September always makes me crave wine more than any other month. I yearn for a full-bodied Cabernet Franc in January as we enter the throes of winter in New England. I embrace a glass of buttery, oaky Chardonnay in April as the colors of Spring begin to blossom. Nothing quite hits the spot in the simmering heat of July than a crisp, floral
glass bottle of Rosé. But September, that month where we teeter on the edge of Summer, about to swan dive into the beauty of Fall, is a month where I crave all the wine.
CJ and I will celebrate our two year wedding anniversary on September 22nd. We met in 2010 while living in Northern Virginia, and many of our early dates were spent exploring the wineries and vineyards of Virginia. Yes, Virginia. Virginia has a very rich wine history dating back to the first settlers of Jamestown. From the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains to historic Charlottesville to the Eastern Shore, the 250 wineries and dozens of wine trails around Virginia make the state a wine destination.
CJ and I bonded and fell love amongst the vines and wines, so it was fitting to marry at The Winery at Bull Run (pictures, galore!), and in September, when the humidity fades away and sipping wine of all varietals in the dwindling summer breeze is nothing short of magical. Virginia is for Lovers, after all.
When we moved to the Boston area last April, a wine bottle sized hole was formed in our lives. The Boston area and New England are known for their craft breweries and beers, but being gluten-free excludes me from this world. We both miss the adventure of trying new wines, relaxing outdoors with friends over a few shared bottles and small bites.
When an opportunity came my way to collaborate with Wines of Garnacha on a wine and small plate pairing, I simply couldn’t pass it up. Especially not in September, my month of Wine Love.
Since we couldn’t bring friends to a winery or vineyard for an afternoon of tasting, we brought the tasting and friends to us. We created our own wine tasting on a blissful late summer evening in our backyard with three good friends featuring five bottles of Garnacha wine and a smorgasbord of small bites.
The laughter lasted for hours between glasses as we explored this Mediterranean grape. None of us had encountered Garnacha before, and we took our time going through each bottle, pairing it with different flavors and textures to see how the wine and food enhanced each other.
Before I go further into our Garnacha wine discoveries, first a bit about Garnacha itself. Garnacha is one of the world’s oldest and widely planted grapes, originating in eastern Spain and thriving in the hot, dry Mediterranean climate. Garnacha spread to Italy and France (where it’s known as Grenache) through the 12th and 17th centuries, then further into non-European regions, including Australia and California, in the 18th and 19th centuries. Garnacha has mostly been used as a blending grape, helping to produce some of the best wines in the world.
There has been a shift, however, in the last 20 years in the approach to Garnacha. A new generation of winemakers is working to produce exceptional wines with Garnacha as the spotlight instead of in the background.
Garnacha produces both red and white wine, and because it grows best in hot, dry climates, it bears concentrated flavors and aromas. Garnacha is starting to come into its own as a varietal wine, and we were excited at the opportunity to experience Garnacha and sample what it has to offer the wine world.
We tasted five bottles of Spanish Garnacha wine, both red and white, produced as early as 2011 and as late as 2014. We were surprised at the diversity of the wine given they were all made from the same grape.
The bottles ranged from crisp, dry white reminiscent of Pinot Grigio to full-bodied, dry red that reminded us of Cabernet Franc. There was not a bottle of wine of the five we did not enjoy, each different and delicious in its own way. Here are the Garnacha wines we tasted and our observations:
- Vall Major 2014: A very drinkable white wine that’s crisp and light and reminiscent of Pinot Grigio. Fruity aroma, but not a sweet wine. Light and tart with notes of lime, citrus, and peach. This wine would pair well with a peach and burrata salad or Caprese salad, or according to the meat eaters of our group, a delicate white fish. One of our friends at the tasting is not a typical white wine drinker, but shared that he enjoyed and would drink this Garnacha white wine again.
- Punto Y Seguido 2011: A very drinkable red wine that smells subtly of dark chocolate with notes of berry. A dry red, but not full-bodied or complex enough to drink a glass by itself. This particular red wine is what we call “A Pizza Wine.” Dry, but light enough to pair with a hearty, everyday meal such as pizza or burgers. We found this wine enhanced the savory flavors of the small bites we were nibbling during the tasting, especially garlic.
- Viñas Viejas de Paniza 2012: The deepest, richest, most complex wine of the sample in our tasting. This red wine has a darker ruby color and leaves the strongest legs along the glass. One sip envelopes your mouth in multiple phases; you first experience it on your tongue, then the back of the throat. The wine still lingers in your mouth even after you swallow. This Garnacha wine bears an aroma of dark fruit, currants, and vanilla. With its full-body and complexity, this wine you could easily drink on its own to savor and enjoy. It would also pair nicely with a robust meal such as filet mignon or roasted vegetables with balsamic glaze. It would also serve as a great transition wine, one you could continue to enjoy with dessert, such as a rich flourless chocolate cake. Of the reds, this was our favorite.
