Grenache resembles an actor who just misses in a solo leading role, but consistently shines in an ensemble cast.
Best known today for its role in France’s southern Rhône, Grenache debuted in Spain, where it is known as Garnacha and often blends with Tempranillo.
Once the world’s second-most planted red grape; Cabernet Sauvigon and Merlot surpassed Grenache in the 1990s thanks to the varietal marketing explosion.
Grape growers love Grenache because it is famously hardy. It achieves when planted in poorest soils—often nothing more than gravel and rocks, which you taste in the wine. Stressing with rough treatment and harsh pruning evokes Grenache’s darkest color and greatest flavor.
Plus: Grenache is spicy, berry-flavored, soft on the palate, has high alcohol content. Minus: lacks tannin, acidity, and color, which is why it often co-stars with grapes of darker color and complexity.
Grenache is essential grape in southern Rhône blends, including Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, two of world’s great wines. Classic southern Rhône blend is Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvédre (abbreviated GSM), with an assortment of other grapes tossed in as bit players.
Provence’s rosé wines typically are Grenache-Cinsaut blends, as are southern Rhône rosés, including the famous Tavel. Grenache is major grape in western Languedoc-Roussillon, where it helps make splendid vin de pays.
Californians growing Grenache principally make GSM blends; they call themselves Rhône Rangers and often deliver excellent values.
Grenache. Lacks superstar power by itself, one of the world’s greatest blending grapes.
• The Stump Jump. Winemaker d’Arenberg’s GSM blend shows Aussies can deliver Rhône blend, too; 82nd on Wine Spectator’s 100 best wines of 2009. $12
• Calvet-Thunevin VDP des Cotes Catalanes Cuvee Constance. Delicious vin de pays, Grenache-Syrah-Carignan blend; excellent fruit. $16
• Domaine de Cassan Gigondas. Hearty, robustly aromatic, chock full of fruit and cherry. Delicious value intro to Gigondas. $25