While still small in number, Santa Barbara County’s grenache producers are a proud and dedicated bunch, and the grape is slowly emerging from the shadow of its more popular Rhône sibling, syrah. Grenache was first made famous by two Old World regions: France’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape, an area in the central Rhône Valley where pebble-covered vineyards could be mistaken for cobblestone roads, and the Catalonian region of Priorat in Spain, where ancient volcanic landscapes offer chipped dark slate soils. It also thrives on the Central Coast, thanks to a fairly dry and very long growing season, which can produce juicy, berry-rich, and not overly tannic but savory wines, the best of which will only get better with age. Vineyards already excelling include John Sebastiano, Camp Four, Purisima Mountain, Larner, Thompson, and Bien Nacido, and you can always count on grenache wines made by Beckmen, Harrison Clarke, Kaena, and The Ojai Vineyard. Here are eight more current releases worthy of tracking down.
Sillix Santa Ynez Valley 2012: Sourced from Camp Four Vineyard, this is Blake Sillix’s third vintage, and each one gets better. Tart cherry, savory lucques olive, wild strawberry, and leather; a lean wine that would be perfectly paired with freshly made chilaquiles (preferably from La Super-Rica). $37.
Chris Hammell Wine Alliance Truebeliever California 2011: Chris Hammel planted his grenache on a back corner of Bien Nacido’s sloping land that mountain goats would struggle to scale. Bursting with ripe berry fruit, Santa Maria garrigue, and a velvety, smoky finish. Best pair it with medium-rare tri-tip and a freshly baked baguette. $80.
Carr Paredon Vineyard 2012: Ryan Carr manages this vineyard himself. Cranberries and tart raspberries and licorice, with a crisp and polished palate; a refreshing glass. Try it with a goat cheese, roasted beet salad, and toasted walnut bread. $35.
De Su Propia Cosecha Spanish Springs Vineyard Edna Valley 2011: A fresh wine — fragrant with juicy blueberries, boysenberries, and blackberries, leaves and all — this has depth, weight, and a welcoming spicy finish. Would be a triumphant match with merguez in a roll and some frites on the side. $34.
Casa Dumetz “Common Ground” Thompson/Tierra Alta Vineyards 2013: Fun, zingy, and vibrant. Juicy pomegranate notes would make this a perfect match for a Moroccan tagine. $35.
Jaffurs Santa Barbara County 2011: Fresh strawberries with a hint of caramel and dried herbes de Provence, a very light elegant wine with a touch of spice on the finish. Have it on hand with a plate of carnitas tacos and salsa verde. $34.
Tercero Watch Hill Vineyard 2010: Bramble, dried cranberry with a grippy tannic finish — just perfect with a juicy burger. $35.
Samsara Larner Vineyard 2011: Fragrant blackberry and black olive nose with aromatic white pepper. A perfect pairing with barbecued lamb chops, rosemary, and grilled red bell peppers. $40.