One of the more versatile red grapes in the world, Grenache thrives in southern France and Spain (where it is known as Garnacha). Ranging in style from light and fruity to deep, brooding and intense; the grape also suits a variety of ambitions: Grenache can be used in inexpensive wines that offer immediate satisfaction, but it is also successful in barrel-aged, cellar-worthy wines that don't come cheaply.
Grenache vines tend to perform best in dry and hot growing regions. For example, in the southern Rhone, Grenache is the dominant grape in the appellation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which has emerged within the last decade as one of the "hottest" categories in the North American market. These wines are generally 75-80 percent Grenache, generally with some Syrah and Mourvedre blended in to provide color, spiciness, and complexity. Even in the space of this one appellation, we find that wines range from restrained middleweight entries to low-alcohol, high-acid powerhouses that ooze ripe fruit. The latter wines are responsible for much of the current attention being paid to the area. For rich, Grenache-dominated wines, look to bottlings from Clos du Caillou, Deomaine de Marcoux, and Chateau Rayas.
Elsewhere in the Rhone Valley, many wines produced under the Cotes du Rhone appellation are also dominated by Grenache. Compared to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, these wines are significantly less expensive and can't compare with regard to richness and intensity. Still, we can recommend the more interesting entries on their own merits: bright fruit flavors and immediacy. Look to Chateau Pesquie and Chateau de Segries.
Further down the Mediterranean, Grenache (or, rather, Garancha) shines in the up-and-coming Spanish region of Priorat. In this rugged, rocky area in Catalonia, ancient vineyards have recently been upgraded, and production has shifted from bulk wines to high-quality bottlings. These wines are either 100 percent Garancha, or they also have some Carignane blended in. Expect inky wines with both sweetness and spice. We like the offerings from Cellar Vall Llach and Clos Erasmus.
Rhone varieties have become increasingly popular in New World vineyards, and Grenache is no exception here. In California and Australia, these wines can be even more rich and luscious than their Old-World cousins. From California, we recommend wines from Alban Vineyards and Beckmen Vineyards; while in Australia, we like Clarendon Hills.
Single varietal Grenache wines as well as Grenache-dominated blends are best paired with grilled meats, stews, and game.