The French call it Grenache, the Spanish call it Garnacha, and in Sardinia in the Mediterranean, the locals call it Cannonau and sometimes argue that the variety actually originated there, although most wine experts agree that it first came from Aragon in Spain.
It remains the most-planted red wine-grape variety in Spain, and second most common in the world (although like the unfamiliar grape that ranks first, Airen, much of it goes anonymously into everyday "jug" wines).
It turns up - most often as part of a blend of grapes - in such sought-after appellations as Chateauneuf-du-Pape of the Southern Rhone, Priorat in Southwestern Spain, in California, and all over Australia as a player in the Rhone-like blend nicknamed "GSM" for its components Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.
Grenache may not always rise to the level of respect that attends such "noble" red grapes as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir; this may be because it makes such a fruity, ripe and jammy-sweet wine, redolent of fresh raspberries and fragrant pepper, that it's easier to quaff than it is to take it seriously, although such high-end Grenaches as Chateau Rayas in Chateauneuf (100 percent Grenache) and the top Priorats can be very serious wines indeed.
As this month's featured variety in Wine Tasting 101, let's take a look at the less serious side of Grenache, sampling several of the popular and affordable Spanish Garnachas that have won popularity in the international market by delivering wines that are deliciously quaffable but nicely structured and balanced. Often available in the range of $7 to $8 or even less, they provide drinking pleasure that significantly exceeds their low price, establishing this category among the best wine values available in the world today.
I have selected two inexpensive, widely distributed Garnacha-based wines as this month's benchmark wines for Wine Tasting 101: Viña Alarba 2002 Calatayud Old Vines Grenache, which retails locally for $8.99, and the outrageously fruity Borsao 2002 Campo de Borja, available here for $7.99 and detailed below. If you would like to participate in this interactive online tasting course, you're encouraged to start with these wines, but please feel welcome to try any Spanish Garnacha, or even another inexpensive Spanish red of any grape variety.
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Borsao 2002 Campo de Borja ($7.99)
This bright, cherry-red wine is a blend of 75 percent Garnacha plus Tempranillo, made in the Campo de Borja wine region in Northeastern Spain, not far from Rioja. Its full, forward aromas can only be described as "exuberant," ripe red-berry fruit and a distinctive mix of black and white pepper. With time in the glass, it opens up to even more heady fruit, as luscious and sweet as raspberry Kool-Aid. It's not sweet but appropriately dry and tart in the mouth, though, fresh berry fruit and fragrant pepper held up by lemony, mouth-watering acidity; there's a wisp of dry tannins in the finish. A real "fruit bomb," it's neither elegant nor austere, but it shows complexity and balance unusual in a low-end wine. U.S. importer: Cutting Edge Selections, Fairfax, Ohio, and other regional importers; from Jorge Ordoñez. (Aug. 10, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with grilled steaks, or for that matter, just about any red meat or sharp cheese.
VALUE: Provided you like the very fruit-forward style, it's a hard-to-beat bargain at any price under $10. Shop around, though, as my local retail price was on the high side; I've seen it advertised online for $5 or less.
WHEN TO DRINK: This exuberant fruit won't last forever, and it's not a wine made for cellaring, but it should hold up on the wine rack for at least a year or two.
WEB LINK: Bodegas Borsao's Website is available in English, Spanish and French at this link:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Check out prices and vendors for Borsao at Wine-Searcher.com,
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Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004