Grenache has never historically been a grape to hog the limelight as a monovarietal wine. There are exceptions, but it has mainly been blended with the likes of Syrah, Carignan, Tempranillo or Mourvedre to add acidity, colour and tannin to it, and has traditionally found its place in the Rhône, Rioja, California and Australia. But the McLaren Vale Grenache is challenging many preconceptions, argues Mike Turner, who tastes 12 of these 100% Grenache wines and gives two thumbs up to all 12. Here he gives the 5 reasons he thinks you should get McLaren Vale Grenache into your life and lists his Top 3 wines from the tasting.
“Grenache used to be red Riesling, everyone talked about it, but no one bought it. That’s changing.”
Grenache is one of the most widespread red grape varieties in the world, with solid homes in France, Spain, South Africa, the US, and Australia. For many years it’s been seen as an ideal blending component, which means it is usually just one of a number of grapes that are put together to make a final wine. Grenache was seen as simply adding red fruit and alcohol to blends, with grape varieties such as Tempranillo or Syrah adding colour and backbone to the famous wines of Rioja or the Southern Rhône. Well not any more…
Grenache is finally having its day in the sun. I attended a fascinating online webinar with the Wine Australia this week, whose McLaren Vale district (just south of Adelaide) is fast becoming one of the world centres for wines made solely of Grenache, and giving us wine lovers a whole new wine style to enjoy in the process.
Last month we had World Grenache Day. Usually I tend to ignore these “international grape days”, on the most part because there are so bloody many of them now. Every other day is Sauvingon Blanc Day or Screwcap Bottle Day or whatever. It gets a bit tedious after a while. But I’ve got to admit I loved the session this week, and have been loving varietal Grenache (wines made from 100% Grenache, no blending) for a couple of years. OK, they were mostly wines out of France’s Languedoc region, but having my eyes opened to McLaren Vale was brilliant, and I’m going to share my five top reasons to get McLaren Vale Grenache into your life!
A warm climate Pinot Noir
The renowned Australian wine commentator and critic, James Halliday, rates Grenache as McLaren Vale’s secret weapon. A misunderstood grape for so long, it’s now attracting passionate producers who want to express the terroir of some of the best vineyard sites in the region, with wines full of great fruit and spice. A red wine grape that makes winemakers keep banging on about “a sense of place.” Remind you of anything?
It’s not without reason that Grenache was dubbed the “Poor Man’s Pinot” for many years. Well, you can forget the “Poor Man” bit now, with prices for Grenache grapes in McLaren Vale topping $2,156 a tonne in 2020, more than both Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz! So maybe let’s go for “Warm Climate Pinot” instead, how does that sound?
Harvesting at the right time has made all the difference
For many reasons, Grenache was often one of the lower priority grapes when it comes to harvest time, and often one of the last to be picked. It was a cheaper grape variety than the likes of Syrah/Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s also quite a hardy grape variety that can survive on the vine for quite a long time.
As I mentioned earlier good Grenache grapes are now selling for top dollar. Grape growers are also realising that just because it can stay on the vine longer doesn’t mean it should. As Liberty Wines boss, David Gleave MW, one of our webinar hosts, mentioned: “In Australia it’s not so much about promoting ripeness, it’s about containing it!” Earlier picking dates mean winemakers can capture the fresh fruit and floral aromatics, as well as not letting Grenache’s famous alcohol levels go too crazy.
Fits the trend for ‘smashable’ wines
On the call we also had Giles Cooke MW, whose Thistledown winery makes outrageously good Grenache. When asked if he felt the market was shifting and the punters are finally loving varietal Grenache he was very positive. “Grenache used to be red Riesling, everyone talked about it, but no one bought it. That’s changing.”
One reason for that, he believes, is the ease with which the new, early picked and aromatic styles of Grenache can be drunk. It’s a perfect wine for so many situations including summer barbeques, picnics, or sit down dinners. It’s also highly “smashable”, which basically means it’s worryingly easy to drink and pour yourself another glass. Well, I say worrying…
A climate change warrior
Sorry Donald, I’m talking climate change again. Sorry. Wine is the canary-in-the-cage of climate change, with grape varieties the world over having to cope with temperature extremes, weather patterns, and water stresses that weren’t envisaged even 30 years ago when they were planted. A quick glance to Bordeaux and the producers there scrambling to work out which grapes will save their industry in 15-20 years time shows just how critical this issue is to the wine industry.
Well step up Grenache! Grenache vines, especially those over 35 years old (old vine) are highly heat-resistant, drought-resistant, and adapt brilliantly to changes in the climate. McLaren Vale is no stranger to the perils of climate change, but in Grenache they may well have found a ‘climate change warrior’ that can help out.
Serious wines for serious winos
My fifth reason for getting stuck into Grenache is a bit of a funny one from someone like me. I’m a tight arsed penny-pinching Northerner, and when I saw the prices of some of these McLaren Vale Grenaches I looked nervously at my office drawer where I keep my wallet safely locked away. The ones from the webinar ranged from £20 to £90 retail and, even if these were the better examples, you’re struggling to pay less than £10 for anything in the UK.
But is that a bad thing? For me and my Scrooge-esque ways then yes. But for serious winos that have a slightly healthier relationship with the way commerce works than I do, it’s a great thing. These winemakers – the Thistledown’s, Willunga’s, Wirra Wirra’s, and Yangarra’s of the world – can’t get away with charging those prices without producing some serious wines! And these are serious wines. I tried 12 and I loved 12. That nearly never happens to me.
Top McLaren Vale Grenache available right now:
So there you go, 5 top reasons to take McLaren Vale Grenache into your wine-loving lives. And here are three of my favourites available right now in the UK:
Thistledown Wine “This Charming Man” Old Vine Single Vineyard Grenache 2018, £45
Importer: Alliance Wine
Quite simply my favourite wine of the 12 we tasted. It’s just sooooooo smooth! Black and red plums, and dark raspberries on the palate, cinnamon and cracked pepper, and a lift from a violet floral kick that always has me in wino heaven.
Ministry of Clouds Grenache 2018, £33
Importer: Graft Wine
Very fresh, very fruity. Wild strawberry and red liquorice, with a herbal element that I’m going with thyme but happy to be corrected there. But it’s in there and it adds that savoury note to make it a really useful food pairer. Velvety smooth tannins that give it plenty of texture. Big fan.
Wirra Wirra “The Absconder” Grenache 2018, £40
Importer: Gonzalez Byass
Concentrated fresh fruit flavours of wild strawberry and blood orange with a rose petal and lavender floral lift. In the background there’s a heady eucalyptus aroma which I know some love and some hate. Ripe and crunchy fine tannins throughout and plenty of flavour concentration to balance out the 14.5% alcohol.