Ask most red wine drinkers for their favourite red wine grape variety and they are likely to mention Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Syrah. Very few would think of Grenache, but this grape, aka Garnacha in Spain and Cannonau in Sardinia, produces some of the most outstanding red wines in the world.
The reason it remains so little known is that it is usually blended with other grapes. With its enticing, soft strawberry fruit flavours, fleshy mid palate and alcoholic richness it is the warm “heart” of many of our favourite wine styles. In France’s Southern Rhone and south west it provides the perfect foil to Carignan and Mourvedre’s more gamey flavours and rustic tannins, and Syrah’s peppery fruit and acidity and firm, long-lived tannins.
Grenache is a late-ripening grape but as long as it receives enough sun and warmth it is capable of producing high yields of fruity, powerful red wine at very reasonable prices; it is for example the main grape behind almost all of the excellent value reds from the Cotes du Rhone and Languedoc. If yields are restricted however – either by planting on very dry, stony soils, or through allowing the vines to continue producing into their old age – then Grenache can produce some of the most sexy and hedonistic wines on the planet, with wonderfully concentrated fruit flavours, spicy acidity and firm, silky tannins. Chateau Rayas, Henri Bonneau and Les Bosquets des Papes in Chateauneuf Du Pape; Domaine des Bosquets in Gigondas, and Domaine Gauby in the Cotes du Roussillon are just a few of the great producers making world class reds from ancient Grenache vines.
Garnacha is widely planted in Northern Spain. In Rioja it almost always plays a supporting role to Tempranillo, but in Priorat it shows its true potential, either on its own or blended with Carignano. On the rugged, steep, slatey slopes of the Priorat hillsides southwest of Barcelona, old Garnacha vines produce scintillatingly profound, rich, mineral reds with high alcohols over 15% and velvet-smooth tannins. Just across the Mediterranean in Sardinia, Grenache is known as Cannonau and produces deep, rich, full bodied red wines. Cantine Argiolas and Sella e Mosca make excellent value examples.
The true test of a world class grape variety is how well it can adapt to different wine regions across the world. Grenache was planted in the hot, dry Barossa and McLaren Vale regions of South Australia as early as the mid 19th century and there are still many fabulous old vine examples being produced in these areas. The Australians increasingly refer to Grenache as their “Pinot Noir of the south”, due to its complex array of red fruit aromatics, silky smooth tannins and sweet, hedonistic opulence. Yalumba, Torbreck, Kalleske and D’Arenberg produce some of the finest single varietal expressions but you will more often find it blended with Mourvedre and Shiraz to produce “GMS” – great value, warm and hearty Cotes du Rhone style reds.
In California too, Grenache makes some deliciously powerful blockbuster reds, particularly in the hands of top Rhone-style specialists such as John Alban of Alban Estate or Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non.
And of course, Grenache also makes most of Southern France’s best Rosés, but that’s for another time…!
Published on 26.03.2017 – Schweiz am Sonntag
WINE TIPS – 3 great old vine Grenaches!
Domaine des Bosquets, Gigondas 2015 at CHF 30.00/75cl
D’Arenberg Derelict Vineyard, Old Vine Grenache 2102 at CHF 25.00/75cl
Bosquet Des Papes A La Gloire de Mon Grand Pere, Chateauneuf Du Pape 2012 at CHF 75.00/75cl