Grenache is the yummiest Thanksgiving wine on the planet, and it has the intrigue to create great conversation during your marathon feast.
That’s according to Joe Nielsen, the winemaker of Donelan who puts it this way: “The wine has verve.”
Nielsen is behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Donelan, 2014 Cuvee Moriah, Sonoma County Grenache at $50.
What makes this a pitch perfect Thanksgiving pick is that this Rhone red has tangy, high-toned fruit, coupled with savory spice and crisp acid. It has notes of pomegranate, red currant and cardamom. The Donelan has a round texture and finishes crisp, pairing well with a broad range of rich dishes. For those curious about the wine’s makeup, it’s 84 percent grenache, with 16 percent mourvedre.
“Grenache is a winemaker’s grape,” Nielsen said. “It’s hard not to say yum to a well-made grenache. There’s something quenching about it. It’s savory and fruity. I like a wine with balance and structure. Grenache has all those elements, and that’s why it works so well with Thanksgiving and fall in general.”
This is the savory time of year, Nielsen said. Fall is when we pull out all the cooking and baking spices from the rack.
What makes the Donelan a savory standout?
“Our secret is patience,” Nielsen said. “Time often makes a thing clearer, knowing when to act and when to wait. It comes with experience. There’s no set recipe. We just try to be extremely thoughtful.”
Nielsen calls the food-friendly grenache ambidextrous; it’s a wine that works well for many circumstances, namely a blind date or a dinner party where you don’t have a clue what’s on the menu.
The winemaker said he’s a good fit to produce grenache because he refuses to put it in a box.
“I don’t have a lot of preconceived notions of what it could be or ought to be,” he said. “That gets in the way.”
The catalyst that reeled Nielsen into winemaking was a conversation with a friend. His college friend, Matt Frollo, challenged him to rethink becoming a doctor. Nielsen, 32, was a pre-med student at Michigan State when Frollo suggested winemaking as a possibility.
“I love chemistry and the mystery of winemaking,” Nielsen said. “It doesn’t taste like grape juice when it’s done fermenting. It takes like anything and everything else.”
Nielsen graduated with a Bachelors of Science in horticulture and a certificate in enology and viticulture.
As the winemaker of Santa Rosa’s Donelan, Nielsen is still captivated with the intrigue of making wine.
“I want a wine where one sip doesn’t define it, but an evening does,” Nielsen said.
California’s Elephant Seals
— Seals spend 10 months a year foraging in the Pacific Ocean, separated by gender.
— Males and females come together on land only between December and February, when they drop their pups, mate again and return to the ocean.
— Females give birth within days after arriving and gather in harems of up to 50 seals, dominated by an alpha male.
— Pups weigh about 70 pounds at birth and gain 10 pounds a day.
— Mothers starve while nursing and lose up to 40 percent of their weight.
— Adult males are 16 feet long and can weigh 5,000 pounds. Females are a third that size.
— Their population is roughly 220,000, descended from as few as 20 seals on Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California in the early 1900s. They were hunted nearly to extinction for their blubber until hunting was banned in 1920s.
— California has 7 rookies that span the coastline from the Channel Islands to Point Reyes.
— Seals arrived on Año Nuevo Island in 1955; the colony now contains 10,000.
— About 2,000 seals are now ashore at Chimney Rock at Point Reyes National Seashore.