Like Zinfandel and Gamay, the old vines of Grenache are a timeless wonder. They are the Clint Eastwood of vitis vinifera: gnarled by age with a tough-as-nails exterior and no sign of retirement on the horizon. What they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality: grape clusters from old-vine Grenache (think 60-100 years old) can create wines of supple fruit, spicy character and rocket-fueled energy.
While Australia, France, Italy and California have small pockets of old-vine Grenache, the grape’s ancestral home is Aragon, Spain where it is known as Garnacha. I have only known Grenache as a respectable grape that can start any party it wants, but it wasn’t so long ago that the world looked upon this widely planted grape with a collective meh. At least in its varietal form.
In fact, the European Union encouraged the destruction of these vines for… well, I can’t adequately find out why. Apparently to stimulate the economy through subsidies for bigger cash crops.
One winemaker who is particularly bullish on old-vine Grenache is Raúl Acha, the oenologist for Vintae. He set out years ago to discover and protect old-vine Grenache vineyards across a swath of Northern Spain. The pursuit led to the Vintae label called Proyecto Garnachas de España. Six wines are made — improbably including an ice wine — and we recently sampled La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo, which comes from a high-altitude vineyard on the slopes of the Moncayo Massif.
Here was a wine with amped-up levels of verve and fruit — a joy ride in a hotrod on a Saturday afternoon. I thought its complexion was interesting, especially when paired with the spice of ras el hanout chicken. From my experience, Grenache comes out charging but fades with a few hours of air, and that held true with this bottle, too. (It was half as good the second night).
But at $11 a bottle, and the promise of a fun night, it is a heck of a steal.
2015 Proyecto Garnachas de España La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo
Tasting notes: A bold and powerful Grenache with upright aromas of cooked strawberry, baking spice (especially clove), violet and balsamic. On the palate, it presented a subtle sweetness that was countered by a little burn from the alcohol. At times forceful, at other times boisterous, it is a wine with a high degree of personality.
Serving suggestion: We saved half the bottle for a second night, and it was considerably better on the first. Does not need ample breathing. The fruit tones are substantial enough to make this wine work very well with the piquant spice of ras el hanout baked chicken.
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