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By Wine columnist
updated 9/3/2009 11:31:01 AM ET 2009-09-03T15:31:01

I could be wrong, but I suspect that many wine lovers couldn’t tell you the last time they tasted a grenache, even if it was recently. They might now know that the grape is the most important variety in the southern Rhône Valley of France, where it is the backbone of that glass of Côtes-du-Rhône or the more rarefied Châteauneuf-du-Pape they enjoyed the other night. Or that it is widely planted in Spain, where it is known as garnacha. Or that it is making a well-deserved name for itself in California, as I was reminded with a superb example the other night.

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It was the end of a jam-packed weekend with six boys in our house to help celebrate our older son’s impending 14th birthday. You may know what that’s like. Demanding only begins to describe it. The weekend was basically a series of meals with an activity or two between them, leaving almost no time for adult interests like reading, writing or, well, wine tasting. I’m not complaining, of course; the kids were great to be with and at times I almost felt like one of them.

The weekend went by so fast that suddenly it was time for the Sunday-evening beach dinner and bonfire. Kids at this age still like their food pretty simple, so it was grilled steaks, corn from one of the local farm stands and lots of warm and crusty garlic bread. For me, a steak dinner also signaled that it was OK to open a fairly big red wine or two. The weather sealed the deal — after a couple of very hot and humid weeks, there was a pre-fall crispness to the air.

With the guys on one end of a couple of old tables bunched together and a dozen tiki torches burning, it looked like an episode of a kids’ version of “Survivor,” with the added creature comforts of some medium-rare sirloin and a memorable California red for the chaperones.

Image: Wine bottle
Clos La Chance winery
The wine was the 2006 Estate Grenache from the Clos La Chance winery on the Central Coast, and it was, from the first taste, superb. Concentrated yet elegant, there was nothing heavy about the wine, its substantial fruit balanced by an overall brightness in the cherry, black cherry, cranberry and plum notes. A touch of vanilla and soft tannins gave it a nice roundness. The suggested price is $30. (Another excellent example of the variety, which we enjoyed earlier in the summer, is the 2007 Grenache Wine Creek Ranch from Quivira Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, which uses organic and biodynamic farming practices. This wine is also a top value for this level of quality at $26.)

As the birthday dinner progressed, some neighbors stopped by to check on the festivities. We would need a little more wine. I thought it would be interesting to stick with the grenache theme, but with a French variation. So I opened a bottle of Paul Jaboulet’s Parallèle 45 red Côtes du Rhône, which, at $13, should not be overlooked. This one is a blend of 60 percent grenache and 40 percent syrah, which adds a peppery note to the wine’s dark cherry core. Like the Parallèle 45 white and rosé, which I’ve also mentioned in recent columns, the red offers character and complexity at an affordable price.

It was an altogether successful weekend — a house full of happy birthday campers and for me, just enough time for some exciting wine discoveries.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at edwarddeitch@hotmail.com

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