Not too long ago I didn’t really know the difference between Grenache and Genache. I was blissfully unaware that one was a dominant grape in some of the world’s top blends and the other was the blending of dark chocolate and heavy cream. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew both were delicious, but I didn’t have the ability to articulate their differences until I discovered the Rhone Valley and all of that changed.
In my opinion, wines from the Rhone rank as some of the most unique, interesting and awe inspiring wines on the planet. Bordeaux gets all the hype, Burgundy gets all the folklore, and Champagne gets all of the bubbles, but the Rhone makes some of the most balanced and complex wines that I have tasted in recent years. Just take Chateauneuf du Pape. Here you have an appellation where up to 13 different grapes are permitted in the wine and vineyard yields are kept to about half of what is permitted in Bordeaux. That means that quality and concentration are high, but finesse is the name of the game. And finesse ultimately makes a wine that is way more interesting to drink than a full throttle, in your face, gun slinging wine that comes out of the bottle screaming of oak and wearing its certain high rating, from a certain wine critic, on it’s sleeve.
Armed with a nicely appointed gift card from Bottlerocket Wines and Spirits in New York, and a mission to get more “finesse” wines for my collection, it wasn’t long before I recognized the M. Chapoutier logo on a bottle of wine hiding on a lower shelf in their “Green Wine” section. The Chapoutier estate has long been synonymous with great wines made in the Rhone valley and a commitment to expressing terrior through their biodynamic approach. This particular bottling called “Belleruche” was from the Cote du Rhone appellation so I knew that there would be a decent amount of Grenache in the bottle, and by now I knew that meant it wouldn’t come out looking like chocolate syrup. What I found, however, was such a wonderfully pure expression of “finesse.” This wine did not let my love of the Rhone Valley down.
In the glass, this blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah is a beautiful garnet color with just a touch of brick. It’s light but not so light that you can see right through it. The nose is not overpowering but scents of strawberries, raspberries, and a bit of spice blend together and are lifted out of the glass with a decent amount of alcohol (14%). When I finally got around to tasting this wine, I was absolutely floored with how perfectly balanced this wine was right out of the bottle. Seriously, I’m not one of those guys who gets all giddy from wine (you know who are, don’t be ashamed), but I was overjoyed to be tasting a wine 1 minute out of the bottle that didn’t make me say “well…maybe with a little time it will open up.” It was just that balanced.
It has a wonderful roundness in the mouth but the oak and tannins are integrated perfectly and framed by the exact amount of acid I would want in this wine. Grenache can sometimes be a bit too high acid for my liking but I believe the blend of 20% syrah and the fact that this is a biodynamic bad boy from one of my favorite regions just had everything right going for it. I couldn’t put it down and quite frankly, I was fearful that it was just going to go downhill from here so as any responsible wine drinker would do, I made sure to drink half the bottle so as not to miss out on the opportunity to drink it at its peak. I was pleased to see, however, that several hours later this wine still tasted fresh, balanced and wonderful so my excuse for drinking half the bottle went out the window.
Maybe I’m getting older and my palette for big ass-kicking wines has subsided a bit, or maybe it’s that as I discovered the wonders of biodynamics, I realized just how pleasurable a subtle wine is when made in the right conditions. But what do I know? I sometimes still order chocolate Grenache cake without any qualms.