This month, Richard Hemming toasts wines from the grenache grape
Grenache is the key ingredient in one of France’s most important wines – but it is not a French native. It originates from Spain, where it is known as Garnacha and is responsible for loads of mostly inexpensive, fiery vino tinto. Over the border in France it is commonplace throughout Languedoc-Roussillon (now part of Occitanie) and is also the primary variety of southern Rhône vin rouge.
The key characteristics of grenache are full body, low acidity, soft tannin, high alcohol and relatively pale colour. That means it is often blended with a smaller percentage of other varieties such as cinsault, syrah or mourvèdre to give the finished wine more colour and structure. This is the classic recipe for the Côtes du Rhône appellation, which is one of France’s largest and best-value red wines.
Within the southern Rhône there are dozens of smaller appellations producing wine from the same varieties but at more ambitious quality levels. Chief among these is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, famed around the world for its concentration and power. These wines tend to be hearty, full-bodied and often reach in excess of 15% alcohol. As well as plentiful red bramble fruit, they are often said to have a dried herb aroma, attributed to the garrigue that grows among the vineyards of the region.
The two most recent vintages in the Rhône, 2015 and 2016, have been among the most acclaimed ever – so there has never been a better time to try them for yourself. Here are three classics to seek out.
M&S Ogier, Le Temps est Venu 2015 Côtes du Rhône (£12.20 Lay & Wheeler) Ogier is mostly based in the northern Rhône and this is their first foray into the south. The blend is 80% grenache and offers wonderfully ripe red fruit flavours without being over-powering. It’s a triumphant example of the easydrinking, soft and satisfying Rhône style. An ideal wine to pair with barbecued meat or rich stews.
Domaine Brusset, Tradition Le Grand Montmirail 2015 Gigondas (£18 BigRedWine.co.uk) Gigondas is 25km north-east of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and is often considered the closest challenger in terms of style and quality. This one is made from 70% grenache with 10% each of syrah, mourvèdre and cinsault. In addition to concentrated fruit flavour, it has a lovely soy and earth character. It is drinking brilliantly now, but will also keep in bottle for a decade.
Chante Cigale, 2013 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (£19.95 halifaxwinecompany.com) You can’t appreciate grenache without trying Châteauneufdu-Pape! Every supermarket sells one, but it’s worth spending a little more to find the better examples – and Chante Cigale is one of the best at the price. Grenache constitutes 70% of the blend, and gives a wonderfully lifted nose with liquorice, bitter chocolate and hefty black fruit.