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In less than two days, I am headed to California wine country for my annual pilgrimage to the birthplace of many great wines.  This trip is taking us south of our usual stomping grounds to Paso Robles, home of many wines made from Rhone varietals.  Since a lot of wine terminology maps back to Europe, the wines in Paso are often made from the same grapes that thrive in the Rhone Valley in Southern France; Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre (among others).  Syrah is a fairly common varietal in California, at least relative to its Rhone siblings, however, the Rhone grapes seem to dwarf in volume comparison to Cabernet and Pinot Noir these days.

In preparation for my trip, I decided this evening to learn more about Grenache.  This grape is a huge component in the wines made in the Southern part of The Rhone and is very popular in Spain where it is called Garnacha.  But in the California wine regions I have visited thus far, it shows up rarely.  I expect that to change on this trip!  I had a bottle of Grenache sitting in the cellar (from Walla Walla in Washington State) that I opened to begin my trip of exploration a little early.  You may learn from this blog that patience is not one of my virtues.

K Vintners Grenache

This wine wins the award of “most ink saved when printing the label”.  There is a back label which thankfully sheds more light on what this wine is about.

Back Label

I made a good ol’ American meal to pair with this wine.  Grenache, or at least this Grenache, has a bit of fruitinesss, or sweetness, so a dish that pairs well will not be entirely savory (in my opinion at least).  Tonight’s menu included meatloaf, carrots, sweet potato fries and slow cooked pole beans.

Meatloaf is fairly new to me.  Unlike many of the recipes that I make, I did not grow up eating meatloaf and foolishly, looked down upon this dish.  Not sure why to be honest.  I have not made too many versions, because early on I discovered Alton Brown’s version which I think is friggin’ amazing.  I use different kinds of meat and tonight used super lean beef and not so lean pork. I have used only very lean meat in the past and the recipe is too dry.  A balance is best.

Because I knew the entree was rich, I made a salad which was dressed simply with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (after much comparison, I really do prefer Italian to Spanish) and this lovely balsamic glaze from Italy.

The meatloaf, which was sweetened by onions and ketchup, paired very nicely with this particular Grenache, which was fruity (wine speak for somewhat sweet).

The one thing that did not seem to complement the wine was the Ranch dressing that I like to dip sweet potato fries into.  I know that I should not be eating Ranch as it is quite far from being a natural food but friends of mine hooked me on that combo years ago.  However, ranch and wine, or at least this wine, do not pair well.  But the sweet carrots and the “un-condimented” fries went very nicely with the wine.

After dinner was done and I was finishing my glass of Grenache, I noticed that the wine was very different without food.  The sweetness in the meal seemed to negate or cancel out the sweetness in the wine, however, once the food was gone, the wine became fruity again.  Something to think about when pairing a meal.  Is the wine only going to only be consumed with the meal, or will people continue to enjoy it afterwards?  Can the wine be appreciated on its own or does it need food to realize its potential?  There are not right or wrong answers to those questions, just some things to think about.

This particular wine was too fruity for my tastes as a stand alone wine, as I prefer dry, earthy reds.  However, in a pairing situation, that style of wine may taste bitter next to a meal with sweetness, such as the meatloaf from this evening.  However, if I were to do it again, I would pick a wine with a little less residual sweetness so that I could continue to enjoy the wine even after dinner was over.

More to come soon on Rhone style wines, including Grenache, as we head west to become wannabe Rhone Rangers for the long weekend!

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