Getting To Know Grenache

Grenache is one of the wine world's great chameleons. Not only does it successfully change character from place to place, but it seems to change from season to season, making it a perfect wine for spring and fall.

It might seem like a bit of a stretch, but let me explain. Grenache is produced around the world and in almost every region there are both wines that are big, beefy, and chunky and wines that are light, fragrant, and fresh, all based on grenache.

This could pose a problem for these wines, just look at the confusion over styles of riesling or syrah for example, but for some reason the wine buying public is quite tolerant of grenache's identity crisis. Perhaps because the wines tend to retain a certain grenache-iness, that fresh happy core of fruit that is almost always pairing with enticing aromatics.

There is something about grenache that transcends the regional differences one encounters when tasting through a broad selection of these wines. It's tough to put your finger on it, but ultimately I think it boils down to the aforementioned grenachiness which also takes advantage of the textural propensities of grenache. Most grenache-based wines are often somewhat low in acid with very supple tannins, making them easy to drink.

So grenachiness and drinkability might be the keys to grenache's success, and certainly they can't hurt. Just look at what has happened over the past several years: a virtual explosion of grenache-based wines from places where we expect to find them, like France and Spain, as well places not so unexpected, like Australia and California.

Much of this boom in popularity was instigated by the proliferation of inexpensive Spanish examples, made possible by the slowing rate of consumption in Spain. As the Spaniards began drinking less, their bulk wine industry began to contract. Lo and behold, some of the most amazing old vine grenache vineyards were actually being farmed to produce bulk wines.

The Spanish bulk wine industry's loss has proven to be our gain as quality-minded producers began scooping up the fruit from these old vine vineyards and started to reduce yields a bit, promoting vineyard practices that encouraged quality over quantity for these vines. Amazingly, many of the wines they produced remained incredibly affordable, though their popularity has slowly but steadily pushed up the prices of the most popular of these wines. This in turn has created an opportunity for producers world wide to begin to focus on grenache as the public response to this price creep has been fairly resilient.

Consumers have gotten to know grenache, like grenache, and want more grenache, so the wine industry is happy to oblige them. And me? While I do like grenache, I've had mixed opinions about the grape for years. What I can't deny is that the wines are better than ever, even winning me over. Between the grenachiness, the drinkability, and the value grenache provides, it's kind of tough to argue with wines like those I've tasted here. So take a peak at the notes that follow, grenache is ready for the world stage, the question is, are you ready for grenache?

Click here for 11 great grenache wines to try plus tasting notes.

— Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth