A wine of secret substance

 

Grenache is the unsung hero of the wine world, and lends spine and substance to everything from rosé to reds, writes JOHN WILSON

YOU MAY NOT have come across the name Grenache before, but if you drink red wine, you will certainly have tasted it. This is one of the most widely-planted grapes in the world, the hidden component in many great wines, yet the name rarely appears on the front label. Grenache is something of a chameleon, sometimes pale-coloured, perfumed, soft, and warm-hearted, other times deeply-coloured, big, gutsy and fiery. It is used to make every kind of wine from rosé and red to fortified. There is even a white and pink version of the grape.

In fact, Grenache should really be called Garnacha, as it is a Spanish variety. It appears to have originated in Aragon, and spread into neighbouring Navarra and Rioja, and then to a swathe of land on both sides of the Pyrenees, including Catalonia, Rousillon, the Languedoc, the southern Rhône and even Sardinia, where it is known as Cannonau.

It is ideally suited to hot, arid regions, and because of its relatively sturdy wood it can withstand wind too, making it ideal for many parts of southern Europe. It is also widely grown in Australia, often for less expensive wines (it can produce a generous crop of grapes), but also for some of the top reds of the Barossa.

Grenache/Garnacha is most often blended with other varieties, hence its lack of visibility. In France it typically joins with Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre or Carignan; in Spain it is most often used with Tempranillo. The wines are usually high in alcohol (sometimes reaching 16 per cent or more), low in tannins, sometimes with a lovely perfume, and sweet, spicy fruit, but rarely very much colour. You can see why it works so well with Syrah and other grapes, which have colour and structure but require softening out.

The vast majority of Grenache/Garnacha is made for early drinking. In Campo de Borja and Calatayud in Spain, it produces lovely fresh, rounded, fruity reds. It is traditionally used to beef up Rioja and Navarra. Most Côtes du Rhône will contain a sizeable dollop of Grenache; the best are full-bodied and spicy with soft, easy fruits. However, if yields are kept low, and it is grown in the right conditions, Grenache/Garnacha can have structure and age really well. Examples include Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhône, and Priorat in Catalonia.

The Sardinians argue that Cannonau is their own distinct grape variety, grown there since time immemorial. The rest of the world would beg to differ, and say it is none other than Grenache. Cannonau from Sardinia can be excellent, distinctly different in style but very enjoyable.

BOTTLES OF THE WEEK

Le Bombarde 2010, Cannonau di Sardegna, Cantina Santa Maria La Palma Alghero, 13%, €15.99Pale in colour with distinctive, slightly chewy, dark cherry fruits cloaked in herbs and an attractive spiciness. Smooth and medium-bodied with plenty of character. Try it with roast or grilled lamb. Stockists: Very widely available in independent wine shops and off-licences in Dublin only

Clos des Trias 2008, Ventoux, 14%, €15A perfect example of what Grenache can do in the Southern Rhône. Nicely perfumed, medium- to full-bodied, with smooth, rich, strawberry and cherry fruits, finishing with a nice savoury liquorice kick. A very well-made wine, decidedly moreish and great value too. Stockists: 64wine, Glasthule; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; Thomas’s, Foxrock; Lilac Wine, Fairview

Sotorrondero 2009, Bodegas Jiminéz-Landi, Mentrida, Spain, 14.5%, €21In recent years, a few estates in Mentrida, a short distance southwest of Madrid, have started producing some excellent Garnacha-based wines. This wine is from one of the best. It has tight, closed, dark fruits, and is very mineral, and very deep in colour. Intense and long, this opened up beautifully after an hour, and provided a perfect match for a lamb stew. Stockists: 64wine, Glasthule; Lilac Wines, Fairview; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; Just de Vine, Portmarnock; Liston’s, Camden Street; Fallon Byrne, Exchequer Street; The Wicklow Wine Co; The Cheese Pantry, Drumcondra; Red Island Wines, Skerries; Ennis’s, South Circular Road; The Wine Boutique, Ringsend; Lilliput Stores, Stoneybatter; Hardagon’s, Cabinteely

Minervois, Belle de Nuits 2008, Borie de Manuel, 14.5%, €24.99Made from 100 per cent Grenache, this has a lovely sweet, fragrant nose, seductive, soft herby, ripe fruits, and a long mineral finish. A superb wine with an exceptional quality of fruit. Drink with red meats. Stockist: O’Briens

TWO UNDER €12

Grenache 2010, Domaine de Cristia, vin de pays de Méditerranée, 13%, €11.99A perennial favourite of mine, this is a rounded, supple, medium- to full-bodied wine, chock-full with sweet, dark fruits and a smooth finish. A great all-rounder to drink with red or white meats. Look out also for the excellent, character-filled Grenache Blanc from the same producer, which will arrive here soon. Stockist: Superquinn

Cannonau di Sardegna 2008, Sella Mosca, 13.5%, €11.95Showing a bit of maturity, alongside a nice spiciness and some slightly chewy dark fruits. Plenty of character, and very enjoyable with grilled red meats. Stockist: Karwig Wines, Carrigaline

BEER OF THE WEEK

Anchor Steam Summer Beer, 4.5%, €2.99 for a 355cl bottleLovely light, clean, crisp beer with a nice maltiness and good length, and an unusual soft head. Very moreish, with plenty of flavour too; great summer drinking. Stockists: drinkstore.ie; Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Baggot Street Wines (formerly Oddbins); Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; Deveney’s, Dundrum

Wine dates

To celebrate the second International Grenache Day, which aims to highlight this often maligned variety, Ely CHQ in Dublin will host a feast of Grenache, including a masterclass led by Jane Ferrari of Australian wine producer Yalumba, a free-pour tasting and four-course dinner. The cost is €65 per person. To book, tel: 01-6787867.

Wine Australia will host a Rugby World Cup dinner and wine tasting in Donnybrook Fair on September 15th as a warm-up to the match two days later. It will be tutored by Tomás Clancy of the Sunday Business Post and Ted Murphy, author of The Irish Wine Geese. Tickets are €30. To book, tel: 01-6683556.