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Dry, fruity wines help give grenache its day in the sun

| Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

In the world of red wines, cabernet sauvignon attracts the lion's share of attention as the star in juggernaut regions such as Bordeaux and Napa Valley. Pinot noir holds its own based on Burgundy's glamour and winemakers' endless fascination with the “heartbreak” grape.

Grenache noir, the world's most widely planted red-skinned grape, typically receives little adulation — especially since it melds easily into tasty blends with syrah and mourvèdre . No matter.

Passionate grenache noir fans of the world, unite. International Grenache Day occurs Sept. 21.

The idea grew out of the inaugural 2010 Grenache Symposium in France's Rhône Valley, which has extensive plantings of grenache noir, and its white counterpart, grenache blanc. Hundreds of representatives from 22 countries convened to debate and highlight grenache's distinctive personalities, while creating a blueprint for transforming grenache noir from the “unsung hero of the red wine world.”

The symposium emphasized that old, gnarly grenache noir vines with low yields can produce wines of terrific character and distinction. Certainly, bottles from the likes of Château Rayas in Châteauneuf-du-Pape buttress this point in compelling fashion.

Secondly, in this era of fluctuating temperatures, the symposium noted grenache noir's heat resistance. Because the vines ripen relatively late, the grapes actually do best in hot, dry climates. And when growers avoid “over cropping” with high yields, grenache noir on its own produces spicy, red-fruit flavors with robust alcohol and good balance.

In America, the Rhône Rangers, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting Rhône varieties such as grenache noir, will recognize International Grenache Day by convening four intriguing tasting events in Paso Robles, Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa, Calif. Admission will be free with donations suggested to support the Rhône Rangers' mission. (See www.rhonerangers.orgfor details.)

Don't sweat it, though, if you can't make it to the Left Coast on Sept. 21. Just fire up the grill for burgers, steaks, or grilled salmon, and then uncork — or unscrew — the following tasty grenache noir-based wines at home.

2009 Pierre Fine Grenat Grenache Noir, Pays D'Oc, France (Luxury 32500; Chairman's Selection, on sale: $11.99): France's southern Languedoc-Roussillon, a massive region ranging from the Rhône Valley in the East along the Mediterranean Coast to the Spanish Catalonia border in the West, boasts extensive plantings of aged, head-pruned grenache noir “bush” vines. Because the vines receive no irrigation, they struggle, but they produce concentrated, aromatic fruit, especially when grown in clay and limestone soils.

In this case, winemaker Eric Monnin scours the “terroir” in search of promising old vines. After establishing working relationships with growers, he advises on limiting yields and maintaining proper acidity to balance the fruit and retain freshness.

Monnin then tastes and purchases select lots of each vintage's new wines. He creates a final, blended wine reflecting a soft, fruity grenache noir style. After finishing the blend in oak barrels, he bottles a “classique” regional representation of grenache noir.

This wine's garnet color unfolds sweet red fruit and plum aromas with spicy notes. The round, red-fruit flavors balance with subtle oak notes and soft tannins through a dry, fruity finish. Recommended.

2008 Los Pinos Grenache “Old Vines,” Calatayud, Spain (Luxury 21542; $13.99): Head-pruned “bush” vines averaging over 40 years in age provide the grapes for this nifty wine. The vines grow at high altitudes where relatively cool nights help the fruit retain acidity.

In addition, the vines toil primarily on well-drained, infertile slopes comprised of granite, black slate and quartz. The resulting fruit retains aromatic complexity and intriguing flavors that carry over in the wine.

The ruby color offers plum aromas with spicy notes from aging in French oak barrels. Fresh, ripe red fruit unfolds in the glass with pleasant oak accents and smooth tannins. Recommended.

2010 Bonny Doon Vineyard Clos de Gilroy, Grenache, Central Coast, California (Luxury 45640; $18.99): OK, so iconoclastic winemaker Randall Grahm blends in a little cinsault and syrah with the grenache. Even so, the wine honors grenache noir's vivacious esprit with a gentle winemaking touch and joyous style.

The garnet color delivers strawberry and straw aromas leading to juicy, delicious red-fruit flavors. Fresh acidity and smooth tannins provide just enough backbone. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone is the wine columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.�

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