Following a slightly chequered history, Grenache, aka Garnacha in Spain, is making a worthy comeback and delighting critics and consumers alike. Whether they’re exclusively or majoritively made from Grenache, these wines are all about roundness, fruitiness and are supremely drinkable.
I’m featuring three different interpretations of Grenache that demonstrate just how versatile and how delicious this variety can be, especially in the hands of talented wine producers.
Then to conclude, you’ll find a shortlist of the world’s finest examples of Grenache that are constantly getting critics and connoisseurs fired up! Every self-confessed Grenache fan will want to get to know these.
From the ethereal to the profound
There are producers who employ a ‘light touch’ and produce a style of Grenache that is often compared with Pinot Noir, concentrated yet ethereal. Some of the new wave of South Australian growers and the young guns in the Gredos Mountains near Madrid are prime examples.
At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find the more muscular, powerful versions as in the South Australian traditionalists, California, Priorat, the south of France and South Africa. The tannins play a much greater role here to complement the concentration of fruit.
Through diligence and a better understanding of how to get the best out of the variety, Grenache producers are now reaping the rewards. Grenache is a very late ripening grape and one that’s renowned for being a high-yielder, especially when the vines are young. It’s also a variety that’s extremely hardy and seems to thrive in soils that other grape varieties struggle with like sand.
The best Grenache producers are obsessed with plots of old vines, many of which were forgotten or neglected for many years. Working with older vines means you’re already working with reduced yields. As most old Grenache vines were planted as free-standing bushes as opposed to being wire-trained, they also have to be managed carefully by hand only.
From Australia to the Rhône
Great Grenache doesn’t always have to be red. In fact, there are some excellent examples of rosé too, one of which I’ll be referencing in a bit.
South Australia’s Barossa Valley is a rich source of old vine Grenache and forms the basis of the brilliant Rogers & Rufus Rosé. Rogers Hill-Smith is the owner of the region’s oldest winery, Yalumba, and has access to some outstanding Grenache. Along with business partner Rufus Clevely, they’ve fashioned a dry and more savoury style of rosé that looks and tastes remarkably similar to something from Provence. Subtle and delicate isn’t something you’d normally associate with Australian wine yet that’s exactly what you’ll find here.
Fans of GSMs will know that the Rhône valley is the original source of this blend. Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre all come together to create wines of warmth, suppleness and rich fruit.
None more so than the Cellier des Prince ‘Les Vignes du Prince’ Côtes-du-Rhône. Packed with juicy red berry fruits and savoury herbal nuances, the concentration of flavour comes from the 40-50-year-old Grenache vines that dominates this blend (80%). This is the only cooperative cellar in the Châteauneuf area and was set up nearly a century ago. Formed of 189 individual growers, the wines are made by the youthful Thierry Ferlay, a native of the southern Rhône who gained experience in Rutherglen in Australia too and adds a modern touch to these otherwise traditional wines.
Arguably, the ultimate expression of Grenache-dominant blends come from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These are big, powerful, intensely rich wines and Domaine du Grand Tinel’s Châteauneuf exemplifies this. A traditional style of wine made from 50-year-old vines, this is 80% Grenache with 15% Syrah adding dark fruit and backbone and 5% Mourvèdre along with tiny proportions of other permitted grapes that add complexity, seasoning and grip. Whilst drinking beautifully now, this will continue to improve with a few more years of careful cellaring.
The World’s finest Grenache wines
With a stronghold across the south of France, north central, central and eastern Spain and small pockets of South Australia, there’s no shortage of spectacular Grenaches. One common theme you’ll find here is that, with one exception, they all come from extremely old vines.
If you’re a big fan of this variety here are some names to look out for, the number of 12-bottle cases made in any given year (where known) and the average age of the vines.
Yangarra High Sands Grenache, McLaren Vale (265-280 cases) 76-year-old vines
Thistledown The Sands of Time, Single Vineyard, Old Vine Grenache, Blewitt Springs, 75-year-old vines
Torbreck Les Amis, Barossa Valley (120 cases) 120-year-old vines
Domaine de Cristia, Vieilles Vignes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 95-year-old vines
Domaine du Marcoux, Vieilles Vignes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 80-100-year-old vines
Château Rayas, Reserve, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 80-year-old vines
Garrus, Château d’Esclans, Provence Rosé (1500 cases) 100-year-old vines
Res Fortes, The Brave, Roussillon 120-year-old vines
Scala Dei, Sant Antoni, Priorat 80-year-old vines
Comando G, Tumba del Rey Moro, Sierra de Gredos 75-year-old vines
Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi, Las Iruelas, Sierra de Gredos 75-year-old vines
Espectacle del Montsant, Montsant (415 cases) 120-year-old vines
Best of the Rest
Sine Qua Non Eleven Confessions Vineyard, Grenache, Santa Rita Hills, California (248 cases) 21-year-old vines
AA Badenhorst, Ch. Raaigras Grenache, Swartland 70-year-old vines
Friday 16th September represents International Grenache Day, a perfect excuse to get acquainted with this resurging cult variety.