Although Grenache is likely the most widely planted variety in the world, it certainly isn’t on everyone’s lips in New Zealand. Probably because one, very little is produced here and secondly because it is often hidden in blends such as Cotes du Rhone, Rioja, etc. The variety probably originated in Spain around Catalonia where it is known as Garnacha and spread from there through the Aragon kingdom to other Mediterranean areas such as Southern France and Sardinia. It became an early import into Australia where it flourished in the warm climate and was an important component of the fortified wines and they now have some of the oldest vines in the world. It also was a major component in Californian ‘jug wine’ of mid last century. It is a thin skinned, late ripening variety that needs a long, dry ripening season. Along with the Grenache Noir, there is also the white variety, Grenache Blanc.

Wine Importer Martin Cahnbley put together an intriguing line up of Grenache based wines for this tasting to highlight the versatility and variation of the variety. As an importer Martin hand selects the producers for his portfolio, seeking out the interesting and often unique. Many are small artisanal producers with natural winemaking techniques at the forefront. The tasting started with a South African and a Spanish white wine with white Grenache in the blend. We then moved to the reds. The first three were lighter, elegant expressions of Grenache, then three wines with Grenache in the blend finishing with two full bodied, single variety Grenache.

Wolftrap White 2015 – Swartland, South Africa $18.99

52% Viognier, 26% Chenin Blanc & 22% Grenache Blanc.This year Grenache Blanc played a supporting role in this intriguing blend. Grapes are sourced mainly from Malmesbury and Stellenbosch. Components are French oak matured then blended and bottled. Clean and fresh with stonefruits, nectarine/apricots and spice. Medium bodied with a nice rounded mouthfeel.

Costers del Priorat Blanc de Pissarres 2015 – Priorat, Spain $34.99

An unusual blend of Garnacha Blanc (60%), Macabeo (30%) and Pedro Ximénez (10%) from the Priorat region SW of Barcelona. The wine spends 3 days of skins before natural yeast fermentation in old French oak resulting in a wine of texture with oxidative, nutty hints. Quite a complex and intriguing with saline, smokey notes, fruit pith and a long finish.

A Tribute to Grace Santa Barbara Highlands 2014 – California, USA $67.99

Ex-pat Kiwi winemaker, Angela Osborne was inspired to “crafting authentic expressions of Grenache” and the “abundant sunshine and entrepreneurial spirit” led her to California where she sources grapes from various vineyards for her wines. For this wine, the grapes come from her 3 rows of leased vines on the high (1,000m) altitude, desert climate Laetitia Vineyard. The expression is quite amazing and unlike expectations. A minimal intervention wine – the hand harvested grapes are foot trodden and naturally fermented with 67% whole bunch and then aged for 17 months in French 220L & 500L barrique (17% new). The wine has a pale almost translucent, dull brick red colour with a hint of natural cloudiness. A wine with an ethereal quality with the flavours and textures gently unfolding and revealing. Juicy, spicy, pretty, delicate yet powerful wine. A personal favourite.

AA Badenhorst Raaigras Grenache 2015 – Swartland, South Africa $63.99

This is from the oldest Grenache vines in South Africa, planted in 1952. Like the Grace Grenache, this is quite light in colour, but more ruby red. The red theme continues with red fruits tending to strawberry. On the palate, the wine is very dry and the slatey/granite soils seem to add their bit to the palate with a definite edgy mineral streak running through the palate.  Quite a distinctive version of Grenache that is regarded as one of South Africa’s top reds.

Sadie Family Soldaat 2015 – Swartland, South Africa $69.99

Eben Sadie is well known for his minimal interventional approach to wine making. This is from old ungrafted, dry-farmed bush vines planted at 708 meters altitude in decomposed granitic soils bottled unfined and unfiltered. Fermented in concrete vats and some amphora. This has lots of ‘minerality’ with a very savoury nose with hints of gamey, medicinal characters. Medium weight with fresh, crunchy red fruit, rose petal and spice flavours.

Viña Tondonia Cubillo 2007 – Rioja, Spain $37.99

Vina Tondonia Cubillo is very traditional style Rioja from producer R López de Heredia. This is their ‘young wine’ current release! Tempranillo (65%), Garnacha (25%), Mazuelo and Graciano aged for 3 years in oak before bottling with further aging before release. There is no mistaking the ‘traditional’ approach to the wine; an almost tawny, brick red colour, this has aged, dried prune and balsamic notes with plenty of secondary characters and Rioja’s trademark oakiness.

Costers del Priorat Tinto de Pissarres 2015 – Priorat, Spain $34.99

Quite a contrast here with a more classic international approach. A blend of 40% Samsó (Cinsault) and 60% Garnacha aged in large oak. Dark and plusher than the previous wines but much less complex and dare I say, interesting.

Newton Johnson Full Stop Rock 2015 – Heaven & Earth Valley, South Africa $34.99

The Classic Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre blend with the vines grown on granite based soils in the Cape South Coast region. Hand harvested, hand sorted fruit, indigenous yeast fermented with some whole bunches. Aged in French oak barrels and barriques for 12 months. This is a dark, savoury wine with meaty, liquorice, spice, violets flavours and a dense rich palate. There are plenty of gritty tannins (almost sandpaper-like) but these are countered by the rich fruit. The second favourite wine of the night.

Murray Street Vineyard Black Label Grenache 2012 – Barossa, Australia $34.99
From old vines planted in 1948 at Greenock. After all the other Grenaches, this came across as very obviously Australian – sweet liquorice, maraschino cherry, slightly jammy with some aged leathery characters. Smooth almost syrupy style.

Vivanco Garnacha 2011 – Rioja, Spain $81.99

The Colección Garnacha from Dinastia Vivanco in Rioja is a limited production wine, and quite rare being a 100% varietal Garnacha from Rioja. It is fermented in large format oak and aged 18 months in second use French oak barrels. This wine is big, power packed wine with concentrated velvety richness. Favourite wine of the night for the tasters.