Posts Tagged Grenache

Grenache – the perfect winter wine

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

14%, €9

Layers of full-on warm ripe plum fruits a little vanilla and a smooth finish. Drink by itself but better with a lamb casserole.
Stockists: Tesco

Jean Claude Mas Grenache Noir IGP d’Oc

13.5%, €8.99

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

14,5%, €16.95

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;

La Bruja de Rozas 2015, Viños de Madrid, Commando G

14.5%, €23

 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

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The Hundred 2014, McLaren Vale Grenache

The Hundred 2014, McLaren Vale Grenache

IMG_1893The Hundred 2014, McLaren Vale Grenache

Big and powerful and structured, with lovely bright vibrant red fruits, all cherries and strawberries, with a sprinkle of spice. A serious dangerously drinkable wine to match up to barbequed meats and roasts.

Available from O’Briens; La Touche, Greystones; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock; Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove & Avoca;; World Wide Wines, Waterford.

Shiraz and Grenache from McLaren Vale often has this distinctive delicious fresh quality. This wine is made from dry-grown bush vines, many eighty years old. Grown in a cooler sub-region of McLaren Vale, they produce wines with a lovely aroma and succulent round fruit.

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Winter warmers to brighten up the cold evenings

First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 20th February, 2016

I could and possibly should have written this piece at the start of the year, when half the country was underwater and everyone was suffering from storms, the cold and the rain. General misery in other words. I am not suggesting wine as a cure, but a glass or two of something warming and red over dinner can brighten up a miserable cold evening. I did not partake in dry January.

I had been suffering from a cold/chest infection (yes, that one) for an extended period over Christmas, and was unable to taste anything properly. I felt deprived, so I indulged myself in the month of January, although I observed my alcohol-free start to the week fairly strictly. I drank some very nice wines; it certainly helped me through the darkest month of the year.

Now, with March almost upon us, (and spring, according to some) there are signs of warmer weather to come. On clearer mornings I can see daylight as I return from my walk. But the days are still bitterly cold. As I write, the wind is howling outside. For the moment my rieslings and other light white wines are on hold. I have certainly been drinking more substantial wines to provide warmth and a little comfort.

I am eating different foods, comforting, slow-cooked meals, meat stews, roasted root vegetables and squash. These bigger flavours demand more robust wines. An extra percent or two of alcohol helps keep the cold out of the bones too, although higher-alcohol wines seem to be less common as winemakers decrease alcohol levels. Even after dinner, over fireside chats or snuggled up on the sofa, a rich red wine seems appropriate. I tend to serve these wines a little warmer too (but still only 16-18 degrees).

I have covered winter whites before; as a reminder, I tend to head for richer, more textured white wines too over the colder months. This means chardonnay, viognier, chenin blanc from South Africa, and southern Rhone blends that include roussanne and grenache blanc.

When it comes to red wines, remember that warmer climates tend to produce bigger, richer wines. Countries such as Argentina, Australia, South Africa and California all offer wines that pack a real punch. In Europe, Spain, the southern parts of France and Italy, as well as Portugal and Greece, have the necessary climate. The reds and whites from the southern Rhone often seem tailor-made for winter drinking.The reds cover the full price spectrum. Otherwise I look to the Languedoc and Spain for good-value winter reds. The grape varieties change a little too: less pinot noir, more grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre and malbec.

Our three wines this week vary in price. I have ignored the most expensive full-bodied wines, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Plic, Plic, Plic is the sound of rain on the ground, apparently. Montsant is in the hills of Catalonia, high above Tarragona. It surrounds the sought-after region of Priorat, and can produce wines with a similar structure and concentration, if seldom the same polish. Prices are significantly cheaper though. The Casa Castilla comes from Jumilla in southeast Spain.Monastrell, known elsewhere as mourvèdre or mataro, originated in this part of the world. The wines are usually big and structured, sometimes tannic and rustic; certainly not wines to sip before dinner but great on a cold evening. This particular wine hides a warming 15 per cent alcohol very well.Turkey Flat is run by Christie Schulz, one member of a family that arrived in the Barossa Valley in 1847 with the first Silesian settlers. The Butcher’s Block (they once had a butcher’s shop too) is a classic Barossa red in the very best sense. Rich in fruit with plenty of power, this went well with my Szechuan beef stew and the remainder with grilled lamb chops.

Image 15Plic Plic Plic 2013, Monsant, Spain

Medium to full-bodied with blackcurrant fruits and a toasty, spicy touch.

Stockists: Wines on the Green; Mitchells; Baggot St Wines; Red Island; Fresh; McCabes; Clontarf Wines; The VIntry.

IMG_0030Casa Castillo Monastrell 2013, Jumilla

Slightly gamey rich, rounded plum fruits; rich and rounded with a subtle oakiness on the tail. Great value for money.

Stockists: 64wine, Glasthule; Clontarf Wines; Red Island, Skerries; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St.; Fresh Outlets.

ImageButcher’s Block 2013, Turkey Flat, Barossa Valley

A lovely rich full-bodied red that will provide instant warmth. Plush dark fruits with a solid backbone.

Ardkeen, Waterford; LaTouche, Greystones; Matson’s, Cork; Sweeneys.

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I have been enjoying the wines of Turkey Flat from time to time for twenty years now. In the 90’s, they always had a wonderful raw power and concentration, yet were never over the top. They seem to have been tamed a little these days, but they are still excellent classic Barossa Valley wines with real character and depth. The Shiraz is a benchmark Barossa, highly regarded, but also quite expensive at around €45. These two very tasty blends are more affordable.


Butcher’s Block White 2013, Turkey Flat, Barossa Valley


€21.99 from Ardkeen, Waterford; LaTouche, Greystones; Matson’s, Grange & Cork; Sweeneys, Glasnevin.

Made from a Southern Rhône-style blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier, this wine has attractive plump nectarine and peach fruits; it is medium to full-bodied, but not too powerful, and has a refreshing crisp acidity. This would go nicely with grilled white fish, chicken (or turkey!) and lighter pork dishes.


Butcher’s Block Red 2013, Turkey Flat, Barossa Valley


€21.99 from Ardkeen, Waterford; LaTouche, Greystones; Matson’s, Grange & Bandon, Cork; Sweeneys, Glasnevin; Corkscrew, Chatham St.

As with the white above this is a Southern Rhône blend of red grapes; Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro. I am a big fan of Barossa reds provided they are not over-oaked or over-ripe. This wine manages to offer power and body without ever seeming overdone, A lovely rich full-bodied red with ripe dark plum and blackcurrant fruits that with a sprinkle of spice and a solid backbone. It stood up well to Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe for Szechuan beef stew and grilled lamb chops the following night.

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