Some grape varieties are always being talked about: I’m thinking of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir in particular as well as more recently fashionable grapes like Grüner Veltliner and Alboriño. Others, you rarely hear anything about. Take Grenache, for example (or Garnacha, if you prefer the Spanish naming). Even in the 1990 census, when it was the 2nd most widely planted variety in the world, no-one took much notice of it, it was just there, usually in a blend with other grapes: with Syrah in the southern Rhône, with Tempranillo in Rioja. And, it was rarely credited on labels – although the Australians used the initial for their ‘GSM’ blends (the SM being Shiraz and Mourvedre).
So, I wasn’t entirely surprised when the latest grape census (University of Adelaide, 2011) showed that more than a third of all Grenache had been grubbed up in the intervening 20 years and the variety had slipped from 2nd to 7th place. Yet, I think it’s a great grape variety when well handled and, happily, there are still some glorious examples around. Perrin & Fils’ Gigondas Vieilles Vignes (West End Wines, £22) is one.
Deep, intense and really savoury, this wine, from one of the best villages of the southern Rhône, shows the benefit of making wine from old vines (vieilles vignes) – in this case, according to the label, from pre-phylloxera vines (so, by my calculations, vines that are at least 140 years old – the deadly bug struck the region in the 1870s!)
Unusually for the appellation, this Gigondas is made from 100% Grenache, which probably accounts for the high alcohol (15%). Although typical of this sun-loving, free-ripening variety, here, with all the other flavour elements in balance, there’s no burn and the alcohol complements rather than intruding.
So, while Grenache may never be as popular as Cabernet or Pinot Noir, look carefully and you’ll find some really great drinking.