The Buyer
Getting under the skin of the Grenache revival in IGP Pays d’Oc

Getting under the skin of the Grenache revival in IGP Pays d’Oc

In France’s Pays d’Oc, the long-underrated Grenache variety is finally enjoying its time in the sun. Dominic Rippon discovers how much this grape has to offer, in all three colours, and selects his top dozen bottles from a recent tasting at IGP Pays d’Oc’s space age HQ in Montpellier.

Dominic Rippon
19th January 2023by Dominic Rippon
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

After getting to grips as to why Grenache is going through a revival in the South of France, Rippon selects six Grenache Noir and six white, Gris and pink Grenache that deliver the goods.

Dominic Rippon is a wine expert based in Carcassonne

Until the 1990s, the black Grenache variety was best known as the main blending component in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and its neighbours in the southern Rhône, where it loves the torrid, sun-baked terrain. But elsewhere, it was under-appreciated.

Grenache originates in what was the ancient Iberian kingdom of Aragon. It made its way to France through Roussillon, where it became the backbone of the area’s sweet vins doux naturels; and along the Mediterranean coast through Languedoc, before reaching the Rhône.

French Grenache, like its complementary stablemate Carignan, fell out of favour in the second half of the 20th Century – the result of over-cropping and rudimentary winemaking, rather than lack of potential – and many vines were pulled out.

Old vine Grenache has long enjoyed a following in Australia, as well as California’s Mendocino County. In the 1990s, the “Rhône Rangers” helped bring the variety to prominence, by planting Rhône cuttings in California’s Central Coast.

Meanwhile back in France, in 1987 the concept of vin de Pays d’Oc – now IGP Pays d’Oc – was born. Inspired by the success of Californian varietal wines, Pays d’Oc would concentrate on single grape varietals, in contrast with the appellations d’origines’ focus on terroir. Cabernet, Merlot, Sauvignon and Chardonnay quickly took off, but the pendulum is gradually swinging back towards well-made, good value local varietals, which were always more at home in the southern sunshine… enter Grenache.

Grenache Blanc is the grape’s white incarnation. Still far more common as a blending staple than a single varietal, it is a favourite among Pays d’Oc winemakers for its combination of natural freshness and gras – the fat, oily sensation that helps it to pair well with food. Watch this space!

Grenache Noir: no longer misunderstood

Red Grenache is its most recognisable varietal expression, medium-deep in colour, with characteristic raspberry aromas, juicy, explosive flavours and a crowd-pleasing, velvety structure.

If Red Grenache has eased its way into the public’s affections, then the success of its dry rosés has been a whirlwind affair. Grenache Noir is Pays d’Oc’s most productive grape for rosé, from which more than half a million hectolitres are squeezed annually. It is a relatively thin-skinned variety and, together with the pale Grenache Gris, makes delicately coloured rosés, often in the barely tinged vin gris style – very much in the Provençal mould. Pays d’Oc has leapfrogged Provence’s pink production, making it France’s largest producer of rosé – with bottle prices to make their winemaking colleagues elsewhere blush.

The Pays d’Oc vineyard covers a whopping 120,000 hectares in Languedoc-Roussillon, from the western bank of the Rhône to the Spanish border. The sheer variety of soils and climates means that every Grenache is a unique reflection of its terroir.

The Grenache wines at IGP Pays d’Oc HQ

6 IGP Pays d’Oc, white, gris and pink Grenaches

“Villa Blanche” Grenache Blanc 2022, Calmel & Joseph, 13.5%

A recent creation by Calmel & Joseph – this wine will complete the Villa Blanche range when it is released at the beginning of 2023. Located in the Corbières hills near Carcassonne, these Grenache grapes from the area around Pézenas, 100 km to the east, are grown on a clay-limestone plateau. The wine is a brilliant pale lime colour, with an intense, extremely youthful nose (wine tasted was a tank sample). Heady aromas of pear drops give way to white flowers; very flattering. On the palate, the juice shows why the winemaker decided to bottle the variety alone this year, with its wonderful balance of freshness, juicy mid-palate and fat overall mouth-feel. Plenty of length. An ideal match for grilled oily fish and garlicky sauces.

RRP €10 at cellar door.

Available from: direct from the estate

“Le Versant” Grenache Rosé 2021, Les Vignobles Foncalieu, 13.5%

Les Vignobles Foncalieu is one of western Languedoc’s most dynamic cooperative cellars, and Le Versant is the sweet spot in its range (see also the excellent Viognier). This Grenache is pale salmon pink and sometimes a little reticent at first on the nose, before showing the full breadth of its red fruit aromas (strawberry, raspberry), mixed with citrus flower and roses. Flavours are intense and mealy, with strawberry, orange peel and a hint of mint. A very serious wine for the price. Bone dry, with a plumpness that drives towards the finish. Try with strongly flavoured tapas or tajine.

RRP €8.50 at cellar door.

Available from: Temple Wines

Rosé “Délicieuse” 2021, Domaine les Yeuses, 13%

A vin gris in all but name, this Grenache comes from a sandy plot, on a 70-hectare estate with vineyards that reach from the garrigue almost to the Mediterranean, near Mėze. Pale onion skin colour with golden flashes. The nose is delicate and herbal, with sweet melon and red berry fruits, plus savoury notes that hint at the wine’s gastronomic potential. Fruit salad flavours and a refreshing thread of acidity, culminating in a satisfyingly long finish. Great to be married with grilled fish or fried calamari.

RRP €7.20 at cellar door.

