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Fish Out of Water Garnacha

Type : Wine
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There’s much more to wine than the handful of major grapes that get all the attention. Among the most tantalizing wines I encounter are those made from less familiar varieties. These are the ones I continually seek out myself. Why? Because their very obscurity often translates into stupendous value.

Heading my list, when the red wine mood strikes lately, is a grape of Spanish origin variously known as Garnacha in its homeland or Grenache in France as well as most everywhere else in the world. Haven’t heard of it? This happens to be the planet’s most widely planted red grape although you’d never know looking at the labels of most wines made from it. These bottles instead read: “Chateauneuf du Pape,” “Gigondas,” “Priorat,” “Rioja,” etc. The reason Garnacha/Grenache labors in virtual anonymity despite forming the backbone of so many legendary wines is because Europeans emphasize geographic place names on their labels rather than grape varieties.

Chances are this is a grape that many of you have probably enjoyed without ever knowing what it is because the 100% Garnacha Vina Borgia from Spain is our Legal Sangria wine. Among Garnacha/Grenache’s great virtues is the fact that it blends easily with stronger flavored partners, such as Syrah, Mourvedre, and Tempranillo. Relatively pale in color, with cherry like red fruit aromas, pronounced peppery accents, and substantial alcohol, but moderate levels of acidity and tannin, it tends not to dominate food so it also plays beautifully with delicately textured fish. Versatility is an additional virtue; this is the majority grape in many of the most popular red wines and dry Rosés from Spain and Southern France.

The grape transcends basic blending material when it is harvested from older vines at tonnage so miserly that real flavor concentration results. In addition to its European homeland, Australia and California are home to some ancient bush-trained Grenache vineyards yielding outstandingly rich and complex wines. As with Pinot Noir, there’s a strong inverse relationship between how much Grenache you get from a vineyard and how delicious the resulting wine tastes. In fact, there’s a certain overlap in red wine flavor profile between Grenache and Pinot, despite the latter’s generally stronger acid levels.

Why in particular are we so enthusiastic? Because of Garnacha/Grenache’s potential to sync magically with seafood. Vastly underappreciated, undervalued, and waiting to be discovered, this is right in our wheelhouse. In fact, we’ve just developed and blended Fish Out of Water Garnacha to complement the flavor profile of some of our lighter more delicate fish dishes. To my palate, it’s the quintessential all purpose “red wine with fish.” Crafted together with good friend, wine guru, and noted author, Randall Grahm of the pioneering Bonny Doon Vineyards in Santa Cruz, it’s designed as a softer, fruit-driven, slightly spicy red that you can enjoy as an aperitif or with a range of dishes all through dinner. (Randall, by the way, is appearing and signing copies of his new book “Been Doon So Long” at a sold out dinner we’re holding on Nov. 11 at our Park Square Wine Cellar; stay tuned for details on upcoming dinners in our series.)

Fish friendly red wines are becoming more and more popular at the restaurants; today approximately one third of the bottles of wine we sell are red, but that is substantially up from a few years ago. We’ve experimented with Garnacha/Grenache before, with good results, but this is the first time we’ve ever blended a wine just from this varietal and featured it by the glass. It’s made from Central Coast Monterey County fruit and is actually blended with 1% Mourvedre, a spicy, slightly more tannic red that gives the blend a touch more gravitas.

I invite you to come enjoy the Fish Out of Water Garnacha now at most of our restaurants or, if you are in the proximity of our Chestnut Hill MA restaurant, to buy a bottle retail. Here are my tasting notes:

The wine’s subdued garnet tones might deceive you into thinking there’s not much substance, but one whiff should confirm the contrary: red berry jam, herbal scents, minerals, dried figs, licorice and pinch of white pepper. Creamy on the palate, with a smooth lush texture, it also features more refreshing juicy acidity than you generally get with Garnacha/Grenache. Tasting it with fish is an exercise in pure sensuality. The best thing about it: for a wine of this quality it’s a steal. Enjoy it with everything from scrod to grilled swordfish rubbed with herbs, or prepared with our red onion jam. 

Sandy Block, Master of Wine
VP Beverage, Legal Sea Foods