Spirited Winter Reds

TOP PICK

Clos de Gilroy

Clos de Gilroy, 2016 Central Coast Grenache, 13.1% alcohol, $20. ★★★★: A feisty grenache with notes of raspberry, cherry and anise. It has a spicy finish and nice length. Well crafted. An absolute steal for the quality.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Bedrock Wine Co., 2016 Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County Red Wine, 14.6%, $46. ★★★★1/2: A complex red with layered flavors of black raspberry, plum and licorice. Great bones -- structure. The red varietals include zinfandel and carignane. Impressive.

San Lorenzo, 2015 the Pearl Old Vine, Sonoma County Red Field Blend, 15.4%, $70. ★★★★1/4: A snappy red field blend with aromas and flavors of blackberry, cinnamon and licorice. Firm tannins. Blend includes carignane, zinfandel and petite sirah.

Shafer, 2015 TD-9, Napa Valley Bordeaux Red Blend, 15.3%, $60. ★★★★1/2: A striking Bordeaux Red Blend with a bowl of tasty fruit -- currant, plum and cherry. It has great minerality, with herbs and spice in the mix. It’s a complicated, big boy Bordeaux that turns heads. Striking.

Donelan, 2014 Cuvee Moriah Sonoma County Grenache, $50. ★★★★: 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.

Randall Grahm was studying philosophy at UC Santa Cruz when his palate took an unexpected turn. The college student took a break to work at a high-end boutique wine shop in Beverly Hills, allowing him the opportunity to taste First Growth Bordeaux and expensive Burgundies.

Grahm said tasting exceptional wines ultimately made him want to take the leap and create his own. The winemaker is behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Clos de Gilroy, 2016 Central Coast Grenache at $20.

This is a feisty grenache with notes of raspberry, cherry, anise and pepper. It’s bright and has crisp acidity, but what makes it a knockout is its racy undercurrent of spice. It’s well crafted and an absolute steal for the quality.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that I very much like grenache from the Arroyo Seco region of the Central Coast, which is from where this grenache derives,” Grahm said. “What’s so special about this area is that it’s warm enough to fully ripen grenache (always very important) but cool enough to retain lovely color and fresh acidity, with a particularly characteristic spicy, peppery quality.”

Grahm, 64, founded Bonny Doon Vineyards in 1981 and the owner/winemaker has been working with Rhone grape varietals ever since.

Crafting wines of distinction is Grahm’s business model.

“In the old days you could provide a well-made wine at a fair price with an interesting story and that was generally enough to sell the wine,” he said. “No more. If you’re operating on a relatively small scale, as we are, I think that the most important imperative is to produce a wine that is utterly distinctive, possesses an element of hipness (who knows what that is?), and be very careful not to over-produce until you’ve tested the waters well.”

Grahm, the philosophy student, ultimately transferred to UC Davis where he completed a bachelor’s degree in plant science. He began his career intending to produce the great American pinot noir, but said he ultimately traded up for grenache.

“I certainly wonder how long it will take North American palates to realize that the wine style of their dreams is probably more consistently achieved with a cool-climate grenache than with a significantly more expensive pinot noir. Please note that this is not ‘sour grapes.’ I really do believe that grenache is generally more seamlessly matched to our growing conditions …”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.