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May 12, 2013

Howard Hewitt: Grenache Blanc makes wonderful seasonal choice

If the same old Chardonnay, Riesling or Pinot Grigio is getting you down, try something different.

Italian Vermentino, Argentina’s Torontos, and Spain’s Macabeo are great whites with different flavor profiles. Grenache Blanc is the fourth-most planted white wine grape in France and becoming more popular each year as a single varietal wine. It’s often used in traditional Rhone and Southern France blends. It’s also a great alternative to the usual suspects.

Tablas Creek, Paso Robles, has championed Rhone whites for years. Oregon’s Joe Dobbes has become a huge fan and terrific producer more recently.

“I was making a Rhone blend for one of my southern Oregon customers,” Dobbes explained during a Chicago marketing event. “It was Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. Lo and behold, they had two tons of Grenache Blanc left over and said ‘Hey Joe, do you want it?”

That’s been a few years ago and now Dobbe’s Family Estate Grenache Blanc sells out each year. “I wanted to be first one to say let’s hang our hat on this grape. As a winemaker, I’m always trying to do something new and different, right? Oregon is known for Pinot Noir and we have some beautiful wines in southern Oregon. But the Grenache Blanc came along and I thought ‘what’s the risk for a couple of tons of grapes?’

“I want rich full-flavored, varietal fruit in my whites. I started in Germany in 1985 and those white aromatics really helped formulate me. The Grenache Blanc is made “with no new barrels, no malolactic fermentation, and no filtration. The wine has great clarity and great richness in the mouth.

“The quintessential wine has great mouth feel, specifically whites, and beautiful fruit with great acidity. “I think this wine has all three.”

Dobbes looked at the landscape and saw Oregon winemakers selling Pinot Noir, most with a Pinot Gris but not many other choices. “I got tired of having to sell my Dobbes luxury label at a discount and thought we were going in the wrong direction. We decided to hang our hat a bit on Grenache Blanc, a specialty wine for a high-end retailer or restaurant. You’re not going to see this everywhere.”

The wine retails from Dobbes’ tasting room at $26.

The veteran winemaker acknowledged people are always looking for something different. “So we offer them some unique, fruity, esoteric whites. We’re also about Pinot Noir. Now Oregon winemakers are asking me where they can get Grenache Blanc, and I say … well, you can’t.”

Dobbes buys all of the Grenache Blanc available from the one producer who has six acres in southern Oregon — the state’s entire production! Dobbes’ most popular label, Wines by Joe, is widely available.

It might be easier to find Grenache Blanc from a California producer; still there are only 159 acres in the country’s biggest wine-producing state. The wine is characterized by its crisp acidity and often hints of green apple, orange, peach and minerality.

Besides Dobbes and Tablas Creek, try a Domaine Virgile Joly Grenache Blanc widely available in the Midwest and East Coast. Price points range from mid-teens to mid-$20s for these dynamic white wines.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, Ind., writes about value wine every other week for 22 Midwestern newspapers. Read his wine blog at www.howardhewitt.net.

 

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