When it comes to the red varieties of the Rhone Valley, grenache plays a starring role, but in Australia it has only recently started to garner attention. Ahead we’ve got a quick guide to varietal and where it sits at home.
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.
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.
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 magazine.
Next article: Hear from James Halliday on the rise of grenache in Australia.