Grenache is one of the wine world’s great chameleons. Not only does it successfully change character from place to place, but it seems to change from season to season, making it a perfect wine for spring and fall.

It might seem like a bit of a stretch, but let me explain. Grenache is produced around the world and in almost every region there are both wines that are big, beefy and chunky and wines that are light, fragrant and fresh, all based on Grenache.

This could pose a problem for these wines, just look at the confusion over styles of Riesling or Syrah for example, but for some reason the wine buying public is quite tolerant of Grenache’s identity crisis. Perhaps because the wines tend to retain a certain Grenache-iness, that fresh happy core of fruit that is almost always pairing with enticing aromatics.

There is something about Grenache that transcends the regional differences one encounters when tasting through a broad selection of these wines. It’s tough to put your finger on it, but ultimately I think it boils down to the aforementioned Grenachiness which also takes advantage of the textural propensities of Grenache. Most Grenache-based wines are often somewhat low in acid with very supple tannins, making them easy to drink. 

So Grenachiness and drinkability might be the keys to Grenache’s success, and certainly they can’t hurt. Just look at what has happened over the past several years: a virtual explosion of Grenache-based wines from places where we expect to find them, like France and Spain, as well places not so unexpected, like Australia and California.

Much of this boom in popularity was instigated by the proliferation of inexpensive Spanish examples, made possible by the slowing rate of consumption in Spain. As the Spaniards began drinking less, their bulk wine industry began to contract. Lo and behold, some of the most amazing old vine Grenache vineyards were actually being farmed to produce bulk wines.

The Spanish bulk wine industry’s loss has proven to be our gain as quality minded producers began scooping up the fruit from these old vine vineyards and started to reduce yields a bit, promoting vineyard practices that encouraged quality over quantity for these vines. Amazingly, many of the wines they produced remained incredibly affordable, though their popularity has slowly but steadily pushed up the prices of the most popular of these wines. This in turn has created an opportunity for producers world wide to begin to focus on Grenache as the public response to this price creep has been fairly resilient.

Consumers have gotten to know Grenache, like Grenache, and want more Grenache, so the wine industry is happy to oblige them. And me? While I do like Grenache, I’ve had mixed opinions about the grape for years. What I can’t deny is that the wines are better than ever, even winning me over. Between the Grenachiness, the drinkability, and the value Grenache provides, it’s kind of tough to argue with wines like those I’ve tasted here. So take a peak at the notes that follow, Grenache is ready for the world stage, the question is, are you ready for Grenache?

2009 d’Arenberg The Beautiful View Grenache McLaren Vale 14.5%

This explodes from the glass with fennel seeds, wild herbs, candied red currants, a liquory intensity of fruit, red licorice, tar, pencil lead, and candied apples with a hint of allspice. This is bright and a bit nervous in the mouth with crisp tannins and plenty of bright acids. There’s wonderful inner mouth perfume married to a light, elegant mouth feel. The flavor intensity is a bit less than anticipated but this is almost a Burgundian rendition of Grenache. The long, light finish shows a lovely streak of cranberry. Give this a year for the tannins to soften and it should be even better! 91pts

2007 Conde de Valdemar Garnacha Old Vines Rioja, Spain 14%

Chocolate, cocoa earth, tree bark, a little steel, leather, river stones and cigar ash, mushroom and woodsy red fruit. It’s showing maturity but with appealing complexity. Very smooth on entry, this shows a nice, plummy leading edge with good acidity and some lightly tarry top notes. The fruit is a bit roasted and leans toward the darker side for Grenache, with notes of black cherry, blueberry and tart black plum skin. This is smooth, round and medium- to full-bodied yet it finishes with a certain brightness and elegance due to the acidity and really fine mineral finale. Lovely complexity and freshness here. 90pts 

2009 Tolosa Grenache Noir Tolosa Vineyards Edna Valley 14.2%

This is herby and woodsy on the nose with iron and blood notes, along with minty accents that frame the dried blackberry fruit. Very soft on entry, though not lacking in acid. This is rich and pure on the palate with a little beet root earthiness and a gentle underlay of stones propping up the spicy, raspberry fruit. The finish is brisk and shows a hint of vanilla accenting the stony, raspberry flavor. This gains with air revealing compelling teriyaki jerky and herbal aspects. The palate remains a bit tight but the finish continues to gain length. This should improve with time in the bottle.  89pts

