Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wine tasting: Bodegas Borsao's "Monte Oton" Garnacha (Grenache), 2013.

(For all my 2016 wine tastings, click the "wine2016" label at the end of this post, or just the "wine" label for all the writing I've ever done on the subject.)

Feliz miércoles! For those who need catching up, I'm spending 2016 fulfilling a New Year's resolution to get better educated about wine; and the first thing I'm doing as part of that is detailed tasting reports of the 20 most popular types of grapes on the planet, moving chromatically from the darkest red to the lightest white, and choosing a region of the globe each time that happens to be particularly well-known for that particular type of grape. Since New Year's I've done tastings of Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chianti, Merlot and (Red) Zinfandel; and tonight I tried one of the last reds on my list, known in its native Spain as Garnacha but by most of the rest of the world by its French name, Grenache, which I must admit is the first type of wine I've tried this year that I hadn't already heard of before 2016.

And it turns out that there's a very good reason for this; for although this grape has been grown by "fine wine" vintners since at least the 1100s, it's what's traditionally known as an "unstable" grape, with a lot of sugar but thin skin, which only ripens very late in the growing season and only in areas that see very hot days, and with a distinct lack of acid, tannin or even bright colors during most of its general harvesting. It's for this reason that Garnacha is mostly used as a "blending" grape with other types of more famous "noble" grapes; so in other words, when a wine is legally labeled "Cabernet Sauvignon" but is actually only 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, that last five percent is usually Garnacha grapes, since a vintner never knows from one year to the next whether that year's Garnacha harvest is going to be particularly great or particularly terrible. And since Garnacha harvests can so often come out as only mediocre, this is also one of the main grapes that are used in such "fortified" wines like sherry and port; for those who don't know, that's wine that's been mixed with hard liquor like brandy, a tradition that started with the British during the Napoleonic Wars so that the wine they were bringing back from allied countries like Spain and Portugal in the 1700s would last for the long sail back to the UK without going rotten.

Oh, but don't say any of this to a Spaniard; for Garnacha wine is a long and proud tradition there in the northeastern "Aragón" section of that country, which in fact goes all the way back to the Borgia family there ("Borja" in Spanish), an old Medieval kingdom that once extended all the way to Sardinia, Sicily, and Italy itself, from which Henry VIII's wife Catherine of Aragon hailed. (In fact, locals in the Aragón region literally refer to themselves as the "Empire of Garnacha.") Like so many of these "minor" grapes around the world, Garnacha for centuries was mostly valued for the cheap "jug" wine drank by blue-collar locals, the same fate of this grape when it was introduced to both Australia and California in the early 20th century; but also much like such maligned grapes in other parts of the world, there are a small but dedicated and passionate group of "craft vintners" in Spain these days that are determined to make Garnacha into the standalone non-blended popular varietal it deserves to be, and in fact I must confess that out of all the wines I've now tried in 2016, Spanish Garnacha has had more articles written about it in hipster wine blogs than any other, the closest I've come so far this year to stumbling across the "next big thing" among wine enthusiasts.

Bodegas Borsao, the winery that made tonight's wine, has an interesting story; although people have been growing grapes on their land since the 12th century (originally monks under the employ of the Borgias), the company itself has only existed since the 1950s, and even more interestingly it is a cooperative corporation, not a family-run business but one literally co-owned by over 600 different shareholders. Unlike a lot of other European wineries, Bodegas Borsao exports a whopping 80 percent of all their bottles to other countries, mostly in America; and that's why their wine has a trendy "brand name" (Monte Oton) instead of going by the grape type, and why their labels have this fun little graphic design, specifically to appeal to the American hipster crowd. And finally, it's worth noting that, at eight bucks a bottle but with a Robert B. Parker score of 89 (out of 100), this is very easily the best bargain I've come across this year for high-regarded "fine wine;" in fact, this is the main reason to even drink wines from this small but dedicated group of "craft wine" aficionados in northeastern Spain, in that they are producing bottles that are getting the same kinds of scores from professionals as more well-known brands of Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots, but for literally one-third the price.

"Monte Oton" Garnacha, 2013
Borja City, Zaracoza, Spain (Moncayo region, Aragón)
14.5% ABV
Robert B. Parker score: 89

Look: A deep and highly opaque red that barely lets light shine through, with a distinct brown glint to the liquid's surface, a traditional trait of Grenache.

Smell: An intense and sour/savory aroma much like Malbec or Shiraz, but not as intense and that doesn't carry as far in the air.

Taste: An interesting taste on the tongue -- not quite as sour and dark as Shiraz, Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon, but not quite as sweet as Zinfandel or Pinot Noir -- with a lighter finish than comparable reds of the same color intensity, although still stronger than Pinot Noir. Interestingly, this also has a more distinct aftertaste than any other wine I've tried this year, a lasting sweetness almost like candy (think of the taste of a Jolly Roger each time you take a swallow while having one in your mouth). Not a bad wine at all; but lacking any of the distinct traits of the other wines I've tried this year (for better or for worse), I suppose this is what tasting veterans would call an "unremarkable" wine, which makes it easy to see why this is primarily used as a blender for other more famous grapes, and is not often marketed as its own varietal.

After a Full Glass: After having a full glass with a dinner of couscous and vegetables, I realized that the taste of this Garnacha actually disappears into the food just as thoroughly as Merlot or Pinot Noir, which is unusual for a wine with this much alcohol. This makes me realize that, at eight bucks, this is an EXCELLENT wine to serve with food, as compared to the former varietals which can easily cost two to three times as much for a bottle that scores as high with the professionals as this.

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