TN: 2012 Unti Vineyards - Dry Creek - Grenache

I was looking for something that would go with a lamb-eggplant-green-pepper stew with some Anaheim peppers and red pepper paste in it. I needed something big and fruity, and this did the trick beautifully. 85% grenache, 15% syrah; 15.1% ABV. From Unti’s own vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma.

This was balanced from the get-go, with lots of plummy fruit but it’s restrained by the standards of California Rhones. It has what I want in grenache – softish tannins with good fruit. With air, it became sweeter and fruiter, with more red fruits and some dried strawberries. At the same time, some harder tannins showed up. (I was less keen on those.) It wears its 15.1% remarkably well, as it did when I first tasted this at the winery in January. Fifteen percent on a label is normally a red warning flag for me but, as I said, I liked this enough at the tasting room to buy some.

This should be drunk in the next couple of years, I think, as the alcohol will likely become more prominent as the fruit steps to the rear. But it’s very nice now. 88-ish for me (a good, solid score for me). $31.50 at the winery. I have a hard time finding serious Southern Rhones I like this much at that price point.

I remember on my first visit to the winery nine or 10 years ago, Mick Unti said that he thought grenache had a lot of promise in California, but that it had been grown mostly in the Central Valley, where it didn’t really belong. Unti’s wines have gotten better and better since then, and this one seems to vindicate his faith in the grape. (According to Unti’s website, their grenache was planted in 1998 from cuttings from Tablas Creek and Alban Vineyards and they include one-third stems typically.)

As it happens, I had a 2011 Domaine du Gour de Chaulé - Gigondas (a Neal Rosenthal import) last night in a restaurant. It’s a very similar blend – 85% grenache, 10% syrah and mourvedre, with the balance cinsault. It was darker and had a lot of hard tannins that I guessed at the time were from syrah (though they probably weren’t given the mix). It was much less pleasurable than the Unti.

John, thanks for the note. i meant to respond to your post a day ago when I first saw it. I used to buy a fair amount of Unti, particularly the Grenache. I bought six of the '05 and drank them over seven years or so. My impression was pretty much like yours but I was not “wowed” enough to continue buying. Sometimes “solid” is faint praise. I have reached the point of thinking it is impossible for any single winery to make a great grenache more than one year in four and for many without a great vineyard source, they are limited to never making a great wine. Now if a winery had ten great sites to choose from and has cracked the heretofore hidden code to making the most of what they have to pick from in any given year…

If you found them solid a decade ago, you should retry them. Across the board, I think the quality and complexity of their wines has increased.

The one that has given me the most pleasure this year is the 2013 Sagramigno, which is primarily montepulciano with some sangiovese.

FYI, the quarter bottle of '12 grenache that I’d put in the fridge was still good last night.

I used to buy several bottles of Quivira’s Grenache every year and found them to be “solid” every single year. I would probably still be buying if it wasn’t for limited funds and other priorities.