First off, we want to say hello to our new readers who signed up for the newsletter after reading about first vine in DailyCandy DC. You’ve e-mailed a lot about the wines, and it occurred to us that our regular readers might have the same questions you do. It can sometimes be tough to think of new topics each week, so thanks for putting our little minds to work. As you’ll learn, we’re grateful for any opportunity to expound at length. (If it’s too lengthy for you, feel free to skip to the recipe). So keep those (virtual) cards and letters coming – in fact, we’re offering a wee bit of incentive!*
Two people wrote us last week about Grenache, saying they didn’t know the grape or the wines made from it. Although more Grenache gets planted worldwide than nearly any other wine grape, it gets a lot less press in the U.S. than Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. There are three reasons for its low profile. The first is that Grenache is used mostly as a blending grape, and Americans typically think of wines by the names of the grapes they contain. So you won’t find many wines that are called just “Grenache.”** The second reason is that Grenache wines and blends are mostly produced in France and Spain, and take their name from where they’re made or some other designation rather than the grapes. Finally, since so much Grenache is produced in Spain (where it’s called Garnacha), many Americans are only now beginning to taste these wines, which have recently (and rightfully) begun to hold their own against wines from France and Italy.
Garnacha/Grenache is thought to have originated in Spain and was brought to Southwestern France and then north and east to the Rhône Valley. The grape is not as robustly purple as other “red” grapes, but it buds early and so has a long growing season, making it quite sweet. The high sugar content allows Grenache to produce wines with high alcohol contents, especially in warmer climates. The flavor also varies depending on where it’s grown. Grenache wines from the Southern Rhône Valley are earthy, kind of mushroom-y, and vaguely reminiscent of the smell of planting a garden. Garnacha from Spain tends to have a little more fruit and spice but is still noticeably earthy.
One of the reasons that Grenache gets blended with other grapes is for flavor. Even in warm and sunny Spain, Garnacha simply isn’t as fruity and spicy as Syrah or Tempranillo grown under the same conditions. That’s why you often see the big G in combination with these grapes, and blending gives you the best of both. The wines go well with foods because the Grenache adds the earthy component that either enhances those qualities in ingredients like lentils, mushrooms, and roasted vegetables, or they provide an earthy undertone that complements other foods beautifully. Grenache/Syrah blends are great with roast chicken or salmon, and are a nice alternative to a white wine with those foods.
(There are other varieties of Grenache besides the Grenache Noir we’re discussing here. Grenache Blanc is a white grape used a lot in Southern Rhône whites, and Grenache Gris can be used in rosés along with Grenache Noir, plus it sometimes goes into dessert wines.)
Another reason for blending is that the skin of the Grenache grape doesn’t contain a lot of tannins. As we discussed previously, tannins are compounds that allow the wine to carry through the food eaten with it, and also are a component of the “finish” of the wine – what it tastes like after you swallow it, and how long those impressions last. Tannins also allow wines to age in the bottle and to age or at least remain drinkable longer. So Grenache also gets blended with small amounts of grapes that have more tannins than flavor, such as Carignan and Mourvèdre.
There are 100% Grenache wines, and many of our French producers make these wines for themselves (their “Vins du Garage,” wines they make by hand in the barn; like bathtub gin, but (a) is a whole lot more fun, and (b) makes for infinitely better results!) If you’re lucky enough to visit when the winemakers have some around, you’ll find it’s an amazingly warm and luscious thing. Then it just disappears from your mouth with no finish at all. Really wonderful! These wines don’t age or even keep well in the bottle, and unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, they’re not famous enough for people to buy and drink them right away.
So 100% Grenache wines for market are made by including some of the grape stems and seeds along with the juice and grape skin in the tank during fermentation and aging before bottling. These other components contain tannins so the wine gets tannins it wouldn’t otherwise have, and they allow the wine to keep longer in the bottle. They’re not the same tannins as found in grape skins, though, so they don’t really contribute much to the finish. You’ll taste them more up front, and that initial jolt can seem a little harsh. You can soften them up and get more of that Vin du Garage feel by decanting them or pouring the glasses up to an hour ahead. They’re great for spring and summer because they don’t hang around in your mouth even though they seem robust when you first sip them. So definitely open wide and say Grenache!
