story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/13/17
Grenache blanc has likely been on your wine drinking periphery for a while now. You’ve seen it on the shelf, you’ve spotted it on a few wine lists. But the time to try it, is now.
|My visit to the SB Rhone Rangers tasting, w/Tercero's Larry Schaffer|
A bevy of grenache blancs were on display last week, when the Santa Barbara chapter of the Rhone Rangers – a non-profit advocacy group aiming to elevate the marketplace visibility of Rhone grapes – poured for the public. The intimate event at the Santa Barbara Wine Collective, in the Funk Zone, featured winemakers showing off world-class syrah, grenache and viognier wines. But it was the grenache blanc that really shone for me.
One of the most widely planted white wine grapes in all of France, grenache blanc is still a novelty in California. Most figures I’ve found put the state's total planting of grenache blanc at under 200 acres. Most of the recent surge in grenache blanc interest, though, is driven by wineries throughout the Central Coast, and by some of Santa Barbara’s own top producers specifically.
Part of grenache blanc’s delicious appeal, to me, comes from balance. With a drinking experience reminiscent of sauvignon blanc or a very crisp chardonnay, grenache blanc tends to be generous and bright all at once, rich and crisp, full and vibrant. That makes this easy-drinking white wine as a much a perfect afternoon sipper as a dinner table companion for dishes like sushi and pork chops.
Here are some Santa Barbara grenache blanc wines and blends worth discovering.
Tercero Grenache Blanc 2014 ($30)
Tercero winemaker Larry Schaffer, an unabashed champion of all things Rhone, often serves his grenache blanc at room temperature, not chilled. That allows the wine’s aromas and richness to come alive, he told me. This wine has bright and beautiful aromatics, a racy acidity that reminds me of ripe grapefruit and clean, generous flavors. Aged in neutral French oak barrels for 15 months.
A bit more age, and no filtering or fining, gives this grenache blanc extra body, extra creaminess. But this wonderful richness is balanced by lively acidity, citrus notes and a splash of minerality. The finish delivers subtle spiciness. Sourced from Camp 4 Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. Bernat is a pet project for winemaker Sam Marmorstein, who, with wife Shawnda, also owns the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café.
Winemaker Craig Jaffurs poured at the Rhone Rangers tasting; although he sold his eponymous label last year, he’s still helping to promote its Rhone-inspired portfolio. The just-released grenache blanc did not go through full malolactic fermentation, he told me, which keeps the wine clean and crisp. The mouth feel is rounded, nonetheless, and the tropical notes are lovely. Sourced from the Thompson Vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley.
Fess Parker Winery “Marcella’s” 2015 ($20)
Named for the late Disney icon’s wife, Marcella, this wine showcases how well grenache blanc can get along. As a blending agent – and, at 53%, the biggest component here – it provides green apple flavors, lemon tart nuances and just enough palate heft. The other players in this wine include viognier, roussanne and marsanne, which impart floral and tropical fruit overtones. An all-Santa Ynez Valley wine.
Grenache blanc is not the biggest player in this blend; the wine is 28% grenache blanc, along with 66% roussanne and 6% viognier. The latter two components add an array of flavors and floral notes, while the grenache blanc imparts refreshing flavors of green apple and lively minerality. Another win by winemaker Eric Mohseni and the winery that brought the Rhone to Santa Barbara when Zaca planted the county’s first syrah vines in 1978.