Old Vines, high-altitude vineyards, granite soils and hands-off winemaking are transforming Grenache from a blowsy, boozy boor into a thrillingly elegant expresser of terroir. In part two of two, Darren Smith finds out what sommeliers have to say on the grape today - and who the growers to watch out for are
Mostly unloved. Sometimes unlovable. Suddenly Grenache Noir seems to have been touched by divine light. Now there is a Grenache like none that has gone before it – no longer alcoholic to the point of being a fortified wine, no longer jammy, a minor blending partner playing second fiddle to Syrah, but a noble grape and ne plus ultra communicator of terroir, both in the Old World and the New.
The most exciting regions for Grenache in 2017 are central and northern Spain, and South Australia. Since the 2000s in these regions, a succession of small wineries have emerged that are committed to recovering old vineyards and native varieties to produce wines that reflect their terroir. The common denominator for many is the move to higher altitude and less interventionist, less extractive – more Burgundian – winemaking. Previously, we met the revolutionaries leading the charge. Now, three top somms give us their good, bad and ugly of Grenache.
Caroline Brangé, on-trade sales manager for Flint Wines: ‘Difficult to master, but perfect for cheese…’
‘Grenache is an often-misunderstood grape. King of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it is, in my opinion, difficult to master because of its natural structure: high acidity, high alcohol but low tannins. It’s the perfect partner for a cheese course for the same reasons: brilliant acidity, very low tannins, luscious dark fruits and spicy notes.
‘The Southern Rhône is full of elegant hidden gems. I will easily go for a Côtes du Rhône Reserve from Château des Tours, such a Pinot-esque glass of wine. Or for more meaty notes, a Côtes du Rhône from Domaine de la Vieille Julienne (made of declassified Châteauneuf-du-Pape).
‘Australian-born winemaker Angela Osborne is now based in Santa Barbara and only makes Grenache. Her Tribute to Grace is pure and elegant – a great example.’
Laure Patry, executive head sommelier, The Social Company: ‘Lighter, more elegant and easier to drink…’
‘I like Grenache from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, like Rayas, for the rustic style and the elegance of the wine; but they are an exception in that area with the microclimate and having a cooler terroir. A few producers use Grenache as 100% for their top cuvée and I do think it works well in the Southern Rhône. In the Languedoc, Ludovic Engel-vin, working one hectare of old vines, makes amazing wines that retain freshness.
‘In Spain I like Els Jelipins from Penedès, where it’s blended with Sumoll. In Priorat Terroir Al Limit is doing a different style, harvesting earlier, producing a lighter style, more elegant and easier to drink.
‘In Navarra you can find some interesting growers, which we list at Social Wine and Tapas – Domaines Lupier El Terroir from Old Vines. I like Daniel Landi’s wines too.
‘In McLaren Vale I like the Jauma that uses some carbonic maceration and whole bunch. It does have 14% alcohol but because it has very good acidity and balance, it’s hard to detect. Ochota Barrels is another favourite, again with mostly whole-bunch fermentation; so fragrant, savoury and fresh.’
Ed Thaw, co-owner and wine buyer, Ellory: ‘Burgundian concentration at a better price…’
‘I love the potential for power and the elegance of Grenache Noir. It’s a hard grape to get right. It ripens very easily and in the wrong hands can be soft, jammy and alcoholic. Grenache in the hands of Rayas, Dominik Huber in Priorat or Dani Landi and Fernando Garcia near Madrid is a different beast.
‘We’ve been fans of the wines of Comando G for a while now. Old vine Garnacha on granite at altitude moves this grape closer to Pinot Noir (even at 14.5% abv). There is so much acidity and structure in these wines that you don’t mind the alcohol.
‘We’ve had the Comando G wines on our list since we opened. They are unbeatable in terms of value for money. I find it increasingly hard to justify red Burgundy when wines like this give me the concentration and finesse I want at a much better price.’
Great growers of Grenache
Producers to watch – and where to find them in the UK
AA Badenhorst Raaigras Grenache (Adi Badenhorst, Swartland) Swig, 0800 272 272
Bodegas Maranones Pena Caballero (Fernando Garcia, Castilla y Leon) Indigo Wine, 020 7733 8391
Casa de Si Jesus Angel (Sarah Morris/Rory McGoldrick, Calatayud) Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820
Comando G Rumbo al Norte (Daniel Landi/Fernando Garcia, Sierra de Gredos) Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820
Daniel Landi El Reventon (Dani Landi’s solo project, Castilla y Leon) Indigo Wine, 020 7733 8391
Domaines Lupier La Dama (Elisa Ucar/Enrique Basarte, Navarra) Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360
Jauma Like Raindrops (James Erskine, McLaren Vale) Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820
Mother Rock Grenache (Johann Meyer, Swartland) Indigo Wine, 020 7733 8391
Ochota Barrels Fugazi Vineyard (Taras Ochota, Adelaide Hills) Indigo Wine, 020 7733 8391
Sadie Family Wines Soldaat (Eben Sadie, Swartland) Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360
Terroir al Limit Les Manyes (Dominik Huber, Priorat) Bibendum, 0845 263 6924
Willunga The Hundred (Mike Farmilo/Tim James, Blewitt Springs) Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350