What to drink on Grenache day
What am I talking about? The third Friday of September has been appointed by the Grenache Association to celebrate wines made with or predominantly with a grape variety called Grenache. Of all the annual varietal days (Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot) this is my favourite one to toast to. But why you may ask (or maybe you won’t but I’ll tell you anyway)?
1. Rhone wines are so beguiling…. and no I’m not jumping on the new fashion for all things Rhone (she protests weakly). As well as the famous appellations (more of that later), I’ve always found that if in doubt in a wine shop or on a menu, choosing a bottle of Côtes du Rhône will rarely let you down. It’s the combination of the juicy texture of the Grenache, the hedgerow herbs and berries of the Syrah (aka Shiraz in Oz) and tannic backbone of the Mouvedre (often known as GSM) which combine to make an honest, balanced, structured wine with depth of flavour that’s eminently drinkable. (I wrote imminently there by accident which is a Freudian slip if I ever heard one).
2. Grenache was pushed out in the cold for a while by the fashion for a handful of varieties exacerbated by EU and Australian vine-pull schemes and centralised buying (via supermarkets and big retailers). Vast swathes of Grenache vines were grubbed up and replanted (particularly in France, South Africa and Australia) disregarding climate and tradition. Those old vines that remain are now yielding fruit that is, in many cases, going into interesting, highly prized and highly priced wines. As it’s suited to growing in warmer climates it’s also very versatile to changes in conditions caused by climate change.
3. It’s not a showy grape and while, in some growing conditions, it can provide very forward tannins, it’s the soft, ripe voluptuousness and sometimes an alluring spiciness which it adds to a wine that appeals to me. Grenache is so versatile – no wonder it’s one of the most widely planted grape variety in the world, from Rioja to Priorat, Southern Rhone to Roussillon, Swartland to Barossa Valley. It makes great rosé too.
Grenache Day – what we tasted
A scout around the shelves of the local offy (Dubai is not dry but there are rules about buying alcohol) revealed that the big five are all very much in evidence (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc) meaning I had to search for my bottle of desired grape. Some 2011 The Custodian made by Chester Osborne, a bonkers winemaker of D’Arenberg in McLaren Vale was what I came away with. Have been meaning to write up the wine night in Dubai with Chester for ages but I think those particular brain cells might be permanently deceased.
Appetisers of tomatoes stuffed with cheese and pesto and blue-cheese stuffed mushrooms arrived on the table (thank you Drina), along with some delicious duck-filled samosa things from Sarah, wraps of sweet, juicy lamb from Moti Roti (via Sam) and figs with a cheese board (Keen’s Cheddar, Corra Linn, Auld Reekie and Dunsyre Blue), stocked up from Ian Mellis in Edinburgh by me. And then we got onto the wines:
The Custodian Grenache 2011 d’Arenberg, McLaren Vale
Really interested in this old vine Grenache as the grapes are grown biodynamically and the wine made with little intervention (such as food-treading and basket-pressing). The label says ‘minimal sulphites added’.
This was the only pure expression of the single Grenache grape we tasted so started with it first. The nose was slightly waxy, with pea pods, green peppercorns and fresh herbs with flavours of raspberries and liquorice and wild thyme. Sarah detected hints of kalamata olives. A luscious soft texture in the mouth, easy drinking on its own and would be fantastic with barbecued lamb or a comforting spicy cassoulet.
Domaine des Sénéchaux 2011, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Now under the ownership of Cazes family of Château Lynch-Bages, this was the most expensive wine of the evening that we tasted and from one of the most well-known and renowned appellations where Grenache predominates, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Made up of 62% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 17% Mourvèdre and 1% shared between Vaccarèse and Cinsault and aged for 12 months in French oak barrels.
With aromas of raspberry, dark plums and horse’s bridle, you sink into the flavours of plums, blackberries and raspberry jam with smokey hints of charcoal and chocolate. This is a crowd pleaser and we all kept going back for another taste. Bookmark this to have with your Christmas roast turkey.
Les Hauts de Castelmaure 2011, Corbières
Corbières is a large and unglamorous AOC in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France. This wine made by the local village cooperative, and made from Grenache, Syrah and Carignan grapes hand-picked from 760 local plots, with vines aged up to 80 years old around the tiny village of Embres-et-Castelmaure.
This was the great value surprise of the evening. A round, well-balanced deeply savoury wine with a perfumed nose of hibiscus, redcurrant and rosehips, and deep pluminess tempered by wild thyme. If you see it, buy some.
Salmos 2011, Torres, Priorat
The understudy to Temperanillo in Rioja for so long, Garnacha is having a fine wine revival in Spain especially old vines grown of the black schist slopes of Priorat. Made of Cariñena (Carignan), Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) and Syrah it undergoes malolactic fermentation in French oak casks. Finally, it is aged in new and second year French oak barrels for between 14 and 16 months, followed by ageing in the bottle.
I was excited to taste this and wanted to like this wine more. Although Torres is a giant producer, it’s capable of great things and I have a great respect for its environmental credentials. Perhaps it was the dominance of the Carignan (40%) so the softer, fleshier flavours and textures of the Grenache (30%) did not shine through as much. It was dramatically different in style to the other wines. Jagged, rich, herbal, tannic, bright, acidic, smokey are my tasting notes. I think this needs time and a slab of charred, pink lamb fresh from the barbecue. To be revisited.
All in all an interesting and delicious tour of some Grenache based wines of very varied styles demonstrating what a versatile and enjoyable grape it is.
Where to buy in Dubai
Domaine des Sénéchaux 2011, Châteauneuf-du-Pape – Dubai Duty-Free
Les Hauts de Castelmaure 2011, Corbières – MMI
Salmos 2011, Torres, Priorat – MMI
On my list to seek out: Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache – available at Cave, The Conrad Dubai and Zuma, Dubai via A+E
Did you open something for Grenache Day? Is this a new grape for you or an old favourite? Any wines quaffed you’d like to share?