The secret ingredient

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Now that the heating is on and there is the prospect of darker nights ahead, it is time to gather some winter warming wines together to provide lush, ripe fruit with a shot of alcohol.

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 and perhaps least loved red grapes – Grenache.

In most parts of the world Grenache is regarded in the same way that you might look at granny’s old fur coat at the back of your wardrobe. Not really your style and rather too warm for comfort yet far too old and perhaps too valuable to be put in the bin.

Grenache has been at the back of the viticultural wardrobe for far too long and 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.

In France most Grenache goes into Côtes du Rhône where it doesn’t get a mention of 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 qualities of grapes per vine.

Grenache likes the sunshine and is at home all across Spain 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.

Just like granny’s fur coat, 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 even more, often shrivelling and becoming raisiny by harvest time, which can add extra degrees of alcohol.

One of the best value Garnacha-based wines is Gran Lopez Garnacha Tempranillo 2010 which comes from Campo de Borja in north-east Spain (Waitrose £4.99). This somewhat remote region is close to the historic city of Zaragoza and has hillsides crammed with old Garnacha vines.

This wine is packed with soft, juicy raspberry and black cherry fruit, with no oak clouding the flavours yet still has a touch of structure and a hint of spice.

Frankly I can’t think of a better accompaniment to a Wednesday night pasta supper. Trade up to Vina Fuerte Garnacha 2009 from the nearby region of Calatayud (Waitrose £7.49) which has added layers of darker fruits, hints of spice and enough structure to stand up to a warming casserole or a lightly spiced beef chilli dish.

Majestic is soon coming to the end of its current run of offers so now is the time to stock up with the Garnacha-rich Señorio del Aguila Gran Reserva 2001 from Cariñena, currently £5.99 on multibuy (£7.49 from Nov 1). This has age as well as dark, cherry fruit and so can be poured on a Saturday night to accompany red meat dishes or spiced tomato-rich chicken.

While you are at Majestic, be sure to pick up some Bordière Nord Syrah Grenache 2010 from the south of France (£5.99 on multibuy). I have tasted this several times recently and was impressed by its lively spiciness, which probably comes from the Syrah component, as well as the great dark, lush fruit which runs across the palate.

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.

Majestic score again with Les Galets 2009 which has real Rhône character with that streak of earthy spice that identifies the region but if your budget will stretch to Lirac Vignobles Abeille 2008 from Mont Redon (£11.99 on multibuy) you will taste a real chunk of quality Grenache incorporated into a wine that is close to a mini Châteauneuf du Pape at a fraction of the price of a real CNDP..

Tesco also manages to show the gutsy exuberance of Grenache in their Finest Côtes Catalans 2009 (on offer at two bottles for £10 from its usual £7.79 a bottle) with bags of fruit and slightly tight tannins which open up as soon as they come into contact with a rump steak. This is a terrific offer and the wine will keep happily all through winter.

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 you can browse through several versions at Nidderdale Fine Wines in Pateley Bridge. Head for Bethany Old Vine Grenache 2006 from the Barossa (£11.74 Nidderdale, 01423 711703) for deep, sweet-edged black raspberry fruit and layers of Benylin and leather, while Grant Burge’s Holy Trinity (£20.42) is a wine that should really be kept for Sundays. It combines the famous trilogy of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. This wine was actually launched on the international market by the former Archbishop of York at his Palace in Bishopthorpe, so it comes with the finest credentials and it also comes with some of the finest Grenache flavours you can taste.