History of Grenache
Grenache is one of the world’s great wine varieties. Known as both a workhorse for blends such as the classic Côtes du Rhône, and as a thoroughbred for single varietals, Grenache is a well-established wine style with a global history as long as the finish its light yet strong structure is known for.
In Australia, however, Grenache fell by the wayside for many years as a grape good enough for fortified wine. But more and more winemakers and wine lovers are rediscovering this intricate variety and the great rewards its deep roots can bring.
Blended with Shiraz and Mourvedre to make ‘GSM,’ Grenache is making a comeback as a variety that can bring balance to a blend or shine on its own.
Pronounced ‘gruh-nash,’ this old world wine varietal has origins in France and Spain, though there is a considerable and ongoing debate as to which wine-growing nation can truly claim its inception.
However, most scholarship points to Grenache’s birthplace as the Aragon region of northern Spain, close to France, from where it spread throughout the French Languedoc and southern Rhone wine regions by the 19th century.
The Grenache grapevine thrives in climates that are moderate to warm, producing high yields while being resistant to drought conditions. The variety grows upright and has a strong woody canopy for protection against the wind, preferring hot, dry soils that are well-drained.
No wonder that French and Spanish winegrowers embraced Grenache so heartily – it’s a tough, reliable wine variety that produces quality fruit even in challenging conditions.
It’s highly adaptable, with many winemakers in Europe making rose with Grenache grapes, and using the variety for blends and fortified wines. French winemakers, in particular, are renowned for blending Grenache with Syrah (Shiraz), Carignan, Cinsaut and Mourvèdre for classic Côtes du Rhône.
What Food Does Grenache Suit?
Because of its essentially light character, Grenache is a great red wine for pairing with food, able to complement everything from game to pizza. Like most red wines, Grenache tends to suit meat dishes, particularly veal and duck, beautifully enhancing the umami of braised meat while bringing a fresh, flavoursome contrast.
Because of its adaptability, Grenache can also be served with fish such as salmon. There is also a push to pair Grenache with Asian food, as long as it’s not too spicy. Think the freshness of Thai salads and fish dishes or Vietnamese.
What Does Grenache Taste Like?
Ok, let’s explore the tasting notes a bit more.
Grenache can be blended to make everything from quaffable barbeque wines to bottles that demand decanting and savouring. This is because the most striking feature Grenache has is its light structure, allowing incredible adaptability.
Due to its medium tannins, Grenache is often compared to light to medium-bodied Shiraz – it won’t overwhelm your palate, offering intricate flavours instead such as black cherry, red plum, cloves and white pepper.
When blended with other wines, Grenache can bring spice and warmth, with its plummy fruit flavours insisting to be noticed. Depending on where it’s grown, Grenache can cover a spectrum of flavours from light and aromatic to heavier and fuller-bodied.
Grenache is usually stored in neutral oak barrels for maturation, but when produced as a single varietal it can be carefully oaked to create delicious flavours that show off its uniquely supple style.
Because of its long history in winemaking, there are scores of techniques winemakers can use to make the best of their Grenache grapes. To enhance its aroma, cold-soaking before fermentation is often used, and to add structure a vigneron can include whole clusters and stems.
Grenache in Australia
Renowned for its toughness, Grenache is one of the first old world wine varieties planted in Australia and helped form the backbone of the nation’s original wine industry.
There are vines planted in 1850 in South Australia’s Barossa Valley that are still producing fruit, while many vineyards in McLaren Vale have historic plantings as well.
Grenache first arrived in Australia in 1832 as a cutting carried by the farmer and jurist James Busby, a man widely regarded as the “father” of Australia’s wine industry. He also developed the Treaty of Waitangi that led to New Zealand’s national sovereignty.
Busby brought a large collection of vine stock from France and Spain to Australia, which was then enhanced by cuttings provided by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold who brought Grenache to South Australia in 1844 and established one of Australia’s premier wineries.
Grenache quickly became Australia’s premier wine variety and was used primarily to make fortified wine. But as producers switched to premium wine styles, Grenache was then overtaken by varieties like Cabernet and Shiraz.
Despite its fall from Australia’s number one wine spot, Grenache continues to be widely grown with significant plantings in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley. There are also small plantings in Margaret River in Western Australia. Most of these vines are grown in the bush style, with the Barossa and McLaren Vale known as the leading regions for the variety.
The most common style is GSM, a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre, but there are also single varietals coming on to the market that display the light but rich flavour Grenache is loved for.