Ah, at last, the sun has officially crossed the equator and taken up residence in the Southern Hemisphere. Fall is now the in-season for those in the Northern Hemisphere and while temperatures still hover in the hot and humid range, the days are noticeably shorter. Can cool mornings be far behind?
But it’s more than just the first day of fall. It’s also time to celebrate Grenache. Yes, Grenache, the grape. Turns out, it’s International Grenache Day.
Grenache is one of the most-planted varietals on the planet. (Some believe that it is the most common grape.) Grenache wine was extremely popular with the powerful Aragon court, and as the court expanded so did the reach of these low-growing vines. Grenache is the go-to vine in Spain, Southern France and across the Mediterranean. It is the backbone of the Rhône and devotees include Chateuanuef-du-Pape. (Are we drooling yet?)
Grenache has also proven to be a versatile varietal. It buds early, giving it a longer-than-normal growth period and higher sugars. It can produce a powerful red that typically requires years of cellaring (Granaca Tinto from Spain, Rhône Reds), a summer-fresh rose in Tavel and Lirac, and the curiously distinctive sweet wines of Banyuls and Maury. It is, in short, a grape that can produce some wonderful wines in a wide array of styles.
Like the courts of Aragon, the Grenache grape has been through it’s own periods of rise and decline. Traditionally, it was grown in areas that are hot and dry, with strong and regular winds. They’re often grown without the aid of a trellis system, giving it a bush-like appearance in the vineyard. This low-to-the-road approach protects the grapes from harsh sun and contributes to the high sugar content. However, many vintners started irrigating the grape rather than letting it develop slowly and naturally under dry conditions, especially in North America. The Grenache wine lost it’s distinctive characteristics in these conditions.
Grenache suffered a similar fate in Australia, where the Grenache vine was regarded as little more than a secondary grape in the construction of very ordinary red blends. With the rise of the Shiraz grape in the 1960’s, Grenache lost whatever prominence it once had in Australia, despite the near-perfect conditions for growing Grenache on the continent.
Fortunately, the grape has been making a comeback among wine makers. Rhône Rangers in California have revived the fine-art of Grenache-based wines in North America. In Australia, some of the biggest names in the Barossa Valley have taken up the cause of Grenache, seeking out the older vines that were raised in the traditional dry, arid conditions.
Want to celebrate this magnificent grape in appropriate style? For those with a little extra cash in their pocket, there’s nothing better than a traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape from, say, Clos St. Michael. Expect spice and raspberries in an acidic body with an incredibly long finish.
Or perhaps you want to see what the Rhône Rangers can do with Grenache. Look for Tablas Creek Vineyard. The highlight here is the Espirit de Tablas, which features a licorice nose, chocolate and cherry on the tongue, and a heavy tannin presence. This is not a wine for those afraid of a powerful red.
And as a final option, enjoy some old vine Grenache from Australia. If you can find a bottle, try the Aerope from Two Hands. Raspberry, lavender and spices fill your nose while dark cherry and anise roll across your tongue. It is the epitome of the sweet and spice combination of flavors that Grenache is so famous for.
Whatever flavor combinations you prefer, there’s a Grenache wine out there for you so put down that Cabernet Sauvignon and that Merlot and pick up a glass of this fabulous grape.