Selections for July 2017

“Top ‘o the mornin’!”

2015 BODEGAS MAXIMO ABETE ‘Tres Partes’ GARNACHA – Navarra, Spain

It is 6:30 a.m. on Wine Club Friday and I’m just now starting to write July’s notes.  (Procrastination always served me well when writing essays at Cal, though I wonder what might have happened had I started my projects earlier once in a while).  I rarely write about the month’s twelve different wine selections without an open bottle of each on my desk.  Deciding how to start July 2017’s long day at the keyboard is a no-brainer:  Ever-approachable Garnacha will be my sunrise service.

The world’s most planted red wine grape is called “Grenache” in France, “Cannonau” in Sardinia, and – until recently – “insipid, color-deprived, slightly-sweet plonk only a blue-haired grandmother could love” in the United States.  Why the American misunderstanding?  American exploitation.  For upwards of a century California’s Grenache vines were induced to produce well more than ten tons per acre, because they could.  Fertile soils, optimistic pruning, and indulgent irrigation gave impressive yields of enormous clusters with barely-colored, thin-skinned berries.  This crop’s final destination?  An oversized bottle with – sometimes - its own handle:  Plonk.  White Zinfandel’s predecessor.  Jug Wine.

In the Old World irrigation is often unfeasible or not permitted by local wine law.  Grenache / Garnacha must struggle in poorer soils.  Yields may occur at two tons per acre or less, and THAT’S when this grape has its say.  Unlike Petite Sirah or Tempranillo, thin-skinned Grenache / Garnacha will rarely be intense in color, but it needn’t be pale pink and watery.  Thoughtfully farmed, it does what’s happening in the bottle before you:  A warm climate version of Pinot Noir, if you will.  If you have a Burgundy glass, put it to work here.  The broader bowl fully shows this red’s sniffy attributes.  An enticing perfume of flower petals, fresh berries, and dried herbs rewards the patient swirler.  On the palate refreshment is the delivery, especially welcome at this warmer time of year when red wine might otherwise be eschewed.

If you wanted to make a darker, richer wine while still capturing Garnacha’s red fruit charm you’d invite collaborators Syrah, Mourvèdre, and/or Carignan to the blend.  That’s what happens in Priorat, France’s Southern Rhone, Australia, and many other Grenache-graced regions.  – But it’s nice to know the grape unembellished once in a while; to anticipate prettiness, not pomposity.  Chirpy briskness, nervy fruit, a flirtatious tongue pinch of nearly-harmless tannins . . . and a loyal friend of grilled pork tenderloin, this is an ultimate less-is-more wine experience, by my gage.  Perhaps it’s fitting that this particular “solo act” comes to us from Spain’s Navarra region, neighbor to more prestigious Rioja.  Want darker?  Want richer?  Uncork this month’s other bottle, the Malbec.  Want unashamed delicacy?  Get out your Pinot glass and stay here.



2015 KAIKEN ‘Ultra’ MALBEC – Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

With no apologies, but a smidgen of concern for some of your preferences, last month we provided a particular version of the Malbec grape – French Cahors.  While that wine required your thoughtfulness, this month we compensate with an Argentine no-brainer.

Malbec is popularly identified as one of the five primary red grapes of Bordeaux.  However, that region represents it as but a minor player these days.  Bordeaux’s temperamental climate was an un-ideal host for this variety with its susceptibilities to poor-cropping and mildew, and when much of its Malbec was destroyed by frost in 1956 it was largely replaced by more reliable Cabernet, et al.  Today’s Malbec Old World stronghold is farther south in Cahors, last month’s sturdy, food-needy provision.

- But Argentina is the country embracing Malbec as its “national” grape.  Its rapid rise to popularity in export markets can be credited to a more New World style of dark fruit affability.  For the price, this Kaiken ‘Ultra’ is a very nice demonstration.

The color:  A glowing purple/maroon.  Plums, cardamom, and a certain evergreen sense of “forest” are easily identified in the forbearing fragrance.  The mouth is full-bodied yet refreshingly “crunchy” - the trick to a big red keeping the palate engaged.  Your tongue will react to this acid / tannin-driven delivery of dark fruit with a longing for protein.  Is it any wonder that the Land of Malbec is also the world’s specialist in asado-style grilling?!