Grenache, the gnarly old man made famous by the great wines of the Southern Rhone, is one of the world’s most widely planted, but most misunderstood varieties. And it’s again causing a bit of a stir within the Aussie winemaking fraternity.
For years it was Grenache’s favourite cousin Shiraz that has hogged the limelight, but more and more, wine drinkers and winemakers alike are gravitating back to this most beguiling of grape varieties. The rollercoaster journey of Grenache has seen it evolve from being the workhorse of the mass-produced blended wines of Southern France, to being the superstar variety that makes up the best part of the blends of the iconic Châteuneuf-du-Pape.
In Australia, where some of the oldest Grenache vines in the world are found, its journey has been equally dramatic. Big, jammy, high-alcohol wines were common place in the early 2000s. A healthy dollop of Grenache is often successfully blended with Shiraz and Mataro to help South Australian winegrowers produce their own juicy version of the classic wines of the Rhone Valley. And thankfully, much like the revolution that has seen Shiraz flourish again of late, winemakers have started treating Grenache more gently in the winery, and wine drinkers are now able to enjoy brighter, spicier, prettier expressions of Grenache that are as complex as they are charming.
When handled right, Grenache can show the pretty perfumed fruit you might expect to see from some silky Pinot Noir but with some added spice and earthiness. When used as part of a blend, Grenache can bring freshness, spice and a bit of floral uplift and, being relatively low in tannins, is great for adding a soft fruitiness when blended with some more serious Shiraz. Another string to the bow of this beauty is that, when handled right, Grenache can produce some stunning pink wines, wines that go beyond the delicate, simple and savoury and push Rosé into an altogether more serious territory, with personality and panache to spare!
Grenache makes up 40% of the blend of the delicious Château Riotor Rosé from Provence and you can almost taste the wild herbs of the surrounding areas where this stunning wine is made. Think summer berries and spice, all wrapped up by a lovely long, clean, dry, fresh finish.
Sticking with our French friends, the Guigal family have been a bastion for quality in the Rhone Valley for over 60 years and their humble Cotes-du-Rhone is always a benchmark for quality in the region. Although famous for using high proportions of Shiraz in their blend, it is the prettiness of the Grenache component that always shines through, and for quality to price ratio their current release is tough to beat.
Bringing things closer to home, it’s difficult to look past the Barossa Valley when searching out warming, spicy Grenache. The iconic Yalumba are revered for producing an array of exciting wines and their Bush Vine Grenache is a textbook example of what old bush vine Grenache should look like. Think of a heady mix of plum, cherry, earth and spice. Uplifting and vibrant, for value for money you can’t look past this silky number.
John Duval (former head winemaker of Penfolds) produces stunning wines under his own label these days and his Plexus Blend (with Grenache making up just over 30% of the blend in the current release) is effortless in its charm. Richly fruited Shiraz is backed up by the structure of Grenache (with a little help from a splash of Mourvedre) and it all comes together to form a wine of power and complexity and real character.
If you’re looking to push the bar in terms of your Grenache exploration, check out the much heralded Torbreck, who produce a stunning array of Grenache from their vineyards spread across the Barossa. Their Cuvée Juveniles is a bright, spicy, unoaked expression of a Grenache blend that provides oodles of drinking pleasure. The ‘Steading’ blend is a step up in complexity, body and richness and pays homage to the great wines of the Southern Rhone. But it’s the Les Amis that really stands out from the pack. It comes with a lofty price tag but is worth every cent. Produced from vines dating back to 1901, this is as good as Grenache gets. Concentrated, yet fresh, it’s a brooding wine that will age gracefully in the cellar for many, many years to come. That’s if you can resist its devilish goodness just for now - it’s difficult to not pop the cork off and enjoy this beauty in its youthful glory!