- Terrai OVG 2014: A medium wine, more full-bodied than the Punto Y Seguido but not as complex as the Viñas Viejas de Paniza. Dry and tart, this wine has lighter berry notes. While it envelopes the mouth more than the Punto Y Seguido, it doesn’t linger like the Viñas Viejas de Paniza. It opens up the flavors of dark chocolate and dried cherries at our tasting. It’s another red wine with enough body and flavor to savor by itself, but would pair well with a lighter meal such as spinach, walnut, cranberry, and gorgonzola salad. This was our second red wine of the four we tasted.
- Particular 2014: A lovely medium-bodied pre-dinner red wine that will warm up and open up the palate. It’s not as dry as the two aforementioned red wines and light enough to pair with a heavy meal such as chili or stew. It bears rich currant and jammy blackberry aromas with a soft plum flavor that lingers on the tongue. This wine opened up flavors of basil and garlic at our tasting. It’s another very drinkable wine like the Punto Y Seguido, both light and smooth.
A large theme across the five Garnacha wines is savory. These very smooth, drinkable wines open up flavors of garlic and basil, but complement subtly sweet fruit and berries. Warm Honey Roasted Plum and Goat Cheese Polenta Squares can be enjoyed with any of these diverse Garnacha wines.
Naturally gluten-free polenta is cooked in vegetable broth until smooth and creamy, then seasoned with Parmesan, basil, and garlic. Sliced into squares after setting, the firm and hearty polenta squares are grilled golden. Fresh off the grill and still warm, goat cheese crumbles are added on top, melting slightly into creamy dreaminess.
A thick slice of honey roasted plum is then placed on top of the mini-pile of goat cheese. Fresh basil and balsamic reduction finish off the dish, the burst of color simple but adding a lovely touch of elegance.
These grilled polenta squares can be eaten with your fingers on a napkin, enjoyed in a few bites. Or, you can serve the squares on a small plate with additional slices of roasted plums (my preference). The polenta is creamy and hearty, yet also light and airy. The plum is soft and tender and subtly sweet, balancing the deep herb notes of basil both in the polenta and garnished over top. These flavors of herb and natural sweetness contrast against the tanginess of the goat cheese and balsamic reduction.
This small plate has texture, but is not heavy. It bears well-rounded, rich flavors, but doesn’t overwhelm the palate. Whether you’re pouring a glass of white or red Garnacha wine, these delectable squares will complement the Garnacha variety as a whole…and please a crowd.
While I enjoy a glass of wine or two by myself from time to time, a bottle of wine is most enjoyable shared.
The beauty of Garnacha wine is its versatility and diversity in body and flavor. Each bottle will uncork a new sensory experience any time of year, for any occasion, any mood.
The next time you are at your local wine store, keep an eye out for Spanish Garnacha wine. Try a bottle, or pick up a few and explore this new wine with a group of friends and a delicious small plate.
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup Corn Grits (Polenta)
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- 4 plums, washed, pitted, and sliced into half-moon shapes
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp honey
- ½ cup goat cheese crumbles
- ¼ cup basil, snipped with kitchen scissors into small pieces
- Balsamic reduction, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 425 F. Set aside a 9x13 oven proof dish and an 8x8 glass dish.
- In a large stock pot, bring the vegetable broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, stir in the polenta corn grits and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly with a long-handled spoon until the polenta thickens considerably and begins to pull away from the sides of the pot. Remove pot from heat and stir in the butter, Parmesan, salt, dried basil, and garlic powder.
- Generously butter an 8x8 dish, or coat with non-stick cooking spray. Pour the cooked polenta into the dish, using a spatula to evenly distribute the polenta into all four corners of the dish. Let sit until steam subsides, then chill in the refrigerator until set, about 30 minutes.
- Rinse the plums, slice in half, and remove the pits. Slice the plums into half-moon shapes and place into the bottom of a 9x13 dish. Drizzle lemon juice and honey over the plums, then toss to coat. Roast, uncovered, for 25 minutes, until the plums soften and can be pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Generously spray the grates of a grill with non-stick canola cooking spray (make sure grill is OFF before you do this). Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
- Remove polenta from the fridge and slice into 12 equal size squares, trimming corner pieces as needed. Spray the tops with canola cooking spray.
- Place the squares greased side down onto the grill. Close grill cover and cook for 5 minutes, then gently flip onto the other side and cook for another 5 minutes. Polenta will be done when firm to touch and golden brown on top.
- Remove polenta squares from the grill and place on a serving platter. Immediately spoon about a teaspoon of goat cheese crumbles over top each polenta square, followed by a roasted plum or two. Garnish the entire platter with snipped fresh basil leaves. Drizzle desired amount of balsamic reduction over top the squares.
- Serve immediately either as a passed appetizer or on small plates with extra goat cheese and roasted plums on the side.
If you want to make your own balsamic reduction from scratch, here is a great how-to recipe by Joyful Healthy Eats. It's so easy and only takes 10 minutes!
Disclaimer: I received five bottles of Garnacha wine and monetary compensation for this Partner Post and recipe development. Please know that opinions and experiences ar 100% my own, and I never accept any form of compensation in exchange for a positive review.