This is a fine wine. It’s a grenache that’s doing a very good impression of being a Burgundy pinot noir. It has that light, ethereal fruitiness (wild berries… rosehip…)-come-earthiness of Burgundy pinot, but then it has this lovely white-peppery prickle on the finish which gives it away as being something else. As being a grenache, in fact.
It’s a really lovely wine. I’ve never had a grenache like it before. Forget the dense fruit and bullying alcohol of your typical warm/hot-climate grenache, this has a delicacy and complexity that comes from a totally different place.
The grapes grow on old vines on the rocky slopes of Santa Cruz on California’s Central Coast. This is how the winemakers at Birichino describe it (with added definitions of wine-techy terms):
“We minimize punchdowns [that’s where they push the ‘cap’ of grape skins that rises to the top of the fermentation vat down into the juice to keep it wet and to encourage extraction of colour and tannin] and extended macerations that risk over-extraction in favor of partial whole cluster fermentation with native [ie, ambient, naturally occurring] yeast, and the inclusion of a small proportion of Grenache “rested” for 8 days in picking boxes placed before fans. The latter is a practice of Barolo [big, tannic, Piemonte red wine made from the nebbiolo grape which gives rich, heady flavours of cherry, rose, tar, tobacco, ash, chocolate – all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff] producer Armando Parusso; a shortened apassimento [drying, which is sometimes done to grapes to dehydrate them and concentrate sugars] to allow the stems alone to dry, and when subsequently fermented whole cluster, they contribute an entirely different set of complex wild peach and vivid winter spice aromatics. After 10 months in neutral barrel [ie, not new oak; large-volume oak barrels (‘botte’ in Italian) are fairly neutral; small barrels tend to become neutral after the third or fourth use], we blended this special lot into the main cuvée before bottling, unfiltered. Its vibrant yet delicate hue recalls pinot and cooler vintages, yet the flavors are more candied and expressive of brambly wild raspberry and kirsch.”
You can buy Birichino Old Vine Grenache from The Sampler (one shop in Upper St, Islington, a second in Thurloe St, South Kensington) for, I think, £20. It’s so worth it.