GRENACHE, the world’s 7th most-planted grape, is an increasingly-fashionable Mediterranean variety that is grown extensively across the wine world’s warmer spots, particularly either side of the Pyrenees and in South Australia.
Hardy and vigorous, with a strong wooden frame, it is often cultivated as a free-standing bush vine. It is usefully resistant to wind and drought, making it well suited to the harsh, arid habitats that it is found in. Because Grenache is grown in hot places, alcohol levels can be high, sometimes exceeding 15%. These high alcohols and the wines’ sweet-fruited character have made them perfect for the production of fortified, Port-style wines, too.
Grenache berries have thin skins and consequently the wines are not especially tannic; this, combined with their low acidity, means they are not generally for the long haul. That said, low-cropping, old-vine examples grown in barren, stony terroirs (e.g. Priorat) can produce profoundly concentrated reds that are capable of ageing over decades.
In France, Grenache is closely associated with the southern Rhône – Châteauneuf famously may include 13 different varieties but in practice the typical bottle is three quarters Grenache – and is found as well throughout Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. In Spain, Garnacha (as it is called there) is widely grown, especially in Catalonia. Australia’s McLaren Vale, meanwhile, specialises in fleshy, often world-class, Grenaches and GSM (Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre) blends, while California – in addition to its mass-market ‘white Grenache’ (i.e. rosé) wines – also makes some premium red bottles.
Until recently you’d hardly have known if you were drinking Grenache, so rarely was it mentioned on the front label. Traditionally, this versatile grape has been relegated to an important, but hidden, role as workhorse blending part. Today, finally, it is starting to move more towards the limelight – about time!
Four to try:
(1) Beso de Vino Old-Vine Garnacha (Cariñena) €9.99 on promo
Ambitious, modern and hugely enjoyable Garnacha from Spain’s great-value Cariñena region.
(2) Castanzu Cannonau (Sardinia) €12.99
Sardinians call Grenache ‘Cannonau’. Mercurial, fresh palate of spiced black cherry and pepper.
(3) Tim Adams ‘Bluey’s Block’ Grenache (Clare Valley) €13.59 on promo
Unputdownable wine from the much-admired Tim Adams estate. Succulent and nectarous – try with duck in plum sauce.
(4) Ardiles Priorat 2007 (Cataluña) €27 *NEW*
Hand grown Grenache-blend from one of Iberia’s elite regions. “Excellent value for a wine from this increasingly expensive DO.” – The Wine Advocate.