Grenache has found a home in many parts of the world and remains one of its most widely planted varietals. It adds expressive flavor elements when combined with syrah, mourvedre and others in the southern Rhone Valley of France or in GSM blends from McLaren Vale in Australia. Grenache dominant blends from appellations like Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas in the Rhone Valley are among the world’s best.
Grenache commonly expresses flavors of strawberry and raspberry combined with spice notes. Lack of acidity, tannins and color can be disguised when blended with other varietals, but its soft berry-spice characters are undeniable.
Centuries behind, California’s Paso Robles region has quickly evolved into a global powerhouse, producing Rhone-style blends from Saxum, Tablas Creek, TH Estate, Denner and others. Whether enjoyed as a dominant varietal in the Saxum James Berry Vineyard blend or alone in the Adelaida Anna’s Estate Vineyard release, Paso Robles’ grenache is arguably the best in California.
Garnacha, as grenache is known in Spain, blends seamlessly with tempranillo, graciano and others to create the extraordinary red wines from the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions. However, the purist expressions of garnacha are created from unique terroir in the Vinos de Madrid DO where Las Moradas de San Martin has been focused, over the past two decades, on producing organically grown, diverse single-varietal wines.
On a windswept plateau near the towns of Segovia, Toledo and the walled-city of Avila, Las Moradas de San Martin began, in 1999, recovering and farming ancient garnacha vines that today coexist with new plantings on nearly 52 acres.
Through the magic of Zoom, I was able to accompany winemaker Isabel Galindo on a walk through these unique vineyards before tasting current releases.
Isabel has invested much of her winemaking career exploring garnacha and is a pioneer in this region. She credits a Mediterranean climate, sandy granite soils and steady winds as the perfect terroir to facilitate her minimalist approach that enables the grape to express itself.
Isabel hosted our vineyard walk with a cellphone in one hand while protecting her hat against the wind with the other. At first glance, the soils look like sand, with each low-trimmed goblet vine separated by several feet in a random pattern.
Isabel credits the sandy granite soil for the natural acidity in her garnacha. She explained that the shortened vines need less water, yield less volume and are separated to accommodate the winds.
Las Moradas de San Martin began farming organically in 1999 and became certified in 2014. A successful wine, according to Galindo, stems from adapting to the climate and using natural winemaking techniques that showcase the garnacha grape. In from the wind, she began the virtual tasting from her patio with a white wine.
A late frost restricted yield, permitting the remaining grapes to fully ripen for the 2018 Las Moradas de Sa Martin Albillo Real ($14), the only white grape grown on the estate. Abundant in the Ribera Del Duero region, Albillo Real has become common here, outside of Madrid. The surrounding ecosystem includes pine and oak trees, lavendar, thyme and other plants that influence the soil and profile of the wine. Rounded texture, floral notes and flavors of honey and stone fruit finish with a soft minerality.
The first of four different single-varietal garnacha was the 2016 Las Moradas de San Martin “Senda” ($11) from younger vines that need extended time to ripen. I found the rich mouthfeel, fruit flavors and floralhints of an excellent value wine.
The “Initio” garnacha, first made in 2005, is Las Moradas’ most popular wine. Isabel claims that her all-time favorite vintages were 2007, 2011 and 2018, but today we tasted the 2013 Los Moradas de San Martin “Initio” ($14.50). Fragrant balsamic, baked fruit and cocoa on the nose were followed by berry flavors and an acidity that signals food friendly.
Similar to “Initio,” the 2011 Las Moradas de San Martin “La Sabina” ($15) is highly aromatic, with velvety tannins and floral hints on the finish.
With century-old vines, the small, biodynamically farmed La Centenea plot is the origin of fruit used for the 2010 Las Moradas de San Martin Libro Diez “Las Luces” ($34), a classic expression of granacha. First produced in 2007, “Las Luces’s” oak influences enhance the complex aromas, herbal and spice notes that make it come alive in the mouth.
Garnacha winemaker Isabel Galindo, a passionate and focused steward of sustainability, is what makes Las Moradas de San Martin wines worth exploring.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 20 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.