Cheers to grenache, an underrated grape
There are now so many days dedicated to individual grape varieties, it’s hard to keep up. It induces a weird mentality that if you haven’t done anything to mark the occasion, you’ve lost the opportunity to celebrate it for another year. Well, sod that. Despite the fact that I missed international grenache day on 21 September, I’m going to focus on grenache this week, because it’s a massively underappreciated grape that is the backbone of many hugely enjoyable, often remarkably well-priced reds.
Its main claim to fame is in the southern Rhône and Languedoc, where it produces wines as grand as châteauneuf-du-pape – in collaboration with up to 12 other grape varieties – and as rarefied as rasteau, banyuls and maury, the sweet, fortified vin doux naturels of the Roussillon. It rarely features on its own, but regularly chums up with syrah and mourvèdre (a combination known in the wine trade as GSM), and slightly less elegantly with carignan, though the Domaine Jones Fitou proves that rusticity isn’t a given. As the Wine Society endearingly puts it: “Drunk in Fitou in the cold of January, it worked very well with civet de sanglier, but another hearty stew would do just as well.” I’d be tempted to be drunk in Fitou in January, too.
Lidl has just released one of its limited-edition selections of French reds that you should plunder if you’re a grenache fan. As well as its Plan de Dieu, I’d snap up the highly smashable Domaine la Grand Cassagne Costières de Nîmes 2016 (13%) at £5.99 – 2016 is a cracking year in the Rhône.
In Spain, where grenache is known as garnacha, it’s equally ubiquitous, cropping up in Rioja, Navarra and, most spectacularly, on the steep slopes of Priorat farther south, where it again hangs out with carignan – there called mazuelo – and often some cabernet sauvignon.
You also find impressive old-vine grenache in Australia. Willunga in the McLaren Vale is a grenache specialist that constantly picks up awards at Australian wine shows. I’ve listed its most widely available and affordable wine in the panel, but look out for its incredible
The Hundred Blewitt Springs or The Tithing if you spot them on a restaurant list.
There are also commendable white grenaches, but at this time of year it’s all about the reds for me. Rich, warming, full-bodied and ageing to a mellow, leathery sweetness, they’re perfect for the dark nights to come.