Holiday meals call for special wines, and for me that usually means a big, beautiful Bourdeaux-style bottle. A velvety Cabernet or Merlot sings when paired with a Christmas beef Wellington. But some holidays -- Thanksgiving, for example -- center around lighter fare. I know, I know, ain’t nothin’ light about Thanksgiving, right? Except the meat. If you’re serving turkey for Christmas, or pork roast or Dungeness crab or any other “white” meat, you might find joy in a bottle of Grenache.
One of my favorites is from Barnard GriffinWinery. Rob Griffin’s Grenache is one of my go-to bottles for lighter foods. A few days before Thanksgiving I stopped by the tasting room, and gave instant thanks that I snagged possibly the last two bottles of the '08 vintage.
As the longest-practicing winemaker in Washington, and co-owner (together with his wife Deborah Barnard) and head winemaker of one of the largest wineries in the state, Griffin’s got some chops in the business. “In my way of thinking Grenache is Washington’s answer to Pinot Noir," he says."That is to say light body, lowish tannins and bright acidity."
Grenache is a traditional Rhone grape (think lighter, fruitier varieties like Cinsault or Pinot), but make no mistake, this is no light-weight wine. It has a heft all its own, with distinct flavors of red berries and a long ripening time that can yield high sugars that often translate into high alcohol content. But it’s a thin-skinned grape, with naturally low tannins that produce a softer red wine than you would expect in a Cabernet or Merlot.
“When I came to Washington in 1977 one of the most interesting wines I had to deal with was a 1976 Grenache,” Griffin told me. “The wine was rose-like in color and had an intensity of fruit that was almost beyond belief. This particular block was frozen out in 1977 but Grenache was a factor in those days. Ste. Michelle had lots of it down on the Columbia River. Fast forward to 2004 and a revived interest in Rhone varieties with more appropriate clones, and away we go."
The 2008 is sold out, but Barnard Griffin will release the 2009 Grenache soon. Watch for it.