A little technical difficulty we've been dealing with so today 3 wines people! Carmenere, Grenache and Cab Franc.
Varietal Overview: Grenache
History and Cultivation
The Spaniards are to thank for this red grape varietal (where it is known by the traditional name, Garnacha), which is among one of the most highly cultivated red grapes in the world today. In addition, It is the chief varietal that is responsible for making one of the world’s most famous and high-quality reds; Châteaunef-du-Pape. It is likely that the Grenache grape originated in the Aragon region of northern Spain, where it was originally called Tinto Aragones, meaning “Red of Aragon”. Although it originated in Spain, today it is most prevalent in France in terms of acreage planted, specifically in the Rhone region, which is the first international land that Grenache grapes saw outside of Spain. After its introduction into France, Grenache grapes have spread to various wine-growing regions around the world, including Australia, the United States, and Italy.
Grenache vines thrive best in hot and dry climates, such as that of its native land in Aragon, Spain. Oddly enough, due to the vines’ thick, woody stalks (often growing in a “wood canopy”), these grapes grow well in regions that are prone to frequent gusts of wind, such as in the Mediterranean. Although not fragile, Grenache grapevines can be slightly picky when it comes to climate, and will only grow best in only the warmest viticultural regions. Yield on these vines is relatively high, so growers often induce water stress (most common in Old World European Grenache wine) to limit the yield of fruit and instead enhance the flavor of those grapes that do grow. These grapes are early to bud but almost always last to be harvested, and are exposed to ample warmth and sunshine which produces high levels of sugar within the fruit. In the wine-making process, this ample sugar translates over to a fairly high alcohol content.
Due to the high level of sugar in Grenache grapes, winemakers will often use them in the production of sweeter port wines or fortified dessert wines, especially in France.
Tasting Profile and Pairing
Often times, Grenache grapes are used as a component of red blends in order to add some sweetness and body. Grenache grapes are notoriously low in tannins, acid, and phenolic compounds. Due to the low level of phenols, Grenache wine can tend to oxidize fairly rapidly if not treated correctly during the winemaking process. If this occurs, the color of the finished product will be muted. In most cases, winemakers working with Grenache grapes will use a slow, drawn out fermentation that is carried out at a cooler temperature than average. Overall, finished Grenache wine will be tastefully sweet with a hint of spice, and full of juicy red fruit such as strawberry and raspberry, making it the perfect blending component with a bold, more tannic and harsher red like a Syrah.
Old World Grenache from Spain has plenty of this juicy red fruit and sweetness, but also displays a delightful herbal aroma. This wine will pair nicely with plenty of braised meat such as beef, pork, veal, or game. Due to the low tannins and acidity, spicier dishes can also be paired with Grenache wines. However, be careful not to pair with too much hot spice, as the higher alcohol content in Grenache can clash with overly-spicy food.
New World Grenache wines tend to have a distinctive aroma of licorice. Often times, New World American Grenache have slightly juicier and more in-your-face fruit flavors that can be used along with the detection of licorice to distinguish it from traditional Spanish Grenache.
Try this Recipe with a Nice, Fruity Red Grenache
Braised Chicken Thighs with Carrots, Potatoes, and Thyme
1 1/2 lb. (750 g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Sweet paprika, to taste
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 lb. (500 g) red-skinned potatoes, about 2 inches (5 cm) in
8 carrots, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1 1/2-inch (4-cm)
1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. gluten-free flour mix
1 1/3 cups (11 fl. oz./330 ml) low-sodium, gluten-free chicken
1/3 cup (3 fl. oz./80 ml) dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 1/2 Tbs. minced fresh thyme
Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper and then generously with paprika. In a large, heavy fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add the onion to the pan and stir, then add the potatoes and carrots. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables are beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the flour mix and stir to coat. Gradually stir in the broth and vermouth and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Return the chicken to the pan and bring to a boil. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the chicken and vegetables are cooked through, stirring and turning the chicken over occasionally, about 25 minutes. Stir in the thyme. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide the chicken and vegetables among 4 warmed plates and serve immediately.
Varietal Overview: Carmenere
History and Cultivation
Once again we have another grape varietal with ancient Roman roots! These Romans sure did like their wines…Carmenere grapes are among the most ancient of European grape varietals, and were thought to have been introduced into the legendary wine land of Bordeaux, France by the ancient Romans. Back during this period, Carmenere grapes were likely known by a different name, Biturica. In fact, this is the same name that the Bordeaux region was known by at the time. As of now, sadly Carmenere grapes have all but died out in the Bordeaux region, where it once was used to produce some of the deepest red wines, due to a devastating phylloxera vine plague. Therefore, Carmenere produced today is typically only thought of as New World Carmenere.
