As it is one of the world's most widely planted wine grapes, one might assume that grenache has cultivated more prominence in the New World.

I feel silly even writing those words, for grenache is hands down my favorite red grape varietal. Perhaps I have France in my bones, for while grenache is a key component in some Northern Rhône reds, and the lead varietal in nearly all Southern Rhône red blends, it's famed for being the base varietal for Chateauneuf du Pape, Côtes du Rhône and Gigondas. Grenache is also used to produce the rosés for which the Tavel district of Côtes du Rhône is known.

Grenache, however, has its roots in Spain, where it is known as garnacha, or garnacha tinta, and nearly three times as much grenache grows in Spain as in France.

Grenache thrives throughout California, especially in the interior valleys, since this state's conditions match those in the hot and driest regions of Spain and France.

I tell people who are newer to grenache to look for flavors of bright strawberry, raspberry and blackberry, with a dash of black pepper on the finish. Grenache is supple but bold, and sassy like a playful cat. Michelle Lee Ball aptly described grenache as the Rhône sister to pinot noir both in color and on the palate. Think light and bright.

Anyone who farms grenache understands its virility; viticulturists routinely thin shoots and drop fruit clusters throughout each growing season. The shoots of the grenache vine in my yard wave in the Lompoc wind like the arms of an octopus.

On May 25, members of the centralcoastwinepress.com tasting panel gathered round to taste grenache. We were short one panelist, but general rakishness — the theme that unites us — kept us in stitches throughout the night.

During this, our third tasting (the first two being malbec, in January, and chardonnay, in March) our hosts raised the bar considerably by providing six grenaches, which they described as two from the Central Coast, and one each from Australia, France, Italy and Spain.

Who we are: Michelle Lee and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding Inc.; Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, UCSB creative writing professor and online marketing specialist, respectively; Mark Cargasacchi, winemaker/owner, Jalama Wines and Joseph Blair Wines; and myself. (Missing this evening was Laura Sanchez, wine journalist for several local and national publications).

Over cheese and crackers, home-pickled snap peas and spicy beef sliders, we blended our trademark hilarity with the six wines. It was a Friday night, and we let loose.

Wine One: "Fruity; moderate alcohol; chalky, with viscosity; definitely from Ballard Canyon; very little acidity; balanced; not flabby; austere and basic; good, but not balanced; definitely 'local' fruit; pairs well with the cheese; lovely nose."

Wine Two: "Has a slight menthol-like taste; oak; could be from the Barossa Valley (Australia); I don't know how to describe this, but it's intriguing; this is a superior food wine; elegant; spicy; has an aftertaste; probably made with neutral American oak barrels, or maybe Hungarian; a great wine; this is a nice European wine — if this is from the Central Coast, I'll be surprised; this is lighter and fruitier, but it eases off at the end."

We jumped back and forth between wines one and two, sipping each repeatedly. We took a poll, and both wines one and two were in a dead heat for first. One panelist described wine one as more masculine, and two as more feminine, and in general, we agreed, describing two as full of intrigue.

Wine Three: "Sweet; almost Australian; it's got candy-like sweetness, and I like it — but after a while, it would get on my nerves; lovely; short finish; jammy, sweet and short; not much here, taste wise."

Wine Four: "Chocolate nose; inky; oaky; alcohol, sweet ethanol; California; no, Australia; has a little bit of funk."

Wine Five: "Definitely from the U.S.; coconut flavors, which I take to mean American oak; just really drinkable." (Note: This wine was decanted).

Wine Six: "It sucks; we love it — not; definitely French (three panelists agreed); no, it's Italian (in the end, all four were wrong); stinky sweet on the nose, but better on the palate."

The wines:

Wine One: 2007 Herman Story, Larner Vineyard, $38.

Wine Two: 2009 Argiolas Costera, Sardinina, Italy; blend of 90 percent cannonau (described as a descendant of grenache), 5 percent carignano and 5 percent bovale sardo; $25.

Wine Three: 2008 Kenneth Crawford, also from Larner Vineyard; $12.

Wine Four: 2009 Pertuisane "Le Nain Violet" Maury Rouge; 100 percent grenache from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France; $20.

Wine Five: 2008 Alto Moncayo garnacha, $50.

Wine Six: 2008 Yalumba Bush Vine, Barossa Valley, $17.

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