Available from: South Downs Cellars

“Le Gris” 2021, Domaine Rose & Paul, 13% Organic

This family estate sits at the far western fringe of Languedoc, among the vineyards of Malepère, where Grenache makes fresh, nervy wines in a climate that is strongly influenced by the Atlantic as well as the Mediterranean. An organic vin gris showing ripe citrus and honeydew melon aromas, with yellow flowers and camomile. A fleeting sniff might evoke a white wine in a blind tasting. On the palate, it achieves effortless freshness without the standout acidity that sometimes comes from hurried early picking in warmer climes. A gentle, refined rosé: the perfect aperitif wine; or drink with a salmon tartare starter, or goat’s cheese.

RRP €8 at cellar door.

Available from: direct from the estate

Gris “Terre Eulalie” 2021, Les Collines du Bourdic, 12%

Situated at the far east of Languedoc, a stone’s throw from the Pont du Gard, this vin gris is as close to Provence in style as its vineyards are geographically. Pale onion skin colour with a subtle redcurrant and citrus fruit nose. Bracing and fresh on the palate with wild red berry fruits and a touch of lemon peel. Unashamedly dry with some fat mid-palate. A French bistro gris par excellence, and exceptional value at under a fiver. Perfect to kick off a long lunch in the sun, especially to accompany seafood salads.

RRP €4.90 at cellar door.

Available from: Jean-Louis Naveilhan, Sommelier Consultant

“Arqu’Ange” 2021, Sieur d’Arques, 12.5%

Arqu’Ange is from Sieur d’Arques, Limoux’s largest cooperative cellar. A serious, salmon pink rosé from clay-limestone vineyards in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Delicate scents of strawberry, redcurrant, and a little grapefruit. Flavours are intense and the palate is well-structured, with delicately spicy notes and a pleasantly austere, slightly chalky feel. An extremely versatile food partner; try with crab dishes, or poultry in sweet and sour sauce.

RRP €9.90 at cellar door.

Available from: direct from the estate

6 IGP Pays d’Oc red Grenaches

“Vingt-Deux Pas” 2020, Domaine Lalaurie, 14%

Run by twin sisters, this estate is hidden away in the sun-baked hills north of Narbonne; the wine’s name, “twenty two paces”, refers to the distance between the winery and their old village school. Vines are grown on clay-limestone soils overlaid with large pebbles. With a classic red Grenache ruby hue, the wine is flattering and inviting on the nose, extremely floral; fresh raspberry merged with something earthier – beetroot, even seaweed. Firm and grippy on the palate, but with a fruity middle that reflects the wine’s aromas. A good balance of traditional and international appeal, and the perfect choice to accompany a barbecue.

RRP €8.70 at cellar door.

Available from: direct from the estate

“Mon Grenache Noir” 2020, Jean-Claude Mas, 13.5%

Jean-Claude Mas is one of the turbos of Languedoc’s wine industry, and this blend’s name is a clear statement of his affection for the Grenache variety. Deep ruby in colour with glints of purple, this is a self-consciously fashionable wine, with a boisterous array of red and dark fruit aromas (cherry, blueberry, blackberry), with crushed pepper and a whiff of vanilla that points to partial American oak ageing. Supple and well-rounded on the palate; toasty and extroverted. Powerful flavours that invite spicy favourites, like chilli con carne or pork ribs marinated in paprika and Mediterranean herbs.

RRP €9.50 at cellar door.

Available from: Vintage Roots

Grenache “Les Fruits Mûrs” 2020, Domaine les Yeuses, 14%

Beautiful dark olive colour with flashes of red brick, here is a wine with a couple of years age, but still youthful and poised. Damson and blackberry on the nose, with raspberry and menthol appearing in the glass. Vigorous but velvety on the palate, tannins are big but perfectly ripe; a wine full of energy. Spicy and opulent flavours of raspberry and liquorice. An ideal partner for ungarnished fillet steak, hard cows’ cheeses like aged Comté, or, for those who dare, dark chocolate cake!

RRP €8.40 at cellar door.

Available from: PM Wines

“Marius” Grenache 2021, Marius by Michel Chapoutier, 14%

Chapoutier’s vinous forays outside the house’s northern Rhône heartland are frequently exciting, and “Marius” (named after Michel Chapoutier’s great-grandfather) is no exception. Deep ruby in colour, the wine’s aromas show why Grenache is frequently referred to as “the Pinot of the south”: morello cherries, cocoa, and minerals poking through. On the palate, it is a deliciously suave, with a juicy red fruit attack (more cherries), pure and fleshy, with that mix of cocoa and herbs on the finish to remind you that you’re in the Oc. Incredible value, and so soft that you’ll be happy drinking this red on its own.

RRP €7.10 at cellar door.

Available from: direct from the estate

Grenache “Sélection Parcellaire” 2022, Domaine de Castelnau, 14.5%

A very young Grenache, from a selection of the best parcels of pebble-strewn (galets roulés) vineyard in the Corbières hills, near Lézignan. Relatively pale in colour – almost Burgundian cherry red – it is intensely mineral on the nose, with powerful yet cool aromas of raspberry, liquorice and violets. The palate is fresh and direct, with grainy tannins. Flavours are driven by sheer fruit intensity, unmasked by wood, towards a long, slightly astringent (in a good way) finish. The wine’s combination of power and sap make it a fine match for winter stews like boeuf bourguignon or mutton ragoût.

RRP €8 at cellar door

Available from: direct from the estate

“Baccalarius” 2020, Domaine de Bachellery, 14.5%

Exactly 12,446 bottles of this wine were made, and your bottle gets its own number (mine was 03410). This is one for fans of muscular, oak-aged reds. Deepish grenadine in colour, the nose is very toasty, with oak still finding its place – no matter, this wine has many years ahead of it. Ripe (but not stewed) red fruits. Cherries, blackberry, black pepper and mocha flavours, with firm but well-mannered tannins. Try with big game dishes: venison or wild boar.

RRP €12 at cellar door.

Available from: direct from the estate