Wine Club: Cinderella on the shelf

You can have a ball with gluggable Grenache despite the grape’s all too low profile, writes Christine Austin.

Garnacha  being harvested in Spain, where the grape is more appreciated
Garnacha being harvested in Spain, where the grape is more appreciated

All of a sudden the nights are gathering in and evening temperatures are dropping so now it is the time to lay in a few warming reds 
that won’t break the household budget. And while you might head for the Syrah end of the wine shelves, why not give some thought to one of the world’s most widely planted grapes that doesn’t get the praise it deserves – Grenache.

Grenache has been the Cinderella of red grapes for perhaps rather too long. While it gets the occasional airing under its own name it is often blended away with other grapes, adding character to a wine without getting any recognition for its valuable contribution of warmth, lush raspberry fruit, streaks of leather and gingerbread as well as a serious dollop of colour.

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In France most Grenache goes into Côtes du Rhône where it doesn’t get a mention on the front label, and only occasionally features on the back. In Australia it is the G in GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) blends while in California it has largely been ignored for quality wines and instead is directed to jug wines.

Only in Spain where Grenache, as its alter ego Garnacha, makes up the majority of red plantings does it get grudging recognition, and usually only when the vines are old, twisted and gnarled and yield tiny quantities of grapes.

Grenache likes the sunshine and is at home all across Spain where it probably originated but it has escaped across the border to settle in Languedoc Roussillon and particularly in the southern part of the Rhône. From there cuttings were taken to Australia and to the rest of the new world and it even crops up in Chile and Argentina where it thrives in the sunshine of South America.

Grenache is a survivor. It can withstand drought, wind and poor soil and it even manages to stand up for itself, preferring to grow as a bush vine with the grapes clustered at the base where they bask in reflected heat from the soil. This means they ripen under a canopy of leaves, retaining freshness while avoiding direct sunlight for much of the day. If the vines get some winter rain they don’t need to be irrigated and so are useful for planting in Spain’s more remote areas where the long, black irrigation hoses won’t reach.

One of the best value Garnacha-based wines is Simply Garnacha from Tesco at a bargain £4.79. It comes from the somewhat remote region of Campo de Borja which lies just south of Navarra in north-east Spain, where the hillsides are crammed with old Garnacha vines. The local co-operative is in the heart of the region, bringing grapes in from over 2,500 hectares of vines and it is this powerhouse of production that is behind Simply Garnacha. It could easily be described on the label as “Simply marvellous juicy, gluggable bramble flavours” but Simply Garnacha covers all that. Make sure you have several bottles in store for Tuesday to Friday night drinking alongside pizzas, pasta, left-over cottage pie and lamb chops.

Waitrose has the equally gluggable Mellow and Fruity Spanish Red 2013, from Bodegas Borsao, the same co-operative as the Tesco version. At £4.99 this is also bursting with soft, juicy fruit, so decide which one to buy depending on whichever supermarket you live closest to.

If you acquire a taste for Garnacha then trade up to Pablo the Cubist Old Vine Garnacha 2012, from the nearby region of Calatayud (Waitrose, £9.99). This has much deeper and darker fruit, with super soft tannins, hints of spice and enough structure to stand up to a warming casserole or a lightly spiced beef chilli dish. Even at a penny short of £10 it is still great value.

Majestic has got 25 per cent off much 
of its Spanish range at present which brings the deep red berry and tobacco 
leaf flavours of La Garnacha 2012, 
Salvaje del Moncayo, down to £7.86 on multi-buy. The label on this wine 
actually shows the old vines with their roots deep in the soil and that’s where the flavour comes from. This is a serious wine with depth and complexity and can stand up to red meat dishes on a Saturday night or a spiced, tomato-rich chicken casserole.

Majestic also has its own great-value Garnacha-based wine and Calima Garnacha Tinto 2013 from Catalunya (£7.99, down to £5.99 on multi-buy) has rather more depth and concentration than others. Still packed with lively, juicy, berry fruit, it has notes of liquorice and damsons with chunky, chewy tannins that can cope with strong cheeses and big flavoursome roasts.

Most of the Grenache grown in France ends up in Côtes du Rhône and while you can pick up a CDR for under a fiver it is always worth paying more to get one that really tastes of the region.

Majestic score again with Côtes-du-Rhône 2013 from Léon Perdigal (£9.99 down to £7.49 on multi-buy), which has real Rhône character with a streak of herbs and spice that identifies the region. Also good is the Grenache-dominated La Vieille Ferme 2013 from the Perrin family (£8.99, Majestic, down to £7.64 on multi-buy). Now under the simple Vin de France designation, it is a long-standing favourite and it packs intense blackberry fruit with savoury, tobacco notes.

Australia is one place that has managed to make a feature of Grenache, although they did go through a fairly enthusiastic vine-pull scheme a few years ago. Still, the vines that are left are the good ones and Yalumba’s Y Series Old Bush Vine Grenache 2012 (£11.99, Tesco) is packed with juicy redcurrant fruit, backed by spice and white pepper notes.

Another favourite is Willunga 100 Grenache 2011 from McLaren Vale (£11.30, Field & Fawcett York). The vines here are old and produce small quantities of favour-packed grapes that are made into a really concentrated, rich style of wine. It has smooth, robust, vibrant and lively flavours that can ride through rich winter casseroles and game.