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Enjoying Wine and Beer in the Augusta GA area

Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc Meets The Food Challenge

Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc 2016, Napa Valley

Cost: $21-23

I love a challenge, and I especially love the challenge of matching food and wine.

Sometimes people get carried away with trying to match food, but it is important to try to plan meals where one element doesn’t detract from another.

This time a friend challenged me to find a wine that would pair with jambalaya, the Cajun dish filled with disparate flavors that blend into a wonderful meal. It is similar to the Spanish dish paella. Both use shrimp, sausage, a vegetable mix and rice.

There are several good options, but I really liked this grenache blanc with jambalaya. The high acidity in the wine lets it calm the spiciness of jambalaya, and the weight of the wine is enough to match the sausage without overwhelming the shrimp. It is a nice, harmonious wine with complex flavors.

The Priest Ranch grenache blanc is a pretty, pale yellow in the glass with rich aromas of honeysuckle and peach. Stone fruit and lemon flavors are laced with a pleasant minerality and a touch of tannins.

The grapes were grown on Napa Valley hillsides at 1,250 feet elevation. They were hand picked and fermented in stainless steel drums and tanks. Native yeasts were used in a cool, controlled fermentation. The lees were stirred twice a month for five months before the wine was bottled.

Grenache blanc is a varietal widely grown in the southern Rhone region of France, where it often is blended with other varietals such as marsanne and roussanne. It also is popular in the Spanish wine regions along the Pyrenees Mountains.

Priest Ranch believes that all wines they make must stem from the land itself. Priest Ranch wines draw on rich, diverse vineyard sources of the Napa Valley that feature a variety of elevations, exposures, soils and microclimates. With knowledge borne of deep experience, winemaker Craig Becker takes a minimalist approach to winemaking, encouraging the highest expression of personality, intensity and distinction in each varietal.  

Priest Ranch has a tasting room in Yountville open daily from noon to 7 p.m.

Winery: Priest Ranch is named after Joshua James Priest who, with his wife Sarah, settled on an 8,500-acre estate that was part of the Ranch Cataxula Mexican land grant. The Priest family owned the land for more than a century before it was sold in 1968.

Grapes were planted in the late 1960s and 1970s as the land changed hands. In 2004 Allan Chapman bought the winery. Becker, general manager and winemaker, said he first came to the property to buy grapes for his HiFlyer brand. Then in 2008 Becker and Chapman merged their businesses.

Hiflyer is still going strong while Chapman continued to produce wines under the Somerston label with mainly single-vineyard wines. Priest Ranch is the primary label.

Becker has said he likes working with the diverse types of grapes they grow at altitudes ranging from 800 to 2,400 feet.

I visited the property in eastern Napa Valley, high in the Vaca Mountains, several years ago and thought it was beautiful. The vineyards, which account for only 215 of the 1,615 acres on the property, are sustainably farmed. Hundreds of acres are dedicated to fruit trees, vegetable gardens, bee hives, olive trees, and natural springs. The winery minimizes use of harmful sprays, minimizes erosion and uses woodbox owls to keep away harmful rodents.

Sheep also roam the property to keep down unwanted vegetation.

“Customers learn to trust our wines, even in difficult years,” Becker said in a phone interview. “We take the old school method to showcase the sense of place in our wines. Our slogan is ‘made in the vineyard, handcrafted in the winery.’

“The wine actually comes from a place, not just a label. The hero here is the property.
Americans like to anoint the winemaker as a magician, but it’s all about the property. It’s 90 percent in the vineyard, 10 percent in the winery. But that 10 percent is still important. I just like doing what we do.”

Goes with: This grenache blanc was a perfect match for jambalaya. I love this dish with its rich Cajun flavors, but it is a pain to make from scratch, so I took a shortcut and started with a box mix from Zatarain’s.

I sauteed some cut up sausage and added it to the mix. I also added a bit more chopped onion and diced celery because I like those flavors. Then all you do is add water and boil until most of the liquid is gone. I also added a pound of peeled shrimp near the end.

What a feast! The acidity and minerality of the grenache blanc were a great balance to the spice and rich flavors in the jambalaya. I love using the Zatarain’s mixes because they save a lot of time and produce dishes that look and taste homemade.

This wine also would pair well with fried chicken, spring rolls or egg rolls, turkey and hearty cheeses.

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