First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 25th November, 2016
I gave a candlelit tasting to a wine club in Cork recently, post-Ophelia and pre-David. The subdued lighting was enforced, as Fleming’s Hotel had been without electric power for several days. It was a lot of fun, helped I suspect by the intimate atmosphere. The wines, all Beaujolais, were great, but I cannot help thinking that on such a miserable windswept wet evening, we should really have been drinking Grenache. Grenache (or Garnacha as it is known in it’s native Spain) deserves to be far better known. Big, rich and rounded, with sweet strawberry fruits, these are crowd-pleasing food-friendly wines that are perfect for cold-weather drinking.
Thin skinned and full of sugar, ripe Garnacha grapes make for powerful, heart-warming wines, usually with soft-easy-drinking fruit and a very low tannin count.
You can drink it without food, but as it often has a generous level of alcohol – 14-15% is normal – it really is a dinner wine. If you are wondering what wine to serve this Christmas, Garnacha would not be a bad choice; it goes very well with turkey and all of the trimmings too. It is also a happy companion to pub-grub – burgers, steak and kidney pie, ribs, sausages and mash, as well as most stews and casseroles. This would include a Provencal daube of beef, a Spanish lamb and bean stew, tagines and others, but it is a great partner for classic Irish lamb and beef casseroles.
You will generally find Garnacha in warmer climates as it needs plenty of sun to ripen fully. Australia has some very old vineyards in the Barossa and McLaren vale; the Willunga below is made from 100 year-old vines.
Sardinia (where they call it Cannonau) also produces excellent warming wines. But the true home of Garnacha is Spain and France, where it is very widely grown, and often sold at rock-bottom prices. You won’t always see the name on a label, because in both countries, it is generally blended with other varieties. This includes high-quality regions, such as Rioja and Priorat in Spain, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas in France.
Bargain hunters will head for Côtes du Rhône, which generally has at least 50% Grenache in its makeup, often more, and regions such as Campo de Borja and Calatayud in Spain. Most independent retailers and the multiples will offer both for €10-15. Keep an eye out for one of my favourites, Borsao Garnacha, (€13.95 Bradleys, Cork, Searsons and others) and the Flor de Anon Campo (€14.99, SuperValu), and Cruz de Piedra (€13.95, O’Briens). But possibly the best value of all are the many blends from the Rhône valley and Languedoc.
Tesco Old Vine Garnacha 2016, Campo de Borja
Layers of full-on warm ripe plum fruits a little vanilla and a smooth finish. Drink by itself but better with a lamb casserole.
Jean Claude Mas Grenache Noir IGP d’Oc
This has some very attractive smooth, rich black fruits and a nicely rounded finish. This would go nicely with chicken (and turkey) dishes.
Stockists: Aldi (for a selected period each year).
Willunga 100 McLaren Vale Grenache 2015, Australia
A heady mix of ripe strawberries, spice and dried herbs in a smooth full-bodied wine. A big smiling mouthful that will keep the winter blues away.
Stockists: O’Briens; Blackrock Cellar; Donnybrook Fair; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Martins, Fairview; wineonline.ie
La Bruja de Rozas 2015, Viños de Madrid, Commando G
Grown on granite soils, this is a very different, wonderful full-bodied wine with fresh fragrant red cherry fruits and fine dry tannins on the finish.
Stockists: 64Wines; Green Man Wines; The Corkscrew; Clontarf Wines; Kellys, Clontarf