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.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
The Food-Friendliest Thanksgiving Red —-- Grenache
Donelan, 2014 Cuvee Moriah, Sonoma County Grenache, 14.6% alcohol, $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. The wine is 84% grenache, with 16% mourvedre. Impressive.
Clos de Gilroy, Bonny Doon Vineyards, 2016 Grenache, 13.1%, $20. ★★★1/2: This is a bright grenache with generous fruit and snappy spice. Notes of raspberry, red currant, a hint of plum and cracked black pepper. This pick is spicier than some, so it works best with lean side dishes and turkey. The blend is 82% grenache and 18% syrah.
Tablas Creek, 2013 Grenache, 15.5%, $45. ★★★★: This grenache has black fruit aromas but its weighted to red on the palate. It has notes of wild strawberry and cherry, riding on crisp acid. It also has a hint of leather and chocolate in the mix. This wine is 100% grenache and its tangy fruit makes it a savvy Thanksgiving pick with dishes that are both lean and rich.
Quivira, 2014 Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Grenache, 14.8%, $34. ★★★★: This is a pretty grenache that leads with full- throttle strawberry but has layered flavors —-- a hint of vanilla and white pepper. This is another example of 100% grenache, and its tangy fruit coupled with bright acid makes it a savvy Thanksgiving pick.
Unti, 2014 Dry Creek Valley Grenache, 14.5%, $35. ★★★★: This is a full-bodied grenache that’s both fresh and savory. It has great complexity, with layered flavors of raspberry, anise and pepper. This classic Rhone works well with a Thanksgiving feast, as well as solo because of its tasty infusion of syrah. The wine is 80% grenache, 14% syrah and 6% mourvedre. Striking.