Know Your Variety: Grenache
Having claims to its origins in both France and Spain, Grenache is most famously known in Australia as part of a blended trio with Shiraz and Mourvèdre – the so-called GSM blend. As times and tastes have evolved however, Grenache has started to break out and go solo with some superb single varietal wines, particularly from South Australia. Discover its charms, its character, and what food goes best with Grenache in this in-depth look at a much-loved varietal.
Origins of Grenache
Known in Spain as Garnacha, in Sardinia as Cannonau, and as Grenache in France, where it carpets the Côtes du Rhône, the origins of this varietal charmer are hotly contested. Spain perhaps has the best claim to producing its first vines, most likely in the Aragon region in the country’s north. One early name for it was Tinto Aragonés (red of Aragon), and according to ampelographical evidence, it spread from that region into Catalonia and Southern France.
Today, it is in France where the variety is most famously grown, with Grenache forming an integral part of the classic Rhône blend. In the Côtes du Rhône, Grenache is the star, and must make up at least 50% of their prized blend along with Syrah (Shiraz) and Mourvèdre.
One of the most widely-planted varieties in the world, it has a predilection for hot, dry soils, and was amongst the earliest vines planted here in Australia.
Grenache in Australia
Grenache arrived in Australia in the James Busby collection in 1832, but it wasn’t until new cuttings of the variety from the south of France were introduced to South Australia by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold that Grenache started to really take off in Australia, thanks to the efforts of Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley growers.
It also saw huge plantings in the Riverland region, as a key component in fortified wines of the early Australian industry. Indeed, up until the middle of the 20th century, it was the country’s most-planted variety. As consumer demand shifted towards more premium table wines, it fell out of favour, with many blocks pulled up and replaced with Shiraz and Cabernet, or left to grow wild.
By the start of the 21st century however the pendulum swung again, and renewed interest in the variety saw many winemakers turning to old vine Grenache stock to create single variety wines, as well as classic Rhône-style blends. The Barossa, in particular, has blocks of wine with Grenache from 1850 still producing wines, each and every year.
Grenache is a red grape variety that relishes heat and can relatively easily produce ripe, full styles of wine. Perhaps Grenache was grown initially on sites that were more akin to producing a generous crop for fortified winemaking. But now many wineries are searching for more finesse and picking these Grenache blocks earlier and seeking red fruit rather than riper black fruit flavours. The majority of Grenache in the Barossa is not trellised; it is grown as a bush-vine. These bush-vines tend to take care of themselves, allowing more air flow and light penetration. The Barossa and McLaren Vale are considered the two leading regions for Grenache in Australia. And it is always a great debate as to which consistently produces better quality wine.
Top Australian Grenache Regions
Grenache is unique in Australia in that it is almost exclusively grown in South Australia, though regions like the Hunter Valley are also seeing some success with the variety.
The Barossa Valley is home to some of the best dry-grown, old Grenache vines in the country, producing intense ripeness.
Old vines, low yields and a canny mix of traditional and modern winemaking is proving fruitful for McLaren Vale Grenache producers.
Stunning old vineyards making elegant, more finely shaped wine than the intense warmer regions of Barossa and McLaren Vale.
The heavy, fertile soils of this workhorse region produce healthy, rich Grenache fruit. Langhorne Creek suits this variety well.
What is a Grenache Blend (or GSM)
Grenache blends – also called GSM or Rhône-style blends – are composed of Grenache, Shiraz (or Syrah) and Mourvèdre (also known as Mataro). They’re much-loved blends due to the additional peppery complexity that Shiraz and Mourvèdre bring to the bright, vibrant fruits of Grenache. Indeed, Grenache blends of this nature are among the most celebrated red blends in the world.
What Does Grenache Taste Like?
With a similar weight and tannin structure to light to medium bodied Shiraz, Grenache is light on the palate and is all about purity of fruit.
Displaying aromas like pomegranate, wild strawberries, violets and red fruits and offering a palate that’s restrained and fine in texture, it is often blended with Mataro/Mourvèdre, which provides a heightened element of spice and tannin. With careful oak treatment, however, Grenache can produce a splendid single varietal wine.
Older Grenache vines produce soft, warm, intensely flavoured red wines that are approachable on release. When treated with oak the fruit develops a natural spice that sits well with the other Grenache characters of red fruits, bright, mocha tinged cherries and natural forest floor layers.
South Australia has old vines, this resource cannot be understated. We work with vines ranging from 50 to 90 years old. Grenache is extremely reflective of where it’s grown. In McLaren Vale, we see lighter-bodied, more aromatic styles from Blewitt Springs and Clarendon. Down on the flats of Tatachilla, we see a far heavier, richer, full-bodied styles.
Best Food Pairings for Grenache
The heightened alcohol, medium tannin and low acidity that characterise Grenache means it will work well with a range of dishes from duck through to lighter dishes. The perfect match for Grenache is simple: pizza, always!
It is a versatile wine too, pairing equally well with sticky glaze duck with rocket and pear pizza, as it does with pork belly, with buffalo mozzarella, balsamic onion, oregano and radicchio.
The notes of red plum, black cherry and raspberry also mean that Grenache is also a great match for many Asian-style dishes as long as they aren’t too spicy. Lemongrass, soy and coriander all work wonderfully with Grenache.
Suggested Food And Grenache Pairings
We’re huge fans of Grenache, especially when paired with a delicious recipe from our friends at Selector magazine. Here are some of our favourites!
Bocconcini, cherry tomato and basil pizza
Lyndey Milan's blended burger with beetroot pickles
Stefano Manfredi’s roast spatchcock with bread and truffle stuffing
Dark, bittersweet chocolate
Looking for more great food and wine pairings? Check out the basics of food and wine pairing. Or dive in and learn more about Australia’s other great red wines with our Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese guides. What are you waiting for? Crack open a bottle of Australian Grenache, and discover its old-world charms for yourself!