This month, Richard Hem­ming toasts wines from the grenache grape

Living France - - À La Maison -

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.

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