I like to experiment with wines so I’m always trying new things. That’s always a risk and sometimes I get burned. Burned was what I got when I ordered the Herman’s Story, On the Road, Santa Barbara Grenache 2007. I was not burned by the wine, after all a winemaker has the right to make the wine they see fit. The wine itself was well made and interesting, but it clocked in at 16.1% alcohol on the label. A little warning of such an extreme would have been nice.
In Italy Amarone has for generations been a revered wine and it routinely sports alcohol levels of 16% and more. The problem with this Grenache was not the alcohol level, but that there was no way to know what was coming to your table unless you read the label before the cork was pulled. When you see Amarone on a wine list you know what to expect. With New World wines you have no clue. It seems to me the restaurants should make an effort to guide us a bit considering the markup they take. As with Amarone, wines like the Herman’s Story Grenache are not really table wines to compliment dinner, but “meditation wines” to be sipped with cheeses and nuts to finish a meal or while you read a book before the fireplace. When a restaurant tosses such wines into the wine list without comment they do their customers a disservice. It’s like putting a bottle of Graham’s Oporto into the wine list with the rest of the red wines - except that everyone knows Port is sweet.
A wine at 16.1% alcohol is an extreme wine for special circumstances and the wine list should note this fact.
The Herman’s Story, On the Road, Santa Barbara Grenache 2007 itself is an outstanding wine for the finest full flavored cheese you can find. Washed rind and blue cheeses will find a perfect counter point in this powerful, warm and richly fruity wine. The intense fruit and the high alcohol give an impression of sweetness on the palate that marries well with the the pungent saltiness of such cheeses. As there was no chance we could finish this wine with a meal, we brought the bottle home and tomorrow night a cheese course will be waiting for it. I think 24 hours of air won’t hurt a bit either.