Grenach — frivolous, fruity and fun

Grenache, one of the world’s most widely planted red grape varieties, produces delicious but mainly frivolous and fruity wines from Spain, to Sardinia to Southern France to California to Australia.

It can and does make reds of substance, sometimes in its own right but especially in tandem with shiraz, mourvedre or, in Spain, with tempranillo.

In 1996 — at 33,950 tonnes — grenache weighed in as Australia’s third most voluminous red variety, behind shiraz (92,500 tonnes) and cabernet sauvignon (72,330 tonnes).

24,000  of Australia’s 33,950 tonnes came from South Australia. Of that the hot, irrigated vineyards of the Murray contributed 13,500 tonnes, the Barossa Valley 6,000 tonnes and McLaren Vale 3,500 tonnes.

Large areas of old vines in these warm areas survived the swing from fortified wine to table wine and now enjoy a renewed interest as wine makers and drinkers accept grenache as a delightful wine for the warm Australian climate.

Even if most grenache continues to disappear into anonymous, cheap blends, the name appears on an increasing range of wines, many of which are a big step up from vin ordinaire and provide outstanding value and drinking pleasure in our warm climate.

At a random tasting this week of about one hundred cheap and middle-priced Australian reds, a group of grenache and grenache blends stood out as the real value.

Too many of the traditional reds (mainly shiraz, cabernet and cabernet shiraz blends) relied on oak and alcohol for flavour. Some held a fleeting appeal, but after sip or two, the astringent, mean nature showed. It seems grape flavours in red wine now come at a premium.

In contrast the grenache blends, in general, delivered attractive fruit flavours in styles ranging from the light and simple to the firm and solid. A sample of seventeen wines yielded good drinking in the $8-$18 price range.

At $8 (specialling as low as $6.99) Orlando Jacobs Creek Grenache Shiraz 1997 provides a tasty ‘luncheon’ version of the grape. It has the variety’s sweet, floral aroma and a silky, juicy, gentle, refreshing, dry palate. Probably best served lightly chilled and treated like a full-bodied white. Drink now. Do not cellar.

Rosemount Grenache Shiraz 1997 (about $9) continues in the fruity, scrumptious style but offers more depth of flavour than the Jacobs Creek. Fine, silky tannins give it a more ‘purchase’ on the palate. Again, this is one for current drinking and a slight chill probably enhances the delicious ‘musk’ and ‘cherry’ fruit flavours.

Sticking to the ‘fruit-not-oak’ styles, St Hallett Barossa Gamekeepers 1997 ($11), combines grenache, mourvedre and touriga (a Portuguese variety) in a wine of heady perfume and sumptuous, fleshy fruitiness. Once, again serve lightly chilled and polish it all off in time to buy the next vintage. My favourite of this genre.

Another Barossa wine, Peter Lehmann Grenache 1997, holds tremendous appeal, too. It weighs in at a whopping 14.5 per cent alcohol, but the sensuous, spicy-plummy, pure fruit flavours almost hide the alcohol which fights through to give a pleasantly astringent finish. Drink up.

Moving to weightier styles, where oak as well as fruit plays a role, Gramps Barossa Grenache 1995 ($11) delivers rich, round, mouthfilling fruit flavours mingled pleasantly with solid ‘vanilla bean’ oak flavours. This wine is substantially more tannic and grippy than the fruity styles and at about three years of age is probably at its peak.

Yalumba Bush Vine Barossa Valley Grenache 1996 ($16) offers spicy, plummy, mouthfilling fruit flavours cut through with oak flavours and fine, drying tannins. Oak gives the wine a good mouthfeel and finish but fruit remains the main feature.

Richard Hamilton Reserve Grenache Shiraz 1995 takes body and richness to another level, aided by the shiraz component. Its colour, richness, and firm, gripping nature make for good drinking now with red meats, but this may be one to cellar for another two or three years.

Of the solid, oak-matured styles, my highest rating wine was Tatachilla Keystone McLaren Vale Grenache Shiraz 1996 ($13). Everything — from the dense, crimson-tinted colour — to the deep, sweet scent, to the opulent, supple, oakey palate — made it a standout, one to swallow happily over the next two or three years.

From the simple, fruity Jacobs Creek to the substantial, oak-matured Tatachilla these reds are linked by the common thread of delicious grenache fruit flavour. They are wines to quaff happily now or in the near future without too much knitting of the brow or deep thought.

Chateau Shanahan looks forward to putting all these (and more) to the bottle test over the remaining warm months.

Copyright Chris Shanahan 1998 & 2007