Grenache the Unsung Hero

It’s the fourth most planted grape variety in the world, should be wholly familiar to anyone who has swigged cheap rosado on the Costa Brava through to classy Chateauneuf du Pape in the Rhone valley or old vine, dry-farmed examples from the Barossa valley in Australia, but when did you last hear anyone ask for a glass of Grenache in your local wine bar?

Grenache Wine

Never, I suspect. Grenache’s anonymity was the start point of a unique international gathering that took place just a few kilometres from us last month – the first ‘Grenache Symposium’.

Over 200 Grenache wine makers, wine critics, merchants and those, like us, with an interest in wine tourism met for 3 days to examine the status of this prolific grape, the reasons why it is so often overlooked and how we can all advance its cause on the world wine stage. It was a truly global event with participants coming from California, South Africa, Spain (Priorat makes some of the best Grenache in the world) and even Brazil. Some of the conclusions: this is a grape variety often found around the Med as a work horse producing big crops, usually a blending grape, but, in the right hands with low yields and careful craft in the winery, it is unquestionably capable of producing glorious wines, the match of its better known peers Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the consumer needs more help in recognising Grenache; we need more iconic wines like Chateau Rayas at Chateauneuf as totems to inspire consumers and producers alike, and it doesn’t help that the name of the variety never appears on the front of French wine labels – but that’s a wider issue about the French inability to surrender to international trends. That, absolutely, has to change.

The typically high alcohol content of Grenache, often 14.5 or even 15.0 degrees in this region, was much in debate – consumers need to be encouraged to think of these wines as the best “with food” red wine available, where the alcohol is tempered by being tasted with a meal, and also to serve them a little cooler than most do to avoid the alcohol subsuming the distinctive nose and palate of this great variety. It was wonderful for me to be in at the ground floor of a new initiative to promote the source of so much drinking pleasure at La Madelene!

Grenache Grapes

My tips for top Grenache based wines you can sample in the UK: for a real treat try the big smooth red Chateauneuf du Pape Domaine Nalys “Chataigner”, the top notch 2007 vintage is stocked by Underwood Wine Warehouse at £23.32 and can be bought online; for a really classy, definitely “with food” rosé clocking in at 14.5 degrees alcohol try Domaine Maby’s “La Forcadiere”, summer pudding in your glass, available from the wonderful Rhone focused merchant Yapp Brothers; or for something very unusual with your dessert, a Rasteau Rancio, a Madeira-like, fortified Vin du Naturel made from 100% Grenache, deliberately oxidised to give it a nutty character, fabulous stuff, available at The Big Red Wine Company at £14.95. Would pour nicely over a vanilla ice cream. Happy summer drinking!

Philip and Jude Reddaway run La Madelene Rhone Wine Holidays (tours and educational residential holidays)

If you are interested in bed and breakfast in their renovated 12th Century priory contact them through
or email

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