The tender grape is still a minor player in Washington wine but could challenge Oregon’s pinot noir, if it were planted in bigger numbers.
ONE OF THE most exciting developments in Washington wine is the re-emergence of grenache as an important grape.
First planted in Washington in 1963, grenache was among the early wines made by Ste. Michelle Vineyards in 1967. It was a popular rosé, and it continued to be a big seller the rest of the next decade. But grenache is a tender grape that doesn’t fare well during the Columbia Valley’s occasional-yet-infamous harsh winters. For that reason, grenache never caught on with winemakers.
With the rise of Rhône varieties in Washington the past two decades, grenache has come roaring back into fashion. Not only does it stand alone deliciously as a varietal bottling and as a rosé; it also plays a central role in GSM blends. (It’s the “G,” playing well with syrah and mourvèdre.)
Three Washington grenaches to try
Palencia Winery 2014 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $36: Winemaker Victor Palencia has a touch with Rhône red varieties, as evidenced by this suburb grenache from the cooler Yakima Valley. Aromas of gorgeous high-toned red fruit are followed by nicely integrated black pepper, cherry cola, black currant and fresh-picked raspberries. This won best red and best of show at the 2017 Walla Walla Wine Competition.
Sparkman Cellars 2014 Wonderland Grenache, Yakima Valley, $32: Christian Sparkman pulls from the venerable Yakima Valley sources of Boushey and Olsen vineyards for this velvety and juicy grenache that’s among the state’s top examples year after year. Dusty oak, red plums, cassis and sweet herbs lead to a lithe and juicy drink of blackberries and dried strawberries. Its polished texture transitions into a long finish.
Novelty Hill 2013 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Grenache, Columbia Valley, $28: Woodinville vintner Tom Alberg’s Stillwater Creek Vineyard, the estate site near the Frenchman Hills in the Columbia Basin, offers one of the largest bottlings of grenache. This release is a bold and cellar-worthy example. It spent 20 months in 40 percent new French oak barrels, creating toasty and spicy nuances of dark chocolate, coffee and white pepper in front of blackberry, elderberry and pomegranate. There’s a rush of blueberry on the palate, which is paced by mouth-filling acidity.
Thanks to its exceptionally bright-red-toned fruit and juicy acidity, grenache could well be Washington’s answer to Oregon pinot noir (if it were ever planted in serious amounts).
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Washington is hanging its hat on cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, so it’s highly doubtful grenache will ever play more than a bit part in Washington.
But, as winemaker interest rises and consumer interest sharpens, expect more acres of grenache to go in the ground. Last fall, Washington grapegrowers brought in 1,700 tons of grenache out of a total wine-grape harvest of 263,000 tons. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the amount of grenache double in the next couple of years.