The garnacha muse
I have Garnacha to thank for the focus I have in my career. How? Glad you asked. About four years ago, I started chatting about wine with the guy next to me at a bar. I mentioned the small liquor store around the corner from my house with a sad selection of wine.
"Here's what wine to look for when you're at that store," he said. "Look in the Spanish section for Garnacha de Fuego, the label has flames on it. It's the best wine in the store, and it's only $8.99."
The next time I shopped there, I headed to the Spanish section. It has only about 20 Spanish bottles in stock and the flames made Garnacha de Fuego easy to spot. I brought a bottle home and poured a glass. Within a few sips I knew that I no longer needed to spend $12-$15 on the mass marketed California reds that had seemed like the best options at that store.
This garnacha smells of cherries, leather, smoke, chocolate and pepper. On the palate, it's fruity - ripe cherries, plums - and has tobacco and spice. I didn't pick all this up the first time I had the wine, but I knew it was different and I knew I liked it.
Garnacha de Fuego became my 'house red,' for a while and I kept telling myself I needed to learn more about Garnacha and try other bottles, but I kept going back to that bottle because I wanted the sure thing. When I was invited to The Next Great Grape tour featuring wines from Cariñena region led by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, I finally had the chance to taste several bottles of garnacha from different producers. There I was, sitting at Aldo Sohm Wine Bar with wine professionals and sommeliers at a time when I was a journalist who sometimes wrote about wines, not a wine journalist or a wine professional. I felt like I was low man on the totem pole as far as wine knowledge went.
I was sampling one particular garnacha when I had a vivid flashback of smelling the dittos that had just been passed to me by the kid in front in grade school. When Andrea asked what we smelled, few people had anything to say. I was hesitant, afraid to be wrong, but I raised my hand and said "mimeograph."
Someone else - someone above 40 like me - said, "Yes, I know what you mean." Many of the younger people in the room had no idea what I was talking about because they never had school worksheets that had been copied on a mimeograph machine.
In that moment, I understood that the way people experience wine is rooted in their past non-wine experiences. I also realized I had something to add to the conversation about wine itself, not just how it was produced.
I walked away from that tasting with a thirst for garnacha and a thirst for learning more about wine. When I wrote about the the Cariñena region for Mother Nature Network, I didn't only write about sustainability in the region. I also wrote about the wines I tasted. I used words like minerality and acid and smoky and jammy - all words I had never used when writing about wine. I had limited to my wine descriptor vocabulary because I didn't think I was educated enough.
But, something clicked when I told a room full of wine professionals I smelled mimeograph in a wine. I realized you smell what you smell. You taste what you taste. And, I get to say what I experience in a wine out loud or write it on a blog post, and I'm not wrong.
If you look through my Instagram feed you'll find many bottles of garnacha scattered among the wines I post. (I only throw up a photo on Instagram of wines I like.) Along with the description, I'll usually something about the amazing value that is garnacha.
When people ask me for a recommendation for an inexpensive red for a party, I always suggest garnacha. As I learned during the Cariñena tasting, the quality of garnacha always exceeds price expectations.
In the years since I opened that bottle of Garnacha de Fuego and then went up to New York for the garnacha tasting, there have been other wine moments that have reassured me that writing about wine is to be my professional focus. But I know that sitting next to that guy in that bar that night and then seeking out the bottle he suggested began the fortunate chain of events that set me on that path.
So not only do I love garnacha because its a wine that satisfies my taste, I love it because I suppose you can say it was a muse that inspired me to do what I do.