2009 Mounts Grenache Dry Creek Valley 15%

This is a bit dark and roasty on the nose with notes of dusty earth, green tobacco and cracked pepper accenting the dried strawberry fruit. It also does show a bit of heat. Lighter on the palate than expected with lovely brightness to the strawberry and slightly pomegranate-tinged fruit. This has a nice spicy quality on the back end and tannins that add just a hint of mouth-grab, though they balance the richness and sweetness of fruit on the finish well. The finish adds nice notes of licorice and spice along with a slightly minty top note. 89pts

2009 Bucklin Grenache Old Hill Ranch Sonoma Valley 15%  

Dark and spicy on the nose with a little peachy edge to the deep, black licorice, cracked pepper, leather and bitter chocolate aromas. This shows some alcohol on the nose and a decidedly black profile. Rich and round on entry, this shows lovely, elegant tannins and juicy acidity supporting fairly bright and slightly exotic black berry fruit. There’s a hint of pomegranate here along with some gentle spice notes, but not a ton of complexity. The balance is deep and really fine, and this finishes with mouth dusting tannins adding a savory note to that exotic fruit. 88pts

2010 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache Barossa 14.5%

Strawberry tops, herbs, wild grasses and hints of white pepper and faded exotic spices. On the palate this shows good depth of fruit, dark raspberry and strawberry notes with a fine mineral vein that adds fine cut through the richness. This really exhibits fine balance, with solid supporting structure lurking just under the wonderfully transparent yet faceted fruit of the mid-palate. This is nice and tense right through juicy finish. Nice detail here, though this is showing a bit chunkier than the last time I enjoyed it. 88pts

2010 Vinya d’Irto Garnacha Negra Terra Alta Spain 14%

This is chocolaty and nicely peppery on the nose with lots of dusty black spice. Something a little North African going on, but under that is wonderfully bright black raspberry and boysenberry-tinged fruit that shows a hint of coffee bean. Rich and powerful on entry with cinnamon and toast notes early on that lead to a fine, clear mid-palate with sour black cherry and black berry fruits. This is a bit on the lighter side body-wise but packs great intensity of flavor on to the palate. There’s a faint bitterness here that I find attractive but might be off-putting to some. That bitterness is part of a terrifically long finish though. 88pts

2007 Kilikanoon Prodigal Grenache Clare Valley  14.5%

This has a hint of volatility on the nose but beyond that it explodes with peppery spice, balsamic notes, red currant and candied strawberry fruit, a little vanilla and some fine orange blossom/ fennel herb notes. Smooth on entry, this shows off a nice, soft chocolate note on entry that is followed by rather pronounced strawberry fruit. There’s nice tension on the palate with crisp tannins and good acids driving the modest finish. 87pts

2009 Edetaria T Red Terra Alta Spain 14.5%

70% Garnacha, 10% Carinena, 20% Garnacha Peluda 

This is toasty on the nose with rich aromas of blackberry jam, cinnamon, fennel seed and saffron. Soft and a bit low in acid in the mouth, this nonetheless is rich and creamy with plenty of fresh blackberry and dried plummy fruit. There’s some nuanced licorice and anise seed on the back end which grow in intensity on the moderately long finish that shows a nice tannic length. Rich, extracted and a bit chunky, this is modern styled and a bit drying on the finish. 87pts

2010 The Show Garnacha Calatayud Spain 14.0%

Spicy, inky and bright on the nose with fennel seed, floral and light iodine aromas over a base of sour black fruits dusted with faint woodsy aromas. This is smooth and easy in the mouth with a nice forest floor element early on, accenting the coffee-tinted sour plum and sour cherry fruits of the mid-palate. There’s a nice hit of rhubarb here on the back end that leads to a finish that turns a little dry and dusty, though it has a certain refreshing quality. A little rustic and rough-and-tumble, but it certainly has an appeal. 86pts

2009 Wesley Ashley Wines Grenache Jordan Santa Barbara Highlands 13.8%

Over ripe and really jammy on the nose with notes of cooked beef, beet juice, wheat grass, sassafras and pink peppercorn wild raspberries. In the mouth, this is bright and soft, with a really fine texture and flavors that are fresher than the nose would suggest. A somewhat light wine, I do love the freshness of these tannins and the overall transparency of this wine. Shows nice herbal, earth and mineral notes on the palate along with a fine black cherry note. The finish is a bit short and light, with more of a roasted character to the black cherry fruit. 85pts