A judgment in Grenache, Perpignan edition
Taking the TGV from Perpignan in the direction of Spain gives you that brief glimpse of what being a protagonist in a billion-dollar superhero franchise must feel like. There’s this rush as you gain more and more speed with the train as it bears down on the Pyrenées range. Just as you top 200kph and appear ready to crash into the mountains, there’s this sudden ‘foop’ as you get swallowed by the Perthus Tunnel, staying in darkness for maybe 3-4 minutes and then experience an inverse ‘woop’ are you pop out the other side in the markedly different terrain of Catalunya in Spain.
I never tire of the experience but this little superhero bit actually happened at the end of judging Grenaches du Monde. The beginning saw me boarding the train to head up to Perpignan from Girona. Once having found my seat, I looked around to see that I was sitting in the midst of friends and colleagues of the “Spain Contingent” who, like me, were all heading up to judge this preeminent event focusing on that most wonderful of grapes, Grenache. This is a grape I’ve surmised is on a rapid ascent due to it being perfect for Pinot Noir lovers who are finding themselves priced out of the offer of wines based upon that grape and who might want a change of taste to wines of a more southern inclination from time to time.
Those of us in this Spain Contingent were soon to participate what was to be the 7th Edition of Grenaches du Monde. As the grape is found in multiple regions of the Mediterranean and a smattering of “New World” regions, the judging location rotates to honor these various points of origin. This year it returned back to its home base of Perpignan in time for the city’s year as the “European Wine City of 2019”. Despite my having done many quick hops to the city (which is really just a stone’s throw from DO Empordà) I’d never really spent that much time in it so this offered a chance not only to taste recent Grenache wines of all styles and colors, but also to explore the area a bit more.
In a similar format to the Concours de Sauvignon I judged a few weeks prior (spring is insane with wine competition judging), we ran through about 35 wines during the mornings of two different days and then we went to various parts of greater Roussillon in the afternoons. While I wrote an article for World of Fine Wine’s most-recent March issue and have roamed the region at length, there are still pockets unknown to me and so these trips allowed more exploration of nooks and crannies. I’m sure for my fellow judges who know of Roussillon only as that regional name which comes after Languedoc and a hyphen, it offered up even more discovery.
It was the visit out to Maury (pictured above) that reminded me how there is still so much more for people to find there. Many may not realize how important Maury is as some of the most interesting wines (see below) are made under the most general of regulations given that the relatively new, AOC Maury Sec doesn’t allow for varietal Grenache. But, like Priorat, Montsant, Terra Alta, and Empordà, there is amazing terroir and vineyards there in this back-pocket valley. I very much thank the producers of the area for putting together a tasting for the two busloads of us that made our way out there although the sparse French-Catalan villages that served as a reminder as to how remote and distant the area is from seemingly-nearby Perpignan.
Like all these events, it was fast and well, fleeting. The next edition will be in Montpellier, just a little up the road from Perpignan and I can only hope that the entries continue to increase as they’ve nearly tripled since the first year it was put on and it’s clear that more and more people are finding strength in the numbers who now champion Grenache are more than just a blending grape.
Out of the nearly 100 wines I tasted between judging and the side events, here are a few that I thought to be very worthy of seeking out if they cross your path, especially those from IGT Marche where they call Grenache, “Bordò” and there are some really excellent wines that were all new to me.
SCV L'Étoile - Cuvée André Magnères 2007
Nutty, dried orange rind and herbs. Excellent, mind-blowing length with profound depth and character. Beautiful example of Banyuls with a great deal of life left to it.
100% Grenache · 18%
Azienda Agricola Le Caniette - Cinabro 2014
Quite pale, delicate color. Rose petal, light red forest berries, cedar. Structured on the palate but still exceedingly balanced with a long finish.
100% Grenache · 13.5%
Château Trillol - Les Deux Jean 2014
Dark fruit, very mineral and full of wet stone notes, baked herbs. Rich fruit on the palate, good body and quite excellent length.
100% Grenache · 13.5%
Jorge Ordoñez - Botani Garnacha 2017
Light red cherry, cured strawberry, sweet spice, and a lovely earthy touch. Lighter on the palate than the nose would let on but still holds a wealth of character and length to the finish.
100% Grenache · 13.5%
Bodegas Vegamar - Esencia 2016
Mixed fruits, a touch of leathery earth that gives a nice fullness to the aromatic profile. Balanced on the palate with a very fresh and expressive profile of fruit that's well-driven by the acidity.
Grenache, Syrah · 14%
Domaine de la Perdrix - J-S Pons Rouge 2017
Rich dark fruits, cured orange peel, very juicy aspect to the fruit notes. Structured on the palate but not austere nor stringy with balanced acidity and a long finish.
100% Grenache · 15%
Domaine Lafage - La Grande Cuvée Rosé 2018
Raspberry, garrigue, fennel, light earthy notes. Delicate and light on the palate but with good structure and complexity. Clear bent towards Provence but a thoroughly enjoyable wine on its own.
Grenache Gris, Mourvèdre · 13%
Domaine Pertuisane - Le Nain Violet 2016
Lots of plump prune, perfumed, with dark spices and a wealth of complexity. Dusty tannin aspect, with clean, super linear fruit notes. Fleshy and big on the palate with full fruit. Despite the overall size and profile of the wine, there's plenty of acidity to keep driving it while it continues to evolve.
100% Grenache · 14.5%
Azienda Agricola Valter Mattoni - Rossobordò 2015
Sweet red fruits, violet, orange peel, sweet vanilla. Balanced and structured on the palate with crisp, driven acidity and savoriness.
100% Grenache · 14%
Terra Remota - Caminante Blanc 2018
Sweet lemon citric notes, honeyed with a great deal of complexity and depth. Nice structure with a fresh acidity and bountiful finish.
60% Grenache Blanc, 25% Chardonnay, 15% Chenin Blanc · 13.5%