Rare grenache ticks the boxes

Nick Piccone, Villa Maria
Nick Piccone, Villa Maria

Grenache is one of the world's most widely planted grape varieties, yet it is rare in New Zealand.

This is probably due to its late ripening and that it requires quite hot, dry conditions and low yields to fully mature.

The difficulty with ripening coupled with an over-enthusiasm for irrigation can result in new world grenache being pale, lacking in flavour or simply made into a semi-sweet rose.

Villa Maria Grenache
Villa Maria Grenache

Also known as garnacha, grenache probably originated in Spain where it is the most planted variety. Over the border in France, Chateauneuf-du-Pape producers have produced dense reds that can be cellared for decades; this outcome is a result of severe vine pruning, poor soils and full maturity of both vine and fruit.

Grenache was also Australia's most planted black variety until the mid-1960s when shiraz (syrah) became popular.

With all this in mind we opened a bottle of Villa Maria Cellar Selection Gimblett Gravels Grenache. The fruit for this wine is usually the very last parcel harvested from the company's Hawke's Bay vineyards. The small one-hectare planting is 12 years old and the vines produce bunches of small, dark berries.

The intensity of the finished wine we enjoyed owes a great deal to some large, rotatable oak fermentation cuves that the Villa Maria team have nicknamed "rollies". Nick Picone, senior Auckland winemaker, says the "rolly" is perfect for making grenache. The resultant wine is big on colour, aroma and flavour. There's 6 per cent malbec and 2 per cent syrah in the finished blend which delivers more complexity and beefs up the overall style. This said, the wine retains good balance.

Peter bemoaned the fact that this big, rich wine lacked the restraint of its old world cousins. I argued that New Zealand wine companies make fabulous new world wines in our own style and this one ticked all the boxes.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Gimblett Gravels Grenache 2010 ($32.00)

Magnificent in the glass, crimson on a black background, velvety and intense.

The delightful cherry and berry fruit aroma is perfumed, laced with cinnamon spice and liquorice with a gentle savouriness in the background. The palate is juicy, spicy and very fruity. The tannins are firm yet there's silkiness to the palate thanks to the soft acids and overall richness across the palate. Generous with a lingering finish, this grenache is both different and very rewarding.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 4, Sawcut Chardonnay 2009 ($33.50)

The bran biscuit and stone fruit aroma is enhanced by fresh grape fruit and mellow yeasty notes.

The palate is smooth, silky and spicy with a rich, ripe marmalade flavour supported by some fruit acid. Creamy, buttery flavour and texture becomes more apparent towards the finish. A wine with excellent structure, balance and flavours - one to savour.

Church Road Reserve Hawke's Bay Viognier 2010 ($39.99)

Lifted peach, nougat and ripe stone fruit aromas are given a lift by some mandarin and butter caramel notes. Floral aromatics and some ripe, concentrated fruitiness are the hallmarks of this intensely appealing wine.

Nougat and syrupy apricot flavours combine with rewarding spiciness - the result is a wine that has weight and complexity. Church Road is one of those dependable labels and this viognier is no exception.

Woven Stone Ohau Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($16.99)

We've followed this relatively new label with interest as the region has traditionally been well known for market gardens and farming, making grape growing an interesting departure. The bright breezy aroma is a generous blend of grass, green capsicum and rock melon while the palate is undeniably juicy and slightly sweet with plenty of body.

White currant and citrus flavours enhance the crispness but there isn't any eye-watering acidity. A real crowd-pleaser and well worth trying.


Sacred Hill (orange label) Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($22.99)

The pungent, prickly aroma with its mineral note is a little misleading because the palate is tangy, vibrant, warming and moreish.

Gentle spiciness complements gooseberry, citrus and blackcurrant flavours set against some tropical fruitiness. A good example of the varietal, drinking well right now.

The Marlborough Express