The golden age of grenache
FORGET THE MISCONC AND THAT DARKENED PINOT – IN FAVOUR OF HAVING ITS MOMENT
When you write about booze for a living, people treat you like a wine guide turned flesh. And the one bit of advice I’m asked more than any other is this: “What’s the best pinot noir under $50?” My answer is always the same: “Grenache.” One of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world, grenache has been rooted in Australian soil since our earliest winemaking days and has been woefully underappreciated for too many years. But that’s changing. This is a golden age of grenache, a blessed time when insightful and progressive winemakers are giving it the respect it deserves. It’s the variety’s propensity for perfume and juicy suppleness that invites comparisons with pinot noir, but the difference is, grenache can thrive in places where pinot would simply lose its shit. In sun-drenched Spain they call it garnacha and it’s the most planted variety in the country. It prospers through southern France, in places like Languedoc-roussillon and the bottom half of the Rhône Valley, and is at the heart of one of the world’s great appellations, Châteauneuf-du-pape. Here in Australia, just like unreliable energy supply and the ability to correctly pronounce words like ‘dance’ and ‘chance’, truly great grenache is a peculiarly South Australian thing. While there are small pockets of grenache in places like Heathcote in Victoria, the overwhelming majority of plantings are in South Australian soil – and of those, the greatest number are found in urban Adelaide’s viticultural bookends, the Barossa Valley and Mclaren Vale. Both regions have a significant number of old grenache vineyards, a legacy of the early days of Australian wine when varieties useful in the production of fortified wines were favoured. Where once those vines pumped out large crops of super-ripe fruit to make port, now they’re trained for much lower yields, giving up just a few bunches of concentrated and deeply flavoured grapes. In smart winemaking hands, this fruit produces wines with seductive perfumes, lively textures and dangerous drinkability. Now, it’s time to dodge the pinot aisle and try for yourself.
Grenache can thrive in places where pinot would simply lose its shit.