A wine grape famous in France and Spain long has been grown in Washington but has caught on as an important variety only during the past several years.
Grenache is a late-ripening red variety that thrives in hot climates, such as the Rhone Valley in southern France, Spain (where it’s known as garnacha), California and Eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley.
As a standalone wine, grenache tends to be lighter in color and exhibits bright red flavors with mild tannins. It also plays an important role in blends with syrah and mourvedre, two other Rhone Valley reds.
Last fall, Washington winemakers crushed 900 tons of grenache — a small amount that makes this a grape made in relatively small lots. At nearly $1,900 per ton, grenache also was the state’s most expensive grape variety overall, showing just how much in demand it is in Washington state now.
We recently tasted through a large number of Washington examples of grenache. Here are a few of our favorites. All are made in small amounts, so ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly:
Zerba Cellars 2010 Grenache, Columbia Valley, $38: Doug Nierman continues to make some of the finest wine in the Pacific Northwest at this winery on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. Aromas of coconut, chocolate, clove and plum give way to flavors of blueberry, black cherry, black tea and red plum in a big finish.
Bunnell Family Cellar 2009 Grenache, Columbia Valley, $34: Ron Bunnell, who emigrated to Washington from California in 1999, continues to burnish his reputation with Rhone varieties with this impressive grenache. It opens with aromas of black licorice, toast, plum and blueberry, followed by a rich entry that leads to flavors of red plum, raspberry, chocolate and plum.
Daven Lore Winery 2011 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $35: Yakima Valley winemaker Gord Taylor has crafted a superb wine from a cool vintage. This opens with aromas that reminded us more of pinot noir than grenache, with notes of red currant, violet and rose petals. On the palate, it reveals distinctive flavors of raspberry, cherry and sweet herbs.
Kerloo Cellars 2011 Grenache, Horse Heaven Hills, $40: This Walla Walla winery reaches into the Horse Heaven Hills for its grenache grapes. This opens with aromas of maple, plum and berry, followed by rich flavors of black pepper and ripe plum. There’s a lot going on in this pretty wine.
Mercer Estates Winery 2010 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Grenache, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: The Mercer family planted Spice Cabinet in a bowl overlooking the Columbia River with a palette of varieties. This grenache features aromas and flavors of cranberry, rhubarb, strawberry, black pepper and rich red plum. It’s a beautiful wine with a memorable finish.
Whidbey Island Winery 2011 Grenache, Horse Heaven Hills, $29: Longtime Western Washington winemaker Greg Osenbach reached into famed Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills for this grenache, which also includes a dose of syrah. Bright aromas of strawberry and red licorice give way to bright, classic flavors of cherry, raspberry and chocolate.
Sigillo Cellars 2011 Grenache, Snipes Mountain, $23: This is just the second release from a winery in the Cascade Mountains town of Snoqualmie. Winemaker Steve Bailey used grapes from Upland Vineyard in the Yakima Valley to craft a pretty and focused Grenache with aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry, dark chocolate and a hint of blueberry.
Upland Estates Winery 2011 Grenache, Snipes Mountain, $32: Grape grower Todd Newhouse manages one of Washington’s oldest vineyards, with vines going back to 1917. This grenache, made by winemaker Robert Smasne, opens with classic aromas of cranberry, cherry and strawberry, followed by round, juicy flavors of high-toned red fruit backed with bright intensity and modest tannins.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, www.greatnorthwestwine.com.