An Australian tradition
When James Busby, the father of the Australian wine industry, imported 363 French and Spanish vine cuttings to Sydney in 1832, grenache was lucky enough to be one of the chosen few. The varieties were planted in the Sydney Botanic Gardens, where it soon became obvious that many didn’t stand up to the unfamiliar Australian climate.
Grenache prospered, however, and by 1838 has made its way over to the fertile soils of McLaren Vale in South Australia, where Australia’s first grenache vineyard was planted. From there the variety went from strength to strength, becoming a mainstay thanks to the popularity of fortified wines for which the grape is perfect. In 1960 fortified wines made up no less than 80% of the wines made in Australia, with grenache serving as the backbone.
The resurgence of non-fortified wines from the 1970s onwards wasn’t kind to grenache. While acreage devoted to vineyards double in the 1990s, no one was planting grenache, which saw its slice of the winemaking pie shrink to as little as 1%. But in recent years this has had some pleasant, if unintended, consequences.
The Pinot Noir of the South
Thanks to strong history and subsequent dip in popularity, the only grenache vines in Australia are old. As a general rule of thumb, the older the vine, the finer the wine. This has seen the popularity of blends like GSM (grenache/shiraz/mataro) and 100% varietal grenache wines on the rise.
The grape’s lighter colour and fresh, elegant taste has seen it being labelled ‘the Pinot Noir of the South’ by many vintners who are championing its resurgence. Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale wineries who still have their original vines – such as d’Arenberg – are developing incredibly smooth, intriguing and complex wines from them. Then there are upstarts like Glaetzer who are bringing a more contemporary feel to this truly historic grape.
Tasting notes and food pairings
What flavours should one expect from 100% grenache? Its success as a fortified wine hints at its natural sweetness, with a medley of fruit and a cinnamon finish common hallmarks. Strawberry, raspberry and black cherry are predominant, with anise and citrus hints also present. Old-world wines from France and Spain can be slightly more herbal, with tobacco and dried oregano notes brought to the fore.
The spice-heavy cuisine of India and Thailand can make for the perfect food pairing, as grenache will both match the abundance of flavour, and help to ease the heat of any chilli in the dish. Roast meats and vegetables sprinkled lavishly with herbs will also enhance the grenache tasting experience.