Wine from Washington’s highest-priced grapes fares well in the annual Judgment of Geyserville competition in California.
IT TOOK NEARLY 50 years for Washington grenache to come into its own.
Since its first planting in the early 1960s, grenache has risen in stature, thanks to the Rhône craze. It’s now one of the most sought-after grapes in the state.
Grenache originates from the south of France — it’s the “G” in “GSM” blends — and is known in Spain as garnacha. It is widely planted in Australia and California. It has been the highest-priced grape in Washington the past two years, fetching upward of $1,700 per ton.
Four top grenaches
These were four of the top grenaches from this year’s Judgment of Geyserville. All were tasted blind by some of the nation’s top wine writers.
Stag’s Hollow Winery 2014 Renaissance grenache, Okanagan Valley, $40: This Canadian entry wowed the judges with its theme of boysenberry, spicy currants and ripe red raspberry.
Sawtooth Winery 2013 Classic Fly Series grenache, Snake River Valley, $32: Beautifully complex example with aromas ranging from chalkboard dust to lavender, followed by flavors of red plum and marionberry.
Kilikanoon Wines 2012 Prodigal grenache, Clare Valley, $27: Notes of white pepper and alder smoke give way to flavors of black cherry, marionberry and a hint of lavender honey.
Palencia Winery 2013 grenache, Yakima Valley, $36: Delicate aromas of mulling spices, blueberry and elderberry lead to bright, spicy flavors of blueberry, huckleberry and ripe cherry, all backed by fine-grained tannins.
This intriguing grape creates intriguing wines. For that reason, we decided upon grenache as our theme for the fourth annual Judgment of Geyserville, an exclusive competition that takes place each January in Northern California. Select wine writers are each assigned to choose three examples of grenache to represent a particular region. This year, the Judgment featured wines from British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California and Australia.
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The highest-ranking wine came from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, followed by grenaches representing Idaho’s Snake River Valley, Australia’s Clare Valley and Washington’s Yakima Valley.
For Victor Palencia, one of the rising stars in Washington wine, it was no surprise to see his wine do well. He said grenache benefits from extended hang time, which is why he prefers fruit from the more-temperate Yakima Valley, as opposed to the warmer Wahluke Slope or Red Mountain. The Yakima Valley tends to deliver more complexity, spiciness and bright acidity, he says.
In fact, the acidity and high-toned red fruit make grenache similar, in ways, to pinot noir. With the delicate, aromatic flexibility of stunning rosés and food-friendly reds, grenache could be to Washington what pinot noir is to Oregon.
The obvious downside is that grenache is a tender Mediterranean variety that doesn’t always survive Washington’s occasionally harsh winters. Sites with southern-facing slopes — where the spring frost and fall fog can be blown away from the vines — seem vital for the long-term success of grenache in Washington.