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Uncorked: Grenache could be next trend in Calif. wine

This was no ordinary Monday morning business meeting. 

Tuck Beckstoffer had just purchased 20 tons of Grenache on a Friday night. The trouble was he didn’t tell his chief financial officer. 

So, when everyone in the room brought up their usual weekly business, Beckstoffer dropped a bomb that led to a spontaneous reaction.

The chief financial officer for Tuck Beckstoffer Wines called the transaction a melee.

There was a choice adjective thrown in before the word melee, but the work had already been done. Beckstoffer’s CFO had saved thousands in marketing costs with a perfect name for his newest wine – Melee.

Winemaker spotlight

While it took Beckstoffer a while to track down the right source for Melee – the best representation of the varietal I’ve opened this year – he’s still in pursuit of crafting a definition for Grenache in California. 

“It’s a scary time for Grenache,” Beckstoffer said. “We are kind of in purgatory because U.S. winemakers are still defining their Grenache style. We are at the tip of the spear in terms of finding our way with Grenache. Maybe Melee can define what California Grenache should be. I don’t want everyone to make the same style wine though, that would be boring.”

What makes Melee an excellent blueprint for winemakers is its balanced characteristics. The raspberry, blackberry and currant flavors are beautiful, bold, ripe and carry on through a long finish. But the key might be an acidity that helps keep everything in line. 

At 14.1 percent alcohol, the fruit, acidity and easy-going tannins, which provide a nice backbone, all have a chance to shine. Nothing is over the top in the 2010 Melee – yet Beckstoffer has brilliantly pulled off crafting a bold wine that drinks like it should cost more than $100 for only $34.  

“I want to make a wine built like the expensive stuff,” Beckstoffer said. “We aim to build a Ferrari at the price of a Chevrolet. That’s the kind of wine I’d buy everyday of the week and twice on Sunday.”

Melee has what it takes to snap consumers’ attention away from a bigger-is-better attitude. 

“It’s the supersize me attitude,” Beckstoffer said. “Oftentimes a customer judges the quality of food at a restaurant by the quantity on their plate. The same has been true sometimes with wine, where a consumer thinks bigger means better. But we are starting to see some backing off on massive wines. That’s good. I’ve always been taught the key to everything is balance.”

Wine 101

The Beckstoffer family history in Napa Valley traces back to 1975 when, as a teenager, Beckstoffer worked the family vineyards in Napa and Mendocino counties. To Kalon and Dr. Crane are a pair of their vineyards that helped bring worldwide recognition to the California wine industry. 

Beckstoffer has roots in the California wine industry that run as deep as any winemaker. Yet the labels, names, varietals and price of the wines in the Tuck Beckstoffer Wines portfolio – visit to view his entire lineup – express the creative risk-taking of someone with a hunger to continually improve.

It’s my opinion that Grenache could the next big thing in California wine. A savvy group of talented winemakers have come online with high-quality Grenache in the past five years. Like Pinot Noir, California’s last varietal to take a star turn, Grenache can be temperamental.

“It’s difficult to make,” said Beckstoffer about Grenache. “I liken it to Pinot Noir. It’s fickle and is affected quickly by everything from weather to wood used for barrels.

“We are trying to crack the code on wines and make a good California Grenache. We budget every year for research and development and test everything from the wood, to the yeasts and corks to see what works best.”  

Uncorked update

Arnaldo Capri has been named “The European Winery of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast. Last February, Uncorked featured winemaker Marco Capri’s deft touch with the Sagrentino varietal. 

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at

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