OPINION: A couple of years ago wine's grand dame, Jancis Robinson, extolled the virtues of a grape known in Spain as ganarcha, elsewhere as grenache, and the wines that it produces.
In a message to a symposium dedicated to what has become the world's most widely planted red wine grape, she said it was high time grenache enjoyed the limelight and pronounced Chateauneuf du Pape, which can be made by blending up to 13 varieties but is driven by grenache, “one of the wine world's brightest stars”.
All of which will probably come as a surprise to the average Kiwi punter who has probably never heard of Chateauneuf du whatever, or of grenache.
Hardly surprising given that little grenache/ganarcha is grown in this country because it ripens late and requires a long, warm growing season to do so.
Which is why this country's few plantings are largely confined to the Gimblett Gravels and Red Metal sub-regions to the west of Hastings in Hawke's Bay where Villa Maria and Matua have vines.
Villa produces a varietal and Matua a blend of grenache, shiraz and viognier, a white that works well with shiraz/syrah and replaces mouvedre, the red which is the third element of the blend most widely used in Australia's famous GSM's.
Over there grenache once grew like a woody weed and was the mainstay of the fortified wine industry. Many of the vines did not survive the switch to table wines, of course, but those that did produce wines that can be markedly different to those from more recent plantings. They tend to be richer, blackberried and spicy, with an appealing earthiness, while those from the younger vines smack of redder fruit.
But perhaps the most distinctive character of grenache is the full and fleshy feel in the mouth. In fact it can produce a sweet juice with an almost jam-like consistency when very ripe.
Just add syrah to provide a bit more colour and spice, mourvèdre to provide a touch of elegance and structure and you have some very palatable wines.
Likewise the wines that are made from what little grenache is grown here.
But does the grape and the wines that it produces have the same future here seen for it elsewhere by some very important people in the world of wines, and by its many other admirers.
The answer is probably no. The reason is a lack of consistency; the difficulty of getting fully ripe fruit each year, even in Hawke's Bay, says Nikolai St George, chief winemaker for Matua.
“There is probably not much future for a grape that produces a good wine only when conditions are right, maybe every five years, but there is for wines that are different and interesting.”
Hence Matua's decision to use its grenache in a premium single vineyard blend.
Villa Maria, meantime, seems simply to believe it should be possible to produce grenache as a varietal off the Gimblett Gravels and is doing so.
Grenache, incidentally, fits well with meaty Kiwi cuisine.
To get the taste, try:
Penfolds 2010 Bin 138 Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mouvedre (about $27)
A fruit-driven blend from the Penfolds Bin range that never fails to please. Rich and earthy with lovely floral notes and a slightly chalky texture. A wine that ages with considerable grace.
Villa Maria 2010 Cellar Selection Grenache (about $32)
Made in very small quantities and tweaked with malbec and syrah. Loaded with juicy, aromatic cherries and berries, seasoned with spice. Rich and generous. Won't disappoint.
Matua Valley 2009 Single Vineyard Matheson Grenache Shiraz Viognier (about $70)
The price reflects the restricted quantities of this wine and the reputation of the vineyard. Made in a more elegant style with berried, spicy floral flavours. And a good shake of pepper.
Delas 2010 Cotes-Du-Ventoux (about $18)
A cheapy from France that's made mostly from grenache spiced up with syrah. A soft and aromatic cherried, berried middleweight that's ready for drinking whenever.
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