This is not to say that these grapes are nearing extinction worldwide, however. No, in fact, quite the opposite. In the 1850s, Carmenere grapes were introduced to Chile, where favorable weather and soil made for the perfect new home. These vines came to the country in disguise, however. At the time, Chilean winemakers had thought that these vines were Merlot, as they were mixed up in a shipment with this varietal. Over the next couple of decades, Chilean winemakers started to notice that this new “Merlot” was oddly different from the traditional Merlot wine that they were used to.
1994 saw the end of this grape’s run incognito, as a Frenchman by the name of Jean Michel Boursiquot made the alarming discovery that these “Merlot” grapes were actually an entirely different varietal that was virtually unheard of and thought to be extinct. What caused Jean Michel to question the identity of these vines? The truth came from the vegetative qualities of the vines themselves. Unlike Merlot vines, these Carmenere grapevines had twisted portions that distinguished them. In addition, as opposed to Merlot vines, Carmenere grapevines’ leaves turn bright red in the Fall much earlier than Merlot vines do.
This discovery posed a significant challenge for the Chilean wine community at this time, but also had the possibility of being a huge moneymaking opportunity. Over time, Carmenere grew to become Chile’s signature red grape varietal. These grapes favor a moderately warm climate which stays relatively warm for the duration of their long growing season, and Chile offers this perfectly. Winemakers have had no easy task in learning how to perfect the cultivation and harvesting of Carmenere grapes, however. If the weather is too hot, the sugar production in the grapes can overwhelm the formation of tannins, leading to an unbalanced wine. In addition, Chilean winemakers have determined that these grapes grow best when subjected to water stress, as overwatering has a tendency to produce grapes that lead to herbaceous and vegetal wine that is not as palatable.
Success in growing these grapes in Chile has thus inspired winemakers worldwide to try their hand at growing Carmenere. Among those producing include the United States, Argentina, New Zealand, Italy, and Australia. However, as of right now, Chile still claims the title for holding over 90% of Carmenere’s acreage worldwide, traditionally centralized around the Maipo Valley.
Tasting Profile and Pairing
Traditional Carmenere can be classified as a fairly easy-drinking wine, although more complex bottles do exist. Although this wine is approachable at a young age, oak-aging does lead to a more complex and full-bodied flavor, so often times aging is used for this wine varietal. All in all, the flavor profile of Carmenere is similar to Merlot, but is obviously different enough to have drawn suspicion in the past! Traditional Carmenere wine from Chile sports soft and velvety tannins, a delightful sweetness, plenty of ripe red and black berries and cherries, and a noticeable peppery flavor coming from hints of black pepper and green pepper. Some even say that the flavor profile of Carmenere wine can mimic that of dark chocolate in the chocolate world; sweet and rich with a hint of spice!
This wine pairs excellent with a wide variety of foods, due in part to the soft tannins and higher acidity, which allows it to pair with sauces that are naturally acidic. Great dishes to pair can include carne asada, chicken mole, Cuban roast pork, and even some richer fish
Try this Recipe with a Nice Glass of Chilean Carmenere
1 chicken (3 to 4 pounds), cut into 6 pieces
5 black peppercorns
1/2 cup sesame seeds
5 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
6 dried guajillo chile peppers
4 dried ancho chile peppers
6 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup whole blanched almonds
1/4 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
2 6-inch corn tortillas, torn into pieces
1 2.7-ounce disk Mexican chocolate, broken into pieces
Pinch of sugar
Put the chicken and peppercorns in a large pot, cover with water and season with salt. Bring to a gentle simmer over low heat and cook until tender, about 40 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and set the cooking liquid aside. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, tossing, until golden, about 5 minutes. Set aside 2 tablespoons for garnish and transfer the rest to a blender. In the same skillet, toast the cloves, cinnamon stick, and anise and coriander seeds until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add to the blender.
Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chile peppers. Heat 4 tablespoons canola oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the chiles and fry until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with hot water and set aside to soak until pliable, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, add the raisins, almonds, pumpkin seeds and tortilla pieces to the oil in the skillet and cook, stirring, until the seeds and tortillas are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add to the blender along with the oil from the skillet. Add the softened chiles and puree, pouring in 2 to 3 cups of the soaking liquid to make a thick, smooth sauce. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the chile sauce and fry, stirring, until thickened, 5 to 6 minutes. Add 4 cups of the reserved chicken cooking liquid and simmer until the sauce starts to thicken, about 20 minutes. Add the chocolate and simmer, stirring frequently, until the chocolate melts and the sauce reduces, about 20 more minutes. Add the sugar and season with salt. Add the chicken pieces to the sauce and warm through over low heat. Garnish with the reserved sesame seeds.
Varietal Overview: Cabernet Franc
History and Cultivation
As far as the world of wine is concerned, Cabernet Franc is a relatively newer varietal. It is thought that this grape originated in the Libournais region of Southwestern France sometime within the 17th century. Cabernet Franc grapes have a history rich in…well, history, as they were originally established in the Loire valley of the Libournais region by the prominent Cardinal Richelieu. At this time, however, Cabernet Franc was not known by its modern name, and was instead called by a different name, Bouchet. Why, do you ask, would a perfectly good French name like Bouchet be replaced with something which takes much longer to say and write? The fact of the matter is, Cabernet Franc was not called what it is today until it was cross-bred with Sauvignon Blanc grapes to produce Cabernet Sauvignon, which is this grape’s main claim to fame. When Cabernet Sauvignon grapes took off, Bouchet became Cabernet Franc and has henceforth been known by this name.
Today, Cabernet Franc grapes are one of the few main red varietals used in the famed Bordeaux Blends of France (along with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec). In fact, these grapes are used most often in red blends, even beyond those produced just in Bordeaux, such as California’s famed Meritage Blends. Outside of France, Cabernet Franc is grown in many wine-producing countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Italy, South Africa, the United States, and even Hungary and Canada! With the great array of climates that this grape varietal grows in, it has particularly been found to thrive in cooler regions, and is typically early to bud. The vines are thick and strong, as are the fruit which they produce. Cabernet Franc grapes are typically small in size, deep purple to black, and have relatively thin skins (which translates over to a slightly less tannic wine than that produced by the closely-related Cabernet Sauvignon; and often times, Cabernet Franc is thought of as the “feminine side” of Cabernet Sauvignon). Winemakers tend to classify these grapes as “yield sensitive”, meaning that although Cabernet Franc vines have the ability to produce a high yield of grapes, it is best to limit yield (often via water stress), as an overabundance of grapes can lead to wine that is vegetal, bland, and less flavorful overall.
Tasting Profile and Pairing
Cabernet Franc is what many would call an “easy drinking” red wine, and the more tame relative of Cabernet Sauvignon. Many will say that new wine produced from slightly under-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon grapes has a similar flavor to that produced by Cabernet Franc grapes, as these wines tend to be slightly lighter both in color and flavor profile. As far as wines go, Cabernet Franc can be classified as medium-bodied, with a very palatable and soft tannins (especially as compared to Cabernet Sauvignon). Sommeliers call this wine the perfect food-pairing red, as it has a delightfully savory taste, especially those Old World bottles, full of green bell pepper, tomato, raspberry, and even roasted jalapeno, which gives the wine a natural level of spiciness that sometimes offsets the mild tannins. Old World style Cabernet Franc typically is heavier on the spice and savory flavors than that produced in the New World, and can be paired easily with a variety of foods. Try pairing an Old World Cab Franc with dishes that have a tomato base and herbal components, such as spaghetti and red sauce, or even roasted root vegetables for a lighter dish.
New World Cabernet Franc tends to be richer and more full-bodied than Old World bottles when grown in a warmer climate, and therefore is less intense in the savory side, and instead enhanced on the fruit side (especially raspberry jam, cherry, and cassis). These wines are often times aged in oak, which adds flavors of baking spice and cedar. Often times, the warm climate brings out a slight sweetness in these grapes, which adds flavors of roasted red pepper instead of green pepper. All food pairings mentioned above will also work for New World Cabernet Franc.
Try this Recipe with a Nice Glass of Cabernet Franc
Spaghetti and Fresh Herb Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes(optional)
1⁄4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
1⁄2 cup water
1⁄2 teaspoon sugar
1 1⁄2 teaspoons basil, finely chopped
1 teaspoon oregano, finely chopped
1⁄2 teaspoon thyme, finely chopped
1⁄2 teaspoon parsley, finely chopped
Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes (if using). Cook until onion is translucent (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add tomato sauce, water, and sugar. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Add basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley. Cook for 5 minutes.