Grenache – the ‘Unsung Hero’

Grenache is one of the world’s most widely planted grape varieties, and is used in wines in France, Spain, Australia, the USA, Italy and South Africa. It is an approachable grape, making brilliant food wines for the year round, whether a light rosé for the summer or a good warming red in winter. It is originally an Old World grape, originating in the North of Spain in Aragón. Where once it was regarded as the ‘poor relation’ in favour of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, Grenache has recently come to the fore and is becoming a recognised ‘brand’ and a favoured choice.

If you have come across Grenache, the chances are you probably tried it in some of its greater, but more common, unnamed forms; Grenache is the hidden gem in some of the world’s most iconic wines. It appears as a blend in wines which are ubiquitous in households the world over and on wine lists in the most highly acclaimed restaurants. From full-bodied reds (typically 13-14%) and light whites (made from Grenache Blanc) to dry rosés and sweet blends, this is one of the most versatile grapes out there.

Wines are typically juicy with luscious blackcurrant and raspberry notes alongside warm spice and black pepper. Grenache is powerful and ages well, so 100% Grenache wines tend to be full-bodied and abundant in flavour. More common for the single varietal Grenache are sweet, fortified wines, which range from being dry and orangey to dark, spicy and rich. The robust Grenache vines improve with age and are able to withstand even the most extreme climatic changes, making the harvest perennially reliable.

Grenache has long been used in blends, especially in the Rhône and the Languedoc-Roussillon, contributing warmth and wider, complex flavours alongside Syrah, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo and Carignan. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Priorat owe their richness, heartiness and power to Grenache and, in fact, it is probably the most important grape in all Southern Rhône areas. Countless quality Grenache-based wines are produced here; Michel Chapoutier is one of the big players in the area, producing quality but affordable reds, whites and rosés. One of the best Grenache-based fine wine from the Southern Rhône in recent years is the Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007, combining Grenache with Mourvèdre; it achieved an outstanding 99+ points from Robert Parker. The famous Rhône rosés in Tavel and Lirac, are made from Grenache and have wonderful delicate spicy, peppery fruit flavours.

In Spain, Grenache (or Garnacha in Spanish) is used to produce some excellent wines in Priorat. The 2006 Alvaro Palacios L’Ermita is a Priorat made with 100% biodynamically farmed Garnacha that is elegant, rich and widely regarded as one of the finest in the region, having scored 96 points in Wine Advocate. Another offering is from Cariñena, in Aragón, the grape’s historical home. The Pago de Aylés 2008 is excellent value at under £10 a bottle and shows wonderful caramel, dusty nose with good fruit structure and spicy warmth.

In the New World, one of the frontline Grenache blends is ‘GSM,’ Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, very popular in Australia with some brilliant, affordable offerings from d’Arenberg: the 2008 Stump Jump GSM is an approachable wine with complex fruit and spice. Tim Atkin recommends Charles Melton Nine Popes from the Barossa Valley for its “intense, chocolate-, vanilla- and black fruits-like” flavours, while Jancis Robinson commends the 2007 Willunga 100 from the McLaren Vale as “a seriously well made red.” Torbreck also favour Grenache in their wines, and their 2006 Torbreck Les Amis (100% Grenache) scored 94 Parker points.

Grenache is a superb grape that is gradually being rediscovered and rightly so! Fresh Whites and Rosés serve as excellent aperitifs or alongside salads and white fish, with the Rosés pairing particularly well as a companion to spicy Asian fusion food and curry. Full-bodied reds are wines to impress; ripe and luscious with soft tannins they serve well at dinner parties with a good grilled steak, rich lamb and spicy North African food, while the lighter red blends pair well with both meat and fish. Fortified Grenache merits a place on the table with blue cheese, dried fruits and nuts.

Grenache covers the whole spectrum in terms of food matches, flavour, price and variety. It has been labelled the ‘Unsung hero’ and the ‘perfect partner’, and, quite frankly, we can’t get enough of it!

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