The wine made from Grenache (known as Garnacha in Spain and Cannonau in Sardinia) can be humble or haughty, rough or refined. Grenache can yield pale, delicate wines that are perfect for picnics, or deep gamey wines with a punch of peppery spice. Grenache wines can have concentrated baked-cherry and strawberry-jam flavors, and the high alcohol that results from making wine with very ripe fruit. Some have a fresh green herbal note—look for hints of mint and eucalyptus. They're good barbecue wines and they're perfect for serving with duck or lamb.
Grenache prices go all the way up: Grenache blends from Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhône region of France can fetch $50, $100, or even several hundred dollars. But can you find drinkable—even truly tasty—Grenache for under $10? You bet.
The sweet berry side of Grenache burst forward in a glass of Castillo de Monseran Garnacha. While most of our tasters found it too juicy, others liked the mixed berry compote and vanilla notes. (If it reminds you of strawberry Bubble Yum, is that a bad thing?) We'd serve this wine a little chilled for spring. Is it worth $8 or $9? Maybe, though we recommend it with reservations. (Find this wine)
For $9 to $10, Tapeña Garnacha is a silky, dry option, with enough tartness to stand up to rich food. It's a little spicy—you might taste smoked paprika and red chilies. We were also reminded of sweet balsamic vinegar and juicy blueberries. While not terribly complex, this Garnacha is a solid, likeable dinner party wine. (Find this wine)
The unoaked Ia Garnacha 2006 from the cooperative Bodegas Virgen del Aguila near Paniza, Spain, is made from over 50-year-old vines grown 2,500 feet above sea level. The grapes are harvested late and have very low yields, which might explain how deep and concentrated the wine is. It pours nearly purple, and has an earthy, rich flavor with a whiff of mushrooms, roasted red bell peppers, blackberry, raisin, and juicy blueberries. It's a little more macho than some of the others we tried. Let it open up a little, and you'll find this wine is quite complex and food-friendly: Pair it with paella or paprika-rubbed grilled meats or roast vegetables. We would definitely seek this wine out again—it was one of our favorites. (Find this wine)
French Grenache and Côtes du