For me, one of the world's greatest wine grapes is grenache. Grenache is one of the workhorse grapes of the southern Rhone Valley in France and also grown extensively in Chateauneuf-Du-Pape in southern France. The grape has roots in Spain where it is known as garnacha, and was brought into France in the late 19th century during the phylloxera epidemic.
Grenache is the most widely planted red grape in the world. It is a hearty and prolific producer and often provides the basis for many jug wines. With the variety, there is often a lot of clone variation. Some clones are bad; some are good. John Alban of Alban Vineyards has the greatest clone planted in his vineyard in the Edna Valley.
Sadly, the grape doesn't always get credit it deserves. And it usually can produce very tasty rose wines.
At it's best, grenache wine exudes fresh and inviting strawberries and raspberries in the nose. The wine at its best is sheer delight to the gustatory senses.
And the greatest grenaches produced-so far-are being made by John Alban of Alban Vineyards in the Edna Valley. Last week I had dinner with John Alban and Eric Phister at Chef Rick's in Orcutt. We drank the 1993 and 1995 vintage, plus a bottle of 1998 Chateau Rayas, 100 percent grenache from the famous Chateauneuf-Du-Pape in France's southern Rhone region.
The 1993 was as fresh as the day I first tasted a barrel sample, probably back in 1994 or 1995. Fresh and exciting and supple, the wine caresses the mouth. Along side the '93, we drank '95-same character, fruit from the same part of the vineyard. Equally inviting, the wine showed a little better structure with firm tannins.
A friend of mine told me once the best wine he ever drank was a bottle of 1982 Cheval Blanc, a blend of cabernet franc and merlot, one of the great First Growth wines from the St. Emilion appellation of Bordeaux in France. In our discussion, I said the best bottle of wine I have ever had was Alban's 1993 grenache. After drinking the wine last week with John Alban over great food at Chef Rick's my judgment stands!
We also drank 1998Chateau Rayas, a wine frequently regarded as the greatest grenache in the world. Although tasty and very complex with earthy and mushroom complexity, the two Alban vintages prevailed as the great wine of the evening!
Rayas is the model-the "ideal type," if you will- for John's grenache. Tasting the three wines together as we did the other night, the student has surpassed the master.
When the 1993 was released, it retailed for $28. John remarked people thought he was crazy for charging that. Current vintages sell in the $40-$60 range. The wine usually sells out as soon as it is released. The winery is not open to the public. You can call Alban Vineyards at (805) 546-0305.
- David Cecchini and Leslie Tucker of Restaurant Nu in Santa Barbara will be taking over the Ballard Store restaurant in the Santa Ynez Valley. The cafe will remain open for breakfast and lunch as they remodel the interior.
- The Central Coast Home Vintners' Association is trying to increase participation in their 2004 wine competition and has set a tentative timetable for the competition well in advance. The wine judging is set for June 19; last day for submission of entry forms is May 29. Visit their website at www.cchva.org
- World of Pinot Noir set for this weekend in San Luis Obispo County is sold out, if you were planning to attend. Go next year.
Wine lover and Santa Maria Times Wine columnist, Bob Senn, lives in the bucolic Los Alamos Valley and owns the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium.
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