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Thursday 14 September 2023

Why wine lovers should give grenache a fair go

The grenache grape - sometimes called garnacha, or grenache noir - can be found all lover the world of wine, but flourishes in warm, dry conditions.

Every year on the third Friday in September, International Grenache Day aims to create awareness of one of the most widely planted grape varieties.

In Australia, grenache naturally thrives in regions like the Barossa and McLaren Vale, and was once the backbone of the fortified wine industry.

It stars in southern France, in Spain, where the grape is believed to have originated, in Sardinia, and in warmer regions of California.

Often red fruited and best when made with moderate alcohol levels, grenache can be made in a range of styles, as was evident at a recent Hill Smith Family  Estates tasting of several of that producer's grenache wines.

The growing of grenache in Australia dates back to 1832, when it was one of the original varieties brought into the country by industry pioneer James Busby.

It was hugely popular in Australia from the 1920s to the late 1960s, when the bulk of wine production was of the fortified wines that used to dominate the industry.

Now just over 1% of all vines in Australia are grenache, with many having been pulled out in the 1980s.

Many of those that survived are untrellised bush vines (below) and the variety is now enjoying increased popularity and renewed enthusiasm.

Hill Smith Family Estates and Yalumba senior winemaker Sam Wigan says the grenache grape is among the most versatile.and has a log history in South Australia, with plantings in McLaren Vale in the late 1830s and the Barossa in the early 1840s.

"Grenache continues to thrive today, producing vibrant and aromatic wines which are ideal with food," Wigan says.

"Grenache is so nimble and versatile and can even be served chilled on warmer days. These days winemaking can play an even bigger role than where the grapes were grown."

The wines we tasted were:

Yalumba The Tri-Centenary Grenache 2021 $65

Yalumba Vine Vale Grenache 2022 $40

Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2021 $28

Running with Bulls Barossa Garnacha 2021 $25

Rogers & Rufus Grenache Rosé 2022 $27

While the appeal of the bigger wines was obvious, my preference was for the pale, dry delicate and fresh appeal of the rosé, and the bright, vibrancy and food friendliness of the Spanish-style Running with Bulls and the lighter-framed Bush Vine example.

The bigger, gruntier Vine Vale wine needs to be matched with red meat dishes to be seen at its best, while the deeper, darker Tri-Centenary was a bold wine that mellowed after being open for 24 hours. Some of the grapes in this wine come from bush vines that are over 130 years old.

For anyone who hasn't tried the variety for a while, buy a bottle of Friday and give grenache a go. 

It remains a relatively affordable treat. 

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