In the long Golden State tradition of prognosticating which white grape may pique the curiosity of Chardonnay drinkers, there’s a new competitor in town: Grenache Blanc.
Still puny in terms of planted acres (less than 350 statewide, compared to about 100,000 for Chardonnay), Grenache Blanc originally mutated from Grenache Noir in Spain and then spread to France’s Rhône Valley. There, it’s predominantly blended into white wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône.
The Haas family at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles imported cuttings in 1992. In 2002, they convinced federal regulators to recognize Grenache Blanc.
“There is a lot of openness from people for white wines with both body and freshness,” says Jason Haas, regarding Grenache Blanc. “It kind of checks everyone’s boxes.” His father, Robert, started Tablas Creek almost 30 years ago as a partnership with the Perrin family of France’s Château de Beaucastel.
“You don’t have to choose between ripeness or acidity in Grenache Blanc like you do with Viognier.”—Jason Haas
Grenache Blanc enjoys an upper hand on two fronts: people can pronounce it (“always helpful,” says Haas) and, more importantly, there’s stylistic consistency compared to wildly variable Viognier, which swings from overly ripe and peachy to bitingly acidic and lean.
That’s because Grenache Blanc holds its acidity longer.
“You don’t have to choose between ripeness or acidity in Grenache Blanc like you do with Viognier,” says Haas. He’s also fond of using the grape in Tablas Creek’s popular white blends. The bulk of the plantings are in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, but Haas says there is growing interest in Sonoma and the Sierra Foothills as well.
Six Wines To Try
Miroballi 2013 Grenache Blanc (Santa Ynez Valley); $25, 92 points. Aromas of lime blossom, chalk, fresh rain on concrete and nectarine flesh. Flavors are exuberant but not overripe, showing lime peels and juice, a cement-like grip and a buzzing sensation that overtakes the mouth like a Sichuan peppercorn. Editors’ Choice.
Epiphany 2014 Camp Four Vineyard Grenache Blanc (Santa Barbara County); $25, 91 points. Honeydew melon, lime peel and slate on the nose. Creamy yellow pear is evident in the center of the palate, but framed by fantastic citrus zest acidity and a Meyer lemon pith grip, lush with interesting texture and tension. Editors’ Choice.
Palumbo 2014 Grenache Blanc (Temecula Valley); $28, 91 points. Enhanced by 6% Viognier, the chalky nose is decorated by light peach, Meyer lemon peel and yellow flower aromas. Texturally grippy and tense on the palate, with yellow pear, lemon rinds, ever-so-slight stone fruit and tongue-tingling acidity.
Shane 2014 Camp 4 Vineyard Grenache Blanc (Santa Ynez Valley); $24, 91 points. Melon, sea salt and white peach aromatics lean into a pomelo pith and wet concrete backbone on this crisp, austere bottling. There’s lime peel and yellow grapefruit tension to the palate, which is linear and acid-driven, showing chalky texture and yellow pear flavor.
Ranchero 2014 Chrome Grenache Blanc (Paso Robles); $28, 89 points. This cool, crisp bottling shows ripe key lime, chalky minerality and sliced red apple on the nose, with a clean and tangy palate of lime peel, Meyer lemon pith, green papaya and slight grassiness.
Tablas Creek 2014 Grenache Blanc (Paso Robles); $27, 89 points. Very steely and tight aromas of sliced yellow pear and cut apple. Great texture to the palate, steadily evolving from wound-up citrus into broader apple, pear, white peach and melon flesh flavors.