Thursday, September 13, 2012

Herencia Altés Garnatxa Negra: Noble Enough For Ya?

Every now and then some geek on one of the wine sites will ask people to name or rank their favorite grapes. I'll enter “grenache” and either be ridiculed or dismissed. “Grenache is not a noble grape,” say those In The Know. “It's a blender, it's a workhorse, it's ordinary,” etc, etc. When I have the energy, I point out that the last time I looked Chateau Rayas (100% grenache) was more than $150/bottle, and if that isn't noble enough for anyone else, it's noble enough for me.

Fans of the grape can argue about whether the French or the Spanish do a better job with it. I'll just say Grenache and Garnacha (or Garnatxa) are different, and point to Jancis Robinson's preference for calling it Garnacha since the Spanish grow more of it than anyone else.

Over the past decade, there have been some wonderful garnacha wines coming out of Spain, often at very good prices. Eric Solomon is responsible for many of them (he was the original driving force behind Las Rocas, and its successor, Evodia), but hardly all of them. Click here for some earlier appreciations.

Josh Spurling at TableWine was raving the other day about yet another new garnacha from the Solomon portfolio. Since we have learned that it is good to pay attention when Josh raves, we took a bottle home. (I should add that many others have been raving about this too, including Big Bob.)

This particular wine is made by Nuria Altés, owner and winemaker for Herencia Altés, in the Terra Alta D.O., in the back country of southeastern Catalonia bordering Aragon. The vineyard is at an altitude of 400 and 530 meters. The soil is sandy and chalky. Little rainfall, lots of sun, with wind either out of the northwest or from the Balearic Sea. Among her great skills is that of picking garnacha when it is very ripe, but not so ripe as to be deficient in acidity. (Altés is no beginner--she's also a partner in Bodegas Albanico which operates in Castilla and other locations in Spain.)

2011 Herencia Altés Garnatxa Negra: This opened with aromas of red licorice, fresh prune, and a hint of sweet herb. On the palate, intense flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and cherry, with a note of blood orange at the end. It is not an especially complex wine, but it packs a wallop of flavor. We'll go ahead and call it a fruit bomb. A really great fruit bomb. For $11.99, a super value, and excellent with a dinner of meats and vegetables cooked on the grill. I don't usually think of red wine and vegetable pairings, but this was really good with some of those sweet torpedo onions charred on the Weber.

“Herencia Altès is my dream to put Terra Alta on the map and show the true quality of these wonderful old vines,” says the winemaker. I think she may be on to something.

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