A Little Grenache Geekery & A Good Cheap Cabernet
Chris Ringland, the star Australian winemaker whose eponymous and much acclaimed Chris Ringland Shiraz sells for a modest (ahem) $600 or so a bottle, stopped by the office the other day to pour a few of his substantially less pricey wines. (In the interests of full disclosure: they're made in partnership with Dan Philips of Grateful Palate, who is an F&W Contributing Editor.)
Anyway, the wine that particularly struck me was from the amusingly named Chateau Chateau project, which will focus on single-vineyard Grenache from Australia. "Grenache really is a warm climate analogue to Pinot Noir," Ringland said, specifically referring to this grape's ability to express tremendous flavor without necessarily being color-saturated; but I think also in regard to Grenache's gift for expressing vineyard site character as well (I warned you there might be some wine geekery in this entry...).
He also noted that, in Australia at least, Grenache grown on lighter and sandier soil tends to be more perfumed and spicy, whereas on red-brown, more clay-dominated soil "it's more red berry getting into chocolate."
The latter was certainly true in the 2006 Chateau Chateau Magic Window Marananga Grenache (about $65, find this wine), which comes from a more clay-heavy vineyard in the Marananga area of the Barossa. Translucently ruby-hued, it had fragrant cherry, coffee and sassafras notes, and smoky, dark cherry fruit that ended on mocha.
On the other hand, and though it doesn't have a darn thing to do with Grenache, if you're interested in experiencing Ringland's winemaking at a much more modest price point, you could do worse than to pick up a bottle of the 2008 Darby & Joan Cabernet Sauvignon ($9, find this wine). It had appealing black currant and tea leaf notes, soft tannins, and no intrusive oak. Of course, no oak was used to make it, so that would account for the lack thereof. Said Ringland regarding 2008 in Australia, by the way, "It was an extremely good vintage, even though there's word around that it was a climatic disaster. I think we'll see that it wasn't what people were expecting..."