australia, california, grenache, mclaren vale, san luis obispo -

two different types of grenache

Grenache has always been one of my favorite grape varieties, ever since I first started drinking wine. It's the heart of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, one of France's great appellations, and is grown across the Mediterranean: southern Rhône, Provence, Languedoc, Roussillon, north-east Spain, and in Sardinia. It's made in many different styles: light-bodied, full-bodied, powerful, pale-colored, rosé, sparkling. It's used in blends, or on its own; made from young vines or from old.

And yet, despite all that versatility, Grenache has gained a low reputation. It's considered to produce wines too high in alcohol, too low in acidity and tannin, lacking the balance alongside the ripe (sometimes overripe) red fruit aromas. There's some truth to the stereotypes, but more stereotypes than truth.

Grenache is often used for light, fruity, youthful red wines in warm climates, which explains its reputation, but it's also found in some of the great regions in the world: the appellations of southern Rhône, Rioja, Priorat, for example. And it's also grown outside Europe, where there are many exceptional wines, not least in Australia.


Old-vine Grenache from Australia is some of the finest wine made there. Plantings are concentrated in South Australia, which is still phylloxera free. There are many great examples from Barossa Valley, but the best are from McLaren Vale, directly south of Adelaide looking towards the coast. The climate is warm, but with a clear coastal influence depending on where the vineyard is located (McLaren Vale has unofficially been separated into 19 sub-zones according to place and soil type). McLaren Vale is perfectly suited to Mediterranean varieties, and Grenache is one of them. A new addition to blackpoolmatt's wine club is from a relatively new producer (launched in 2013) called Bondar. The wine, called “Junto,” is predominantly Grenache, with other Mediterranean varieties such as Syrah, Mataró (aka Mourvèdre), Counoise, and Carignan. It tastes like the Rhône, but it also definitely tastes of Australia: ripe and delicious.


California has a Mediterranean climate perfect for varieties like Grenache, but its evolution has concentrated instead on Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Winemakers are realizing, especially with climate change, that Mediterranean varieties may well represent the future of the wine industry.

Curt Schalchin is a German winemaker with an artistic background who has settled on Paso Robles to make Rhône-inspired wines. There are a couple of different lables: the Groundwork Co. Grenache, which is also a new addition to the club, comes from a dry-farmed vineyard in San Luis Obispo in California’s Central Coast and is completely different from its Australian counterpart: pale, light, herbal, yet actually higher in alcohol.

Tasting the two wines side by side is a fascinating insight into how Grenache is always different, that it defies stereotypes, that it makes you rethink the regions the wines come from. And that makes Grenache one of the most intriguing grape varieties of them all.