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The rise of grenache wines in Australia

Publish Date: 26 May 2017

Authored by: Ben Thomas

Long overlooked and underestimated, grenache is having a moment. Expect to see much more of this perfumed, lighter red wine in all its forms and glory. Ahead we've got a quick guide to the varietal. 

Origins

Best known as one of the leading grapes in France’s Rhone Valley, grenache traces its roots back to Aragon in north-east Spain. Italy’s Sardinia has also staked a claim, but genetics and historic texts tilt the evidence in Spain’s favour.

The regions it grows

In Australia it’s grown widely – in the Barossa and McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Langhorne Creek, as well as Heathcote and cooler regions such as Frankland River and the Yarra Valley.

It’s the star grape in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and plays a key role in the blends of Cote du Rhone, Rioja and the rosés of Provence.

Grenache in blends

It’s the G in a GSM blend [grenache, shiraz, mourvedre], which is built around grenache’s perfume and silky tannins, while shiraz fleshes out the mid-palate, and the tannins and oomph of mourvedre provides extra length.

Australian history

Grenache was the most widely planted variety in Australia until the 1960s and for a century prior it was the workhorse of Australian wine. Overtaken by shiraz and cabernet sauvignon as red table wines gained popularity over fortifieds, grenache was relegated to bulk wines sold in flagons and casks before dropping off Australia’s drinking radar.

The status quo

Grenache is undergoing a resurgence, driven by two recent trends: provenance and a shift towards lighter wine styles. There’s no greater way to tell the grenache story than in wines from vines that have been producing grapes for 50 to 100 or 150 years in the Barossa and McLaren Vale. Its past is now defining its present.

Where power and intensity are the hallmarks in these regions, grenache’s soft tannins and perfume provide an elegant counterpoint. “What pinot noir is to a lot of regions, grenache is to the Barossa. It’s a unique variety,” says Torbreck senior winemaker Ian Hongell.

“It takes on strong personalities, depending on where and how it’s grown. It has a real sense of place, a long history in our region and its difference is what makes it special – it touches many of the buttons that shiraz doesn’t. That’s what makes it unique and why we revere it so highly.

The future

Grenache is increasingly being seen as an insurance policy in cooler wine regions against rising temperatures. It’s even being planted in the Yarra Valley, where some vineyard sites are now considered too warm for pinot noir. Among those who have planted grenache are Mount Mary and Giant Steps.

This is an edited version of what was originally published as ‘On the rise’ in Issue #34 of Halliday Wine Companion magazine. Get your copy to read the full article.

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