps the terroir of eucalyptus (see my piece on Cabernet for more on that) and kisses from koalas? One can hope. We could all use koala kisses. 2014 Yangarra McLaren Vale Old-Vine Grenache Give this Vixen Vino at least twenty minutes to make friends with human air!!! Okay PSA done. It has been said of Grenache in McLaren Vale’s warm, dry climate that “If there is a nuclear war, only two things will survive: cockroaches and Grenache vines.” Being as such this is an Old Vines specimen—it stood the test of time plus didn’t face the threat of phylloxera. South Australia managed to keep that blight out. It is the acid plus raisins. Fun times. I fairly feel immersed in a vat of spiced stewy plums, berries of most sorts, and a pinch of clean and rich soil. Deep purple. It looks like a Priorat but does not taste the same. Some VA pops off initially, but as I said give it air. It’s been under screw cap and dying for a breath. Once given that life, it glows. PRIORAT Because I have Priorities. Because Prior to coming to France, Grenache was being a sexy beast in Spain. Because the Priormary flavors are…I’ll stop but I make no future promises about puns. Priorat is known for the glory of its llicorella soil made of slate as black as Garnacha’s soul to soak up heat and bits of mica to reflect the sun off steep hills and into the vines! The land was reinvigorated and invested in the 90’s after falling out of repute for, oh, well, since phylloxera, really. Let’s all be glad it was reborn! 2015 Mas Doix Salanques Priorat I am oft the jerk that tastes things and then finds out my favorite costs the most. As it was with this. Didn’t mean for that to happen, oops, but never fear I have a bargain buy for you too! But this. SO complex and really rich. Inky purple. Light tannins yet full body. Red and dark berry but they knock you in the nose hits of pepper. Then the floral notes. The anise. The herbal undergrowth that when you close your eyes you think you are shuffling through a garden in the midst of being weeded. A finish you think short, then it hits you with a surprise sharp acid and a spicy encore. At 65% Garnacha, 25% Cariñena, 10% Syrah: it wants food. At least a cracker with a slice of creamy cheese. But honestly, I’d drink it straight too. 2016 Raimat Boira Garnacha Oooh it is organic and in everyone’s budget and a smidge ruddy but still has that serious dark undercurrent I love so. It is a lot of aniseed, black cherries and red raspberries. Undercurrent of metal. Core of dirt. I dig. Party wine. Excellent. Also the remains I plan to try as the topping in a Manhattan Sour. SOUTHERN RHÔNE Grenache is the most grown grape here! I’m bypassing GSM Cote de Rhône blends because they rarely really turn my head. The most famed southern Rhone area is of course Chateauneuf du Pape with its galet soil. That’s big rocks for rad wines. You know what they say about soils with big rocks. Adult wine. I did my due diligence and drank some for you. But Gigondas and Vacqueyras show up with CdP worthy wines so lets look at both. 2012 Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras Cuvée Azalais I don’t know why, but some Grenache makes me think of black diamonds. Not blood ones—cruelty free ones of course. But dark yet shiny. This very much called to mind a Cali Grenache from a favorite rosé maker. It is so much grape jam, candied vanilla bean, roses and also HELLA licorice but in a different way than Gamay. Ripe as hell. Alcohol like heck. Balanced, full of character and fun. TRY the Vacqueyras. Everyone is a champion. Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape 2015 Well my. Oh. My. Then there are the reasons renowned regions get famous. Do you ever have a wine so delightful pinning down flavor elements seems stupid because the wine is a person alive and valid and deserving? Such is this. I cannot. But I’ll give it a persona. It is a newsie hipster. So get that then stones and raspberries and spices and DAMN I am supposed to be a writer but some wines demand you to meet them in person. Meet this one. Worthy of its legend. SARDINIA aka SARDENGA Having loved Vermentino from this Italian island, I was excited to dip into the reds and see. Aragón held sway for a century or two-three-four centuries, and they were wise to take advantage of the Mediterranean climate and bring Spanish grapes like Garnacha here. I’m not sure where the name came from. Help if you know please. There is a rumor it has to do with the word “cannonball” left by the Spanish armada, which I like as I picture the 1812 Overture playing whilst I sip. These wines are explosive. Truly. The Oxford Companion to Wine described Cannanou as “full-throttle." 1) I 1000% agree and 2) I want to use the term full-throttle more. Sexy and…muscular. The word and the wine. 2014 Argiolas Costera Cannonau di Sardegna Devoted to sustainability from their carbon footprint to their water usage, one has to wonder—if you only have an island, do you work harder to preserve it? Decant this guy because fresh out it has a hit of rubber. My gosh. All the stewed, baked, dried red fruits (strawberries, pomegranates, raspberries) then BAM smoked Parmesan cheese, earth and white pepper and a smidge of dried herbs. And more Parmesan. Hope to heck there are smoked tomatoes nearby. 2016 Olianas Cannonou Oh my it is 95 percent! The rest is Tintillu aka Alicante Bouchet. This wine is very different rom the Argiolas! Proof that winemaking is everything? Very herbal and sappy up front. It hits with a pow that makes you think…is this high acid? Stewed fruit and slate-y mineral. So you’ve got that black river stone cutting board right? Chop up some sage and grass and maybe even lemongrass then work into a paste with cocoa powder and cocoa nibs and raspberries, half stewed half not. A “bio-integral” vineyard. Neither fining nor filtering this bitch. I’m still unclear if that is a tech term but they steer clear of chemicals—even limiting ‘tracked or rubber tyre vehicles” so maybe Argiolas allows that hence the rubber? Things to ponder. THE VERDICT Oh. God. Why did I couch this recurring feature as a Old VS New? Cabernet was a bit easier, but Grenache catches its groove in oh so many ways. I was favoring Priorat. But then Sardinia is super fun. And intriguing. Then there is with wine orgasm that is rulllll good Southern Rhône. And I haven’t even tried Chateau Rayas (shout out, I wanna try you). Also wished I could try Sine Qua Non. Then mind blown by the CCGP “Faces”. NO kidding it was a revelation. AND YET! People never talk about Grenache. Maybe it is that it hides in blends. Perhaps it is that there are too many meh Côtes de Rhône examples out there that don’t let it shine like the star it is. Well I’m here to say we need to start Grenache Awareness Month. GAM. Can I get some GAM supporters out there? I am waving the white flag because I cannot proclaim a favorite. I’ve been working on this for weeks and...I cannot. A Grenache revolution is at hand. Get in early. And tell me your favorites! I want to learn.

Central Coast Group Project

Faces Ballard Canyon Grenache 2013

Um wow hi I want to CHOMP this wine—native yeasts insanely long maceration and no fining/filtering. This is what minimal interference should be. It’s ultra ripe but somehow refreshing. It looks light yet cloudy and the tannins are minimal—almost cerasuolo level and it is animal-ly sensuous to boot. So it’s...I dunno sex with a Viking? Perhaps. I’ve yet to have that but a girl can dream. Oh flavor: jammy but light with this wild kick of citrus peel and someone tossed a handful of four-leaf clovers in. Because if you’re drinking this you are lucky. — 5 years ago

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Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe

Télégramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape Red Rhone Blend

Oh hell complex and juicy and fruity as f. Undercurrents of a mineral base. Picture those rocks that are mostly almost black but there is a speckle or so of white and that...is the mineral nature and it ballasts cocky-ass raspberries like this wine has an attitude. So damn good hope my (not so genius) tasting of a half bottle holds up. One last genius-ish thought: picture a newsies boy, cap and all doing a heel click while a Brooklyn winemaker toasts an old school french winemaker and that is your prettiness. I’ll pour it all into my Zalto. — 5 years ago

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The Zalto will hold it!
Ellen Clifford

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@TheSkip oooohhhh yah it will!

Domaine le Sang des Cailloux

Vacqueyras Rouge Red Rhône Blend 2012

Oh yummy wine I want to consume with girlfriends late at night. It is a grape jam sandwich on EXQUISITE white bread (homemade by me) on a beautiful table set with lilacs and licorice candies. This is light yet it has a black crushed velvet backdrop. Simple. But also really interesting. When I drink this I close my eyes and see candied licorice and vanilla beans and black grapes. — 5 years ago

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Martian Ranch & Vineyard

Ground Control Grenache Noir 2013

Nan Helgeland makes extraordinary wines because she pays attention both to the wines and the people making them. That’s a whole other story though. This wine: red red fruits for sure(cran-rasp-blackrasp) well balanced but the tannins are gonna play hard to get, then they flirt with you then hide again. It’s intriguing — 5 years ago

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Of course! In California you can get my wine Vinos Del Viento Garnachas de Montaña Barrel Selection 2016 from Campo de Borja. I’d also recommend trying Las Margas or S Ayles from Cariñena. Also the Joey Tensley Grandes Vinos and Viñedos Monasterio de Las Viñas Old Vine Garnacha Special Selection From Cariñena. Lajas from Calatayud or the new Albada fincas or Albada parajes from Calatayud or even Las Rocas Viñas Viejas. From Campo de Borja you should try to get your hands on a Palmieri Navalta or Veraton by Alto Moncayo.


Most Priorats are blends. The wines I have mentioned are all 100% Garnacha and express a purity of the varietal that’s rare to find outside of Aragon.
Ellen Clifford

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@MICHAEL COOPER thank you for the recommendations. I couldn’t cover every last region making Garnacha/Grenache before but I’ll keep my eye out for these and be happy to try them. Cheers!


Old Bush Vine Grenache 2016

Can I dub this wine super yumtown? Sometimes I run out of good adjectives. This is a wine that makes me understand why some call Grenache the Pinot noir of the south. A fine and silky red rendition. Less ripe than last night’s cannonau it’s all red fruit (fresh and stewed) and white pepper and the leather and herbal earth come in later and lighter. I really like this. It stands without food. — 5 years ago

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Neal Ferry

Neal Ferry

Ellen, I’m impressed with your posts, you do a great job... interesting so much of what you drink, consume, or post is not available here in Nebraska.... I get to California quite often however (I’m assuming that is where you are) I don’t pickup on what you say is good and find it in the local market.... I must do a better job....
Ellen Clifford

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@Neal Ferry oh gosh I’d wish you could access all I drink! Maybe google it up? Or check the Delectable offshoot Banquet? Or honestly wine.com... hope you can taste and tell me what you think💞


Sardegna Cannonau

Hi Sardegna aka Sardinia how are you making such marvelous SUSTAINABLE AND MINIMALLY MESSED WITH Grenache aka Cannonau wines and still skimming under the radar? Earth like heck. Herbs like hell. Swimming in raspberry juice. What a pool to swim in. — 5 years ago

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Mas Doix

Salanques Priorat Garnacha Blend 2015

Dammit. Like, damn why is this wine so fun, friendly, interesting and beautiful? It’s like when you meet a famous person and they are as marvelous as the press makes them out to be. Very much into this. Deep purple (goth Ellen like), very rich (hedonist Ellen turned on), very spicy (living vicariously Ellen clings to) and balanced (Virgo Ellen makes checkmark in wine planner) and very I want more in my glass. All hail Priorat. — 5 years ago

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Kristin the Wine Girl

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Nice choice! Enjoyed this one last week, a highlight of the night!

Cellers de Scala Dei

Prior Priorat Grenache Blend 2016

A wine slightly discombobulated yet obviously finding-its-way. It’s an old soul who is still young and wants to be Courtney Love. Like it’s not damaged but it has enough edge to aspire. Earth of old world and ridic ripeness from those llicorella soils. A very red Garnacha. Don’t know how it will age but think it has a little while to get all the flavors to make friends. Either way a wine with interest. — 5 years ago

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Château d'Aqueria

Tavel Grenache Blend Rosé 2016

All I do is study and occasionally forage the grocery store for sustenance’s day sometimes wine. I’m eh on this. It has a nice sharpness. On the nose some pleasant stones. Sorta like you are hanging at a creek near your camping ground and the rushing river smells so fresh and entices you but as you take off your shoes and wade in the rocks cut your feet a tad. Pleasurable and not. I’d prefer wading into the surf of nice sand. All the same: peaches roses and wet rocks are tasty. Even if they are not in balance they are all enjoyable. Not a fave but not a total miss — 6 years ago

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