I often think of Grenache as an easy pleaser. If I’m on the way out the door to go to a party or need to pull that bottle for a friend who has asked for something that’s sure to impress, I almost always go with Grenache. Why? Because the majority of Grenache is fun to drink and easy to understand. Grenache is a late ripening grape that’s very high in sugar, which usually results in a high alcohol levels and a smooth mouth-feel. Yet, it’s also very low in tannin and acid. When you mix that all together, you get a wine that wouldn’t necessarily be the best bet for a grand tasting, but is a sure bet for a party, barbecue, housewarming or random gift for friends.
Of course, this is a broad generalization. You’ll often find Grenache blended with other varietals, such as Syrah, Carignan and Tempranillo. I certainly wouldn’t label Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Priorat as nothing more than a party wine, and yet many of them are being made primarily from Grenache. However, in the end, the majority of Grenache that you’ll find will be fun, unassuming and easy drinking.
The problem is what to pair with it. Low acid and tannin means that you need to steer clear of extremely rich foods, high alcohol tends to over-accentuate spicy foods. No problem. We can find a number of great dishes to pair with Grenache that will easily fit the bill.
This is certainly one of those fun party wines that I was alluding to in the intro, and I’ve yet to have a guest turn up their nose at it. This Côtes du Rhone is 100% Grenache, and it sings with soft, juicy ripe fruit.
A classic pairing for Grenache is lamb, they are simply made for each other. With the wine I chose below, I knew that I needed to go with a braise to counteract the ripe fruits, and so I chose Lamb Shanks Braised in Red Wine. You can’t go wrong with this pairing.
2010 Michel Gassier Côtes du Rhone Villages Visan Cercius - The nose showed ripe mixed berries, sweet spicy cookie and chalky minerals. On the palate, it was soft like velvet yet juicy. It balanced its 14.5% alcohol very well, as blackberry jam and violet candies massaged the senses. The finish was long and enjoyable with ripe berries and herbs.
When I think back to the early days of my journey into wine, I find it funny to recall that I didn’t realize that Châteauneuf-du-Pape was in any way related to the Grenacha of Spain I was tasting. If you put the two together, you’ll see what I mean. Châteauneuf-du-Pape tends more toward concentrated dark fruits with earthy and herbal tones (and is usually a blend). In recent years, these wines have gotten bigger and richer. They are certainly worth seeking, but I find it very important to experiment and find the style/producer you like.
A Cassoulet may be one of the largest projects you’ve ever tackled in your kitchen, but it’s worth every second. As for the perfect pairing with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a Cassoulet of White Beans with Braised Pork, Sausage, and Duck Confit fits the bill to a tee. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of making this, then you at least owe it to yourself to seek it out at a local French restaurant. If you are the adventurous sort, you can save some time by buying Duck Confit from a specialty butcher.
2009 Vignobles Mayard Châteauneuf-du-Pape Clos du Calvaire - The nose showed dusty black cherries, blueberry and citrus rind with wild herbs and savory meaty notes. On the palate, I found blackberry fruit and spice with violet candies and bitters. This wine showed great structure and wonderful balance as it was bitter, then sweet and acidic, then rich on the palate. The alcohol showed slightly on the long finish but still showed enough fruit and structure to forgive it.
In Priorat, Spain, Grenache can reach amazing heights of concentration, structure and acidity due to a mixture of old vines planted on steep terraces with extremely low yields. These are wines that require something rich or equally intense to match the power that most achieve.
I find that great pairings for Priorat come off the grill, and when you combine that with the slight spice and sweet meat of sausage, it’s a match made in heaven. Grilled Sausage & Onion Panini is a perfect barbecue companion to a bottle Priorat.
2008 Buil & Giné Priorat Giné Giné - The nose showed intense blackberry and cherry with mocha, spice and melted black licorice. On the palate, it was medium-bodied, showing brisk, mouthwatering acidity and notes of spicy, sour red berries. The finish showed this wine's structure with a hint of drying tannin hanging on the palate.
Before Shiraz, Grenache was the most widely planted red grape in Australia, used mainly for sweet and fortified wines. However, with its growing popularity, Grenache has taken a foothold once again. In the south of Australia, these wines can obtain lush, rich textures with attractive sweet fruit and spicy notes, making them great for casual get-togethers and parties.
It’s with parties in mind that I thought to pair this with Stuffed Mushrooms with Pancetta, Shallots & Sage. They may be unassuming, but stuffed mushrooms are wine-friendly and bridge the gap between finger food and fine dining. In this case, the salt of the pancetta and Parmigiano Reggiano provide that salty/sweet combination with the Grenache that always makes for an excellent pairing.
2008 Alpha Box & Dice Grenache Tarot – The nose was rich, showing ultra-ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit wrapped in buttery crust with sweet baking spices wafting up from the glass. On the palate, it was silky smooth and concentrated, yet balanced showing red and black fruits with cinnamon and clove. The finish was short yet pleasant, showing a touch of alcohol. This was a serious party pleaser wine that was almost too much, yet continued to color in the lines.
In Sardinia, Grenache goes by another name; Cannonau. It also takes on a much more concentrated and spicy fruit character that I have really taken to. This is likely due to the sandy soils and Sardinia’s location, located just as close to Italy and Spain as it is to the northern tip of Africa.
The first thing that always comes to mind when pairing a Cauuonau is sausage. It’s something about its sheer aggressiveness on the palate that needs the fat and spice of sausage to really bring out the flavors. Rigatoni with Sausage and Tomato Cream Sauce made for a great combination with the Argiolas. Don’t be afraid of a little spice in this dish, as the wine can handle it.
2006 Argiolas Turriga Isola dei Nuraghi IGT – The nose showed black raspberry jam with notes of dark chocolate and tobacco leaf. On the palate, this was elegant and weighty with black fruits and spice. Rich yet refined, the Turriga is a wine that I love to take my time with.