I’ve been groovin’ on Spanish Garnacha for the past week or so. That’s the same grape called Grenache in France, and Garnatxa in Catalan. However, only recently has Garnacha (gar-NA-chah) started to become nearly as respectable as its French cousin, despite actually being native to Spain, not France. In Spain, Garnacha had largely been used as a blending grape to lend pigment to Rosado and Rosado Cava as well as to add spiciness and body. In France, of course, Grenache is the major character in making C%uFFFDtes-du-Rh%uFFFDne, Vacqueyras and Ch%uFFFDteauneuf-du-Pape. And, even though Garnacha is likely the world’s most ubiquitous wine-grape variety, as mentioned, it has just come into its own in Spain in the past few years.
Spanish Garnacha is near the top of my list of can’t-miss, bang-for-the-buck wines. Not that it’s all great, or even good. But so far, Garnacha is still relatively cheap in this country. So even if you come across a producer or two that you’re not crazy about, you’re not out much dough. By the way, for the purposes of this piece, I’m talking about Garnacha red wine. There’s also a white Garnacha grape (Garnacha Blanca), but that’s another story.
When I ran into Libations owner and wine broker Francis Fecteau at the Park City wine store last week, I asked him to point me toward something exciting that I could afford. He grabbed me by the shirtsleeve and marched me up to a stoic-looking black-labeled bottle of Spanish Garnacha called Atteca Old Vines 2005, from Bodegas Zabrin ($17). In contrast to the pop-art labels that have been taking over the Spanish wine market, this bottle looked serious and foreboding. “This is what the French should be doing with Grenache,” said Fecteau. That’s pretty high praise, since the French certainly know their way around Grenache and Fecteau certainly knows his way around France. For $17, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
Well, the Atteca is a whopper of a wine. If you’re doing a Garnacha tasting, you’d probably want to open this one up last. It’s 100 percent Garnacha, checks in at 14.5 percent alcohol and, as the label suggests, is made from old vines. I mean, really old vines. Some of the vineyards from which the Garnacha grapes for Atteca are harvested—and, by the way, they are hand-harvested—date back to the late 19th century. It’s a wine that Parker would love: Dark purple and inky in color, earthy and smoky on the nose, and with raspberry flavors that seem to edge into blueberry once the wine opens up. There are also mocha flavors, anise and hints of cinnamon. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to decant Atteca; It needs some air to come around. But, when it does, look out! This is good stuff, and will be even better a few years from now.
For a less serious sip of Garnacha, pick up a screw-top (yup, the Spaniards are doing it, too) bottle of Vinos Sin-Ley “G-2” Garnacha 2005 ($8.45). This is a groovy little rebel wine, literally. Vinos Sin-Ley means “wines without laws.” The Sin-Ley wines are produced by big-shot winemakers—in this case, it’s Jordi Alonso—who want to play around a bit outside the purview of their regular employers. The G series of wines are 100 percent Garnacha (the M series is Monastrell), and this one is dark ruby in color, medium-bodied and fruity. It’d be a nice match for roasted leg of lamb.
One more to try is Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines 2006 ($8), with its suggestive label art. Cherries, berries, plums and white pepper in a silky skin: Just do it.