Grenache bush vines
Grenache bush vines

I love what is happening with Grenache in Australia at the moment. While it was one of the first varieties planted in Australia, it has always been a bit unappreciated and can be seen as a bit of an underdog when compared with other classic Australian grape varieties such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Grenache: a mercurial Australian wine classic

Grenache can be a challenging variety to grow.  It loves the warmth, so is perfectly suited to the climate in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, but it needs careful vineyard management.  It also has a tendency to overproduce and so without strict yield control it can produce wines that are high in alcohol, low in complexity and which have a candied sweetness to them. For many years it was a variety that was used to make fortified wines.  These were often delicious, but in modern times as tastes have changed and consumer interest has become focused on table wines so it has been pressed into service creating a stunning range of varietal wines. This has been a really exciting development and one with huge potential for Australian wine as Australia boasts a wonderful resource of old Grenache vines in classic regions like the Barossa and McLaren Vale. In these regions vines can produce unbelievable wines with a classic balance of fruit, alcohol, moderate acidity and tannin that have a sublime savouriness akin to Pinot Noir.  Indeed, some producers refer to Grenache as warm climate Pinot Noir.

Varietal renaissance

Grenache then, so long regarded as something of workhorse grape, is enjoying a renaissance that is driving renewed interest from critics and consumers alike. The new, lighter styles of wine emanating from the wineries of Australian Winemaker of the Year, Steve Pannell, and the like, have facilitated growth of over 10% in 2015 and the predictions for 2016 are that this growth will continue.  This resurgence has been fuelled by the variety's versatility, its easy-going nature and, as Steve Pannell pointed out to Jancis Robinson, ‘Grenache is now much more respected because it’s lighter than Shiraz’.

Attracting younger wine drinkers

One of the most striking aspects of the rise in demand for this varietal is seeing who is behind much of this growth. Younger wine consumers, particularly the hard to attract millennials (35-44 year olds), are flocking to it, and this can only be a good thing for the Australian wine industry as a whole as it seeks to grow its global premium wine presence in the medium and long terms. Younger wine lovers love Grenache, in-part at least, because of its naturally low-tannin, high fruit profile.  This produces a lighter, softer style of wine that is equally at home when paired with food or enjoyed on its own and so offers a versatility that new entrants to the wine market find particularly appealing.  Another key feature is price.  With premium Australian examples - such as Yalumba’s Old Vine Grenache - fetching anywhere between 15% and 40% less than the equivalent quality Australian Shiraz or Cabernet, it makes an attractive choice for younger, more price-sensitive consumers.

A bright future for an old stalwart

There is palpable excitement around Australian Grenache at the moment, with a new wave of modern winemakers producing wines that are bringing worldwide attention back to this perennially evolutionary Australian variety.  And after so many years of under-appreciated service to the wine industry this is a gratifying development, one that will help pave the way for a new generation of wine lovers to make the acquaintance of an icon of Australian wine.

 

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