Blind tastings: Grenache, under the radar

TOP PICK

Amapola Creek

Amapola Creek, 2016 Sonoma Valley Vineyard Estate Grenache, 15.5%, alcohol, $48. ★★★★1/2: This grenache is a standout. It’s complex, with layered tangy red fruit –– strawberry, raspberry and cherry. Its crisp, up front acid gives it great balance. The elegant grenache has a refreshing quench, which makes it a tasty food wine. Striking.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Thumbprint Cellars, 2014 Smith Ranch, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Grenache, 14.7%, $47. ★★★★: This grenache has gorgeous notes of red raspberry, from the aromas to the finish. There’s a hint of red plum, nutmeg and toast in the mix. Ripe tannins. It’s jammy, yet still manages to have a tangy elegance. Well crafted.

Donelan, 2014 Cuvee Moriah Sonoma County Grenache, 14.2%, $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.

Saxon Brown, 2015 El Diablo Vineyard, Russian River Valley Grenache, 14.5%, $48. ★★★★: It’s a tasty grenache with layered fruit flavors of cherry and cranberry. Refreshingly tart, with notes of herbs and cinnamon in the mix. Top rate.

Two Vintners, 2016 Columbia Valley Grenache, 14.9%, $25. ★★★1/2: A grenache with a range –– plum, raspberry, smoked meats and herbs. Great balance. Nice length. Pretty.

The best winemakers are painstakingly precise and yet when it comes to Mother Nature, they’re willing to let go of their numbers and formulas and facts. They know the best winemaking can happen when Mother Nature calls the shots.

Vintner Richard Arrowood has this yin-yang temperament. In a recent Press Democrat tasting, his Amapola Creek, 2016 Sonoma Valley Vineyard Estate Grenache was a standout. The grenache, at $48, was complex with layered tangy red fruit — strawberry, raspberry and cherry. Its crisp, upfront acid gives it great balance. The elegant grenache has a refreshing quench, which makes it a tasty food wine. It’s absolutely striking.

“I have a basic need to follow through with a project, having a bit of obsessive compulsive craziness inside that won’t let me take a laissez-faire attitude on some facets of winemaking,” Arrowood said. “Yet on some other facets of enology, you need to let nature take her course and not try to influence the outcome too much.”

Grenache, Arrowood said, flourishes on his Sonoma Valley property, cultivating rich structured wines with round supple tannins.

“I’m not sure how I would describe our house style other than balanced,” Arrowood said. “Fruit to tannin ratios are critical to achieve aromatics, mouthfeel and flavor profile.”

Grenache continues to be under the radar for many, Arrowood said.

“Most people don’t know that grenache is the grape of some of the world’s finest wines,” Arrowood explained. “Examples include southern Rhone’s great vintages of Chateauneuf-du Pape, and in Spain’s Rioja region, it’s known as garnacha. Now it’s being planted more and more in the temperate regions of the North Coast of California.”

Arrowood, 72, grew up in Santa Rosa and has spent most of his life in Sonoma County. He began his winemaking career in 1965 at Korbel Winery and soon made a name for himself at Chateau St. Jean making stellar chardonnay, along with an eclectic line-up of wines — white and red.

Arrowood and wife, Alis, founded their namesake winery in 1986, ultimately selling it to Kendall-Jackson in 2006. While Arrowood stayed on as winemaker, he ultimately resigned in 2010 to focus his full attention on Amapola Creek, his boutique winery along Highway 12 on the outskirts of the town of Sonoma.

The vintner said what sets his brand apart is that it’s organically farmed and the yields are small.

“We’re looking for intense flavors, balanced tannins and complexity,” Arrowood said, “And that won’t happen with excessively high yields.”

You can rPeg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

Blind tastings: Grenache, under the radar

TOP PICK

Amapola Creek

Amapola Creek, 2016 Sonoma Valley Vineyard Estate Grenache, 15.5%, alcohol, $48. ★★★★1/2: This grenache is a standout. It’s complex, with layered tangy red fruit –– strawberry, raspberry and cherry. Its crisp, up front acid gives it great balance. The elegant grenache has a refreshing quench, which makes it a tasty food wine. Striking.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Thumbprint Cellars, 2014 Smith Ranch, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Grenache, 14.7%, $47. ★★★★: This grenache has gorgeous notes of red raspberry, from the aromas to the finish. There’s a hint of red plum, nutmeg and toast in the mix. Ripe tannins. It’s jammy, yet still manages to have a tangy elegance. Well crafted.

Donelan, 2014 Cuvee Moriah Sonoma County Grenache, 14.2%, $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.

Saxon Brown, 2015 El Diablo Vineyard, Russian River Valley Grenache, 14.5%, $48. ★★★★: It’s a tasty grenache with layered fruit flavors of cherry and cranberry. Refreshingly tart, with notes of herbs and cinnamon in the mix. Top rate.

Two Vintners, 2016 Columbia Valley Grenache, 14.9%, $25. ★★★1/2: A grenache with a range –– plum, raspberry, smoked meats and herbs. Great balance. Nice length. Pretty.