Grenache may not be as popular as pinot noir or syrah, but it is far more plentiful. Responsible for producing great bargains, it’s also used in some of the most coveted wines in France and Spain. Capable of making tannic reds or refreshing rosés, it is versatile yet retains its identity no matter where it is grown or how it is made.
Grenache is from the Aragon province, and back in the days when this area had a kingdom with expansionist tendencies, the grape was transported to Sardinia and the south of France where it is still grown with gusto. A late-ripening grape, it usually has a lot of alcohol. It often smells like black and white pepper, cinnamon, rose petals and cedar and with an array of red fruits. Grenache is often blended with other grapes such as Syrah and Mourvedre in France and Australia, and carignan and cabernet sauvignon in France.
The most famous wines made from Grenache are Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhone Valley and the wines of Priorat in Catalonia. While these are the world-class examples, the grape has also taken to vineyards in the new world, where it tends to be more fruit-forward. This is not to say you won’t notice spice or floral qualities, but the wines are not as earthy as the European versions.
Here are three that are excellent examples of how it manifests itself in California and Australia:
Philip Staley Grenache, 2007 (Russian River): When Philip and Pamela Staley scoured the Russian River looking for vineyard land 25 years ago, they were not thinking about pinot noir or Chardonnay, but the Rhone varietals. The first vintage came in 1993 with a small introductory offering of mourvedre, syrah and grenache. Fast-forward to the present day, Philip Staley is still focused on Rhone varietals. Somewhat tannic but with the fruit to match, this wine has clean, bright-black cherry fruit, Darjeeling tea and spice. Suggested retail: $24
Eagle Point Ranch Grenache, 2008 (Mendocino Country): You might associate the name Scharffenberger with chocolate, but way before cocoa entered the picture, John Scharffenberger and family owned a superb sparkling wine house in Mendocino Country. Their ambition was not limited to bubbles as they also bought the Eagle Point Ranch and planted zinfandel. Today, along with another Mendocino native, Casey Hartlip, Scharffenberger is making terrific wines from syrah, grenache and petite sirah. All of these grapes have a tendency to bloat, but Eagle Points are very well balanced and this wine even has a minerally quality that trickles through the bright cherry fruit. Suggested retail: $25
De Lisio Grenache, 2006 (McLaren Vale, Australia): Like the United States, Australia is a land of immigrants. Originally from Italy, Tony De Lisio has been growing grapes in the McLaren Vale for 30 years. With cola, cranberries, cooked fruit and a vanilla underpinning, this is a unique taste. Suggested retail: $45
Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.