Grenache can be a hard grape to grow, let alone enjoy as a single-varietal bottle. Traditionally used for blending purposes, Grenache’s tendency toward high acidity and fruit forward flavors make it the ideal backbone for Rhone-style blends like GSM, contrasting and thus balancing the heavier, heartier, and earthier components (in this example, Syrah and Mourvèdre). So when I see a single-varietal bottle of Grenache, I simultaneously smile and cringe (my face is probably quite the site at that point) because I’m excited at the prospect of a Grenache, but experience has led me to predict disappointment. On the one hand, the grape is what it is: bright, fruity, acidic. On the palate this amounts to a simultaneously austere and flabby wine — lean, yes, but without structure or purpose (much like a person can be skinny with a high percentage of body fat, aka skinny-fat). On the other hand, wine producers, knowing what the purity of the Grenache grape will produce, tend to want to mask these features with excessive amount of new oak. On the palate this becomes the actual definition of flabby — the fruit, the acid, the oak all maintain their individuality, never melding together to create a balanced body (much like that same skinny-fat person eating a high protein diet to try to gain muscle without working out — he or she will just get, well, fat).
There is, however, an achievable balance when it comes to Grenache. But it requires the right variables to be in place — namely the terroir, the climate, and a skilled winemaker. Welcome to Tercero Wines 2011 Grenache.
About the Wine: Tercero 2011 Grenache is made from 100% Grenache grapes from the Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez (Santa Barbara County).
The first thing you should know about this wine is that winemaker Larry Schaffer, too, is a skeptic when it comes to the varietal. Most years, the Camp 4 vineyard produces Grenache exactly as I described above, what Larry calls “typical CA style” with flavors of “bright strawberry candy.” It’s a flat and pretty consistently warm vineyard location with excessively fertile soils — something I was surprised to learn given my tasting notes below.
But 2011 was an atypically cold year (frost was involved — a definite Santa Barbara rarity), allowing these traditionally earlier ripeners to hang until mid-November. Though cool climate means the Grenache’s natural acidity were still high, the slow maturity meant low measurable fruit sugars (ie: less “candy”).
So Larry had a great set up, but it’s what he chose to do with this anomaly of a harvest that truly makes this wine stand out. Or, I should say, what he didn’t do. What he didn’t do was put this delicious fruit into new oak. What he didn’t do was rack his wines until bottling. What he didn’t do was blend the final product with another varietal. “I have an ‘old world’ mentality when it comes to winemaking – do what I do and then leave it alone,” says Larry.
What did he do? Tercero 2011 Grenache included 25% whole cluster during initial fermentation. After pressing, Larry placed the wine into seasoned French oak barrels…for 2 1/2 years. And there it sat, untouched until bottling.
Flavor Profile: There’s a duality to the visual of this wine. Simultaneously there’s a darkness, a burnt rouge color, that seems to fight with a more up-beat, shiny garnet in the glass.
Initial aromas are quite jammy — like black cherries hanging, fully ripened, from a brambly cherry tree. There’s element of earth and herbs. Swirl, let the wine settle, and sniff again. Are you sure those are black cherries you smelt? Or is it the aroma of plump black olives? There’s a shiny, somewhat tin-y, sliver of aroma that acts like a film over the scent. It is, indeed, reminiscent of olives. (Perhaps the cherry tree and olive tree grow alongside each other in this mystical forest).
For me the tasting was very much a journey. First, I found fruit elements — dried fruits, but not like raisins or craisins. It’s almost like those cherries (or olives) I sensed on the nose are shriveling in the sun, emitting a distinguishing odor and flavor. Those shriveling fruits pointed toward drying greenery (think heavy leaf flavors here) and a decaying crusty branch (a kind of bark-y earthiness). About mid-way through the tannins were delicately introduced along with a few earthy herbs (white pepper, maybe cardamom pods), leading to a dry, but fully satisfying and complete, finish.
The aftertaste — once you’ve swallowed the wine and exhale through the nose with closed lips — is an after thought of fruit. You have to try hard, get your face to contort the proper way to complete the exercise as listed. But if you do, the aftertaste is — there’s no other way to say this — purple. Fresh grapes, dense strawberry. As if the Grenache is saying, “Oh yeah, I’m meant to be fruit forward…her yah go.”
The thing that stood out to me the most, though, was the woods-y component. It’s not oaky by any means, but there’s this quality that’s just like rough, brambly, branches — an utter rusticity I never thought I’d experience from the stereotypically “candied” Grenache.
Food Pairing: I enjoyed my Tercero 2011 Grenache with fillet mignon grilled medium rare, atop a strawberry herb-based salad, with a strawberry-red wine jus. Was it the perfect pairing? I’d say so. The wine is clearly strong enough to stand up to the likes of red meat — no question. The strawberries brought out a bit of acidity and fruit elements that are enjoyably subtle in the wine, but also refreshed the palate during the wine’s “dry-er” finish. Meanwhile the herbs enhanced that “drying greenery” in the secondary palate profile. And those delicate spices in the mid-palate compliment the burnt crust one gets on a perfectly grilled steak.
But again it was that woods-y/earthy element — an element that stands all its own — that sticks with you from start to finish and against any and all food pairing. I can’t get enough of it.
More Info: Enjoyable now, the Tercero 2011 Grenache shows astronomical potential. I wouldn’t age it for long, mind you. But I’m curious to see how the flavors will further meld together a year to five years from now.
If you haven’t yet read my reviews of Tercero Wines Cinsault and Tercero Wines Grenache Blanc, please do so. I received the Tercero Wines 2011 Grenache as a sample for review (Cheers, Larry!). For more information about Tercero Wines and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Tercero Wines website.
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