One of the favourite discussions that we wine bores have is which grape would we choose if we could only drink one for the rest of our lives. Most people pick Pinot Noir or Riesling. For me though, there can be only one, Grenache. I can’t think of any other varety that makes so many different wines from everyday red and rosé to Port-style fortified wines in France and Australia. You’d never get bored. Native to Aragon (where it’s known as Garnacha), it’s grown anywhere in the world where there’s sufficient heat. It’s the main ingredient in burly reds like Chateauneuf-du-Pape but at altitude produces wines that you might call delicate if it wasn’t for that tell-tale warmth in the mouth. Grenache rarely clocks in at less than 14% ABV, another reason I love it.
It also has a couple of equally versatile siblings: Grenache Blanc and the rare Grenache Gris. Earlier this year I met a fellow Grenache lover, Justin Howard-Sneyd a former Waitrose buyer who now makes wine in the Roussillon. He told me, “you can make everything from plump wild strawberry flavoured rosé through juicy gluggable reds to serious complex age-worthy fine wines.” And indeed he does at his vineyard, Domaine of the Bee.“If you love the perfume and sexiness of Pinot Noir, but appreciate a riper, rounder style of wine, then I don’t think you need to look much further than Grenache,” he said. I couldn’t agree more.
You’ve probably tried and loved Grenache without even knowing about it, it’s a major component in most Mediterranean rosé, Côtes du Rhône, and traditional Rioja, but it has never had the kudos of say, Syrah. Until now. Sommeliers love it: Merlin Ramos from Gridiron in London said, “Grenache is a grape that despite hard weather, rugged terrain, and bad soil will triumph”. Jean-Baptiste Sory from Helix restaurant at the Gherkin praised Grenache-based wines as “distinctive and so drinkable.” And this gets to the heart of it, Grenache unlike austere Cabernet Sauvignon or difficult Pinot Noir, is always fun even when it’s being serious. Now there’s a day devoted to it, 20th September, but for me, every day is International Grenache Day. Here are seven reasons why.
Domaine Jones Grenache Gris 2017 (Fareham Wine Cellar £13.25)
Initially this tastes citrus, fresh and saline, but as it warms up it gets creamier, almost oily, but with a mineral intensity like you might get in a Riesling, with a sort of bass throb of alcohol in the background.
Field of the Bee, Domaine of the Bee 2018 (direct £15)
It was diffiuclt choosing one wine as I loved everything from this producer but this Grenache Blanc/ Gris blend was so evocative of the Roussillon with lemon, thyme and a hint of honey on the nose.
Morala Grenache Old Vine 2018 (Majestic £11.99)
From Australia, this is Grenache at its vibrant, refreshing best. It’s bursting with crunchy cranberries and something a bit heady like Turkish delight. Plenty of alcohol too, naturally, but carries it well.
Cien Lanzas, 4 Monos 2016 (J&B £17.66)
The Sierra Gredos appellation near Madrid makes for my money the most perfumed Grenache in the world. This is floral with notes of raspberry, mint and orange peel. The flavours are so graceful and the colour so pale that my wife could not believe that it weighs in at 14.5% ABV.
Neil Ellis Grenache 2015 (Lavino £19.40)
From South Africa, this really demonstates Grenache’s generous side. It has a nice tannic bite to it, and then underneath very ripe strawberries like fresh strawberries mixed with a little jam. Really lovely fruit intensity, with a sort of rocky smoky edge.
Rasteau Vieilles Vignes, Tardieu-Laurent 2014 (Corney and Barrow £19.95)
A Rhone blend that will appeal to lovers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this wine is packed with flavours of the south like rosemary, North African spices, and a finish like roast chestnuts. It really shows the ageing potential of a good Grenache.
Pasos de San Martín Artadi 2015 (Secret Bottle Shop £24.95)
Another gorgeously graceful Garnacha this time from Navarra in the Basque country. When you try this you really understand Justin’s comparison with Pinot Noir, this comes across like a Rubens-esque red Burgundy.