This week’s recipe is meant to be served hot or at room temperature, so it will work with whatever bizarre weather we happen to have these days. It’s a vegetable “meatloaf” made with lentils and brown rice and served with an uncooked tomato sauce that we adapted from one of Giada de Laurentiis’s recipes. Before you run for the hills to avoid the brown-rice-crunchy label, keep in mind that you can serve it as a main course or as an accompaniment to a simple meat dish. We took out the corn and substituted raisins and pine nuts (throw in a half cup of thawed frozen corn kernels instead if you like), and used Swiss chard instead of baby spinach because we think it has more flavor. Giada uses supermarket Mozzarella cheese, but we like Italian Fontina if you can find it – equally melty but with a nicer taste, and it’s not as stringy when it cools. You can easily double the recipe and freeze one before baking it, you can freeze the extra sauce, too.
We’ve got three wine recommendations with varying amounts of Grenache that will go beautifully with the meatloaf. The Cave la Romaine Rouge Tradition is 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah, light-bodied and smooth. The Domaine Fond Croze Cuvée Confidence Rouge is a 70% Grenache, 30% Syrah blend that has a little more fruit and spice. And finally, the Domaine Chaume-Arnaud Granges Rouges is 100% Grenache, robustly earthy and gorgeous. Try one, or try them all, and appreciate the flavor and versatility of Grenache – then don’t forget to ask for it by name!
* From time to time we’ll feature questions from readers in the first vine newsletter. If we use your question and you were the first to send it to us, we’ll e-mail you a discount code to use for 25% off the cost of wine in your next order, on top of any other applicable quantity discount, good for up to one case in one purchase made within two months of receiving the discount code. You must have a home or office delivery address in DC, Virginia, or California and the discount does not apply to any shipping or delivery charges.
** Under U.S. labeling laws, a wine label doesn’t have to name any grape in the wine. A wine can be named for the grape if at least 85% of wine is the juice of that grape. The winemaker isn’t required to tell you what the other grapes are. However, if more than one grape is listed on the label, the winemaker has to list all of them.
Lentil and Brown Rice “Meatloaf” with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes (about 12 ounces), halved
3 scallions (white and pale green parts only), coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
8 fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Lentil and Brown Rice Loaf:
3/4 cup lentils, rinsed and checked for stones
Three and a half to four cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup uncooked brown rice, rinsed well (see note, below)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 celery rib, diced small
3 tablespoons pine nuts
About 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large bunch Swiss chard, stems removed and finely diced, and leaves slivered into small pieces (or use 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves)
8 ounces Italian Fontina cheese, cubed (or use whole milk supermarket – not fresh — mozzarella)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 tablespoons
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tomato, sliced (optional)
For the sauce:
Combine the tomatoes, scallions, garlic, basil, and oil in a processor. Pulse the tomatoes until they are coarsely chopped, being careful not to puree. Set aside. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
For the loaf:
Bring three and a half cups of the broth to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add the rice and return the liquid to a boil. Decrease the heat to low, cover the rice, and gently simmer without stirring for 30 minutes. Stir in the lentils, onion, carrot, and celery. Bring back to a boil, lower the heat, then cover and continue cooking without stirring until the rice and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes longer. Check to see that there’s enough liquid about 10 minutes before the end time, and add more broth if necessary. If there’s more than just a little liquid left after 50 total minutes of cooking and the rice is tender, uncover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil to cook off most of the liquid. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle the raisins over the rice and lentils and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes to soften the raisins. Uncover and fluff the rice with a fork. Cover and let stand for 5 more minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan. Put the pine nuts in a heavy, large skillet, put the skillet over medium heat, and toast the pine nuts until they’re lightly golden brown, shaking the pan almost constantly to avoid burning. Pour the nuts from the skillet onto a plate and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet, and then sauté the Swiss chard stems for about 6 minutes to soften them. Add the chard leaves cook over medium heat until the leaves wilt, about 5 minutes. Drain and squeeze the excess liquid from the chard. (If you’re using the spinach, just wilt it for a few minutes in the oil, then drain and squeeze out the liquid, and chop the spinach finely).
In a large bowl, gently mix the lentil mixture, chard, 1 cup of the Fontina cheese cubes, the pine nuts, the eggs, 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, basil, salt, pepper, and half of the tomato sauce. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan. Arrange the sliced tomatoes in a row over the lentil mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining Fontina cheese and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Drizzle the top with about a tablespoon of olive oil.
Bake uncovered until the loaf is heated through and the topping is melted and starting to brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Slice the loaf, arrange on plates, and serve with the remaining tomato sauce.
Note on brown rice: Different rices have different cooking times, so check the package directions. If you’re using a converted brown rice that takes less cooking time, then reduce the initial cooking time for the rice before adding the lentils. The lentils will take about 20 minutes to cook.