The Dolly Parton of Forgotten Grapes
Pity poor Grenache Blanc. For decades, it’s been fighting tooth and nail to not only been get past its reputation as a countrified peasant grape responsible for the dirty or dusty qualities in its white wines, but it has also had to live in the shadow of its bigger, darker, more robust and better-acclaimed big brother, Grenache Noir, who took the family name for himself and became much more ubiquitous and well-known than his sister.
On second thought, don’t pity poor Grenache Blanc. She’s blond, vivacious, and she’s got the kind of curves that other wines can only dream of and that knowledgeable wine lovers drool over. She thrives on her own as a solo act and can also duet with a variety of other Rhone-style grapes. Dolly may have had Porter Wagoner, Kenny Rogers, and Emmy Lou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, but Grenache Blanc has Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, and Muscat to play with.
Grenache Blanc wines are typically big, fruity whites with large, voluptuous, rounded curves; high in alcohol but low in acidity. Much like her ruddy fraternal twin, Grenache Blanc imparts a dirty, rustic quality into wines when blended, which just like country music can be an acquired taste for most folks. But that flavor profile and the twinge of rural flavor and darkness that she brings to wines let you know immediately when she’s involved in the proceedings.
The Grenache Blanc vines themselves tend to be remarkably robust and can produce fruit by the bushel, but when Grenache Blanc grapes are allowed to overproduce on the vine, they will produce wines that are heavy and flabby (just like how Dolly has fought with her weight over the years). When pruned back and grown just right, though, Grenache Blanc transforms into a highly aromatic, perfumed wine that can stand up strong on its own and provide structure, character, and backbone to any wine blend in which it is featured. There’s usually some soft and sweet stone fruit flavors to be found in the wine, but not a mean or acidic streak in her. Yet another reason why Grenache Blanc is a favorite to partner up with sharper, crisper, more acidic white varietals like Picpoul, Bourboulenc, and Roussanne.
But while you can take the grape out of the country, you can never take the country out of the grape, so no matter where it’s grown, the same curvy, round, dirty, rustic scent and flavor patterns follow Grenache Blanc around like a coonhound beggin’ for your pocketful of jerky.
So don’t pity poor Grenache Blanc, the country wine that just happens to be a millionaire in disguise. Embrace her, love her, cherish her for all the spunky charms and character she has.
How do I pronounce Grenache Blanc
Grenache Blanc Looks Like:
Though no Grenache Blanc is grown in or around Pigeon Forge, Tennessee -- as far as we know – most Grenache Blanc wines are the near-spittin’ image of Dolly herself: bright straw blonde and somewhat pale. However, because Grenache Blanc is fairly susceptible to oxidation and takes well to aging in oak, you might also get a darker, brassier golden color to the wine.
Grenache Blanc Smells Like:
Grenache Blanc produces wonderfully perfumed wines resplendent with bright fresh fruit and florals: notes of green apple, tropical fruits, and stone fruits like peaches and nectarines along with some sweeter hints of honey or powdered sugar. Young Grenache Blancs often take on the scent of dill before they are properly aged. However, because Grenache Blanc is a grape that takes on a lot of the scent and flavor characteristics of the terroir in which it is grown, there can also be more rugged, animalistic scents to the wine, a barnyard smell fairly indicative of certain grapes from the southern Rhone valley, and depending on where the grapes came from, a stoniness or minerality to the nose of the wine as well.
Grenache Blanc is the fifth-most planted grape in France (behind Ugni Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc) and a major component of the white wines from two of the southern Rhone’s most famous and widely-recognized wine appellations Cotes du Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Additionally, up to 10% if it can be blended into red Cotes du Rhone Villages blends. Grenache Blanc is also exceptionally popular in the Rousillon region of France (the viticulture Wild, Wild West of France – where anything goes!), Australia, Spain, and the Central Coast region of California – especially between Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles – where the grape is produced into a single-varietal wine.
Cindy’s “Did Juneau?”:
The United States was actually a rather slow adopter when it came to Grenache Blanc. The first Grenache Blanc planting in the U.S. didn’t occur until 1996, when a Central Coast winery (and one of the so-called “Rhone Ranger” producers of wine) called Tablas Creek grafted Grenache Blanc cuttings from its sister vineyards at Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape onto rootstock and let it grow. Tthis was after the cuttings, which had been pruned and imported in 1992, spent three years in a USDA quarantine until they were determined to be disease-free. Even after the first fruit from these vines was harvested in 1999 (remember, it takes about 3-4 years from initial planting to get fruit hearty enough to be pressed into wine), the Grenache Blanc wine could only be called “Grenache” on the label because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms who monitor and regulate the wine industry would not recognize Grenache Blanc as its own varietal. It was only after Tablas Creek petitioned the ATF in 2002 and waited a year that Grenache Blanc was finally recognized, in February of 2003. Today, all 100 acres of Grenache Blanc currently planted in California have their origins in those original Tablas Creek vines.
With strong peach flavors in the wine and its relative earthiness, a simple peach salad is a terrific pairing with this wine. Throw together some arugula, fresh peaches, chopped red onion, cucumber, fresh creamy goat cheese and sliced almonds for some crunch, but and pair with a Grenache Blanc. A deliciously sweet and zesty summer lunch or diner that will pair well with any Grenache Blanc.
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