Sunday, January 6, 2008

Calatayud Bodegas Ateca Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines, 2006

My Cabernet-loving friends raise their eyebrows when I tell them that Grenache-based wines are among my favorites. If you've ever tasted Grenache wines from California or Australia, you may understand their skepticism. These wines, usually from young vines with high yields, aged in new oak, are typically jammy and one-dimensional. No thanks, I say.

In the Southern Rhone and in Spain, on the other hand, Grenache-based wines generally come from old vines, struggling to produce even low yields in rocky soil. New oak is rarely if ever used. That's Grenache of a different color.

Garnacha de Fuego is an excellent example. It comes from 60- to 80-year-old vines on rocky slopes in the mountains of Calatayud. The weather is hot, so the wine is fiery, as the name suggests. But very good.

The color is very deep and dark for Grenache. It smells very ripe--dark cherries, black raspberries, plums--but also very deep--grape peels, dark chocolate and fruitcake. Although uniquely Spanish and warm-climate, this wine's depth reminds me more of Le Vieux Donjon than Grand Prieur. It's also very rich and deep on the palate, with lush fruit rolling over the tongue but with a fiery (de fuego) bite (14% alcohol). Very full bodied. The ripe flavors of this wine are counter-balanced by a solid under-pinning of herbs, tobacco and white pepper. None of the cloying, jammy finish you're likely to get with a New World Grenache wine. At $7.99/bottle at World Market, this wine is a super-bargain.

I've never aged this or similar wines because they haven't been available in the United States that long. But I'd like to see how it develops over a 10- 12-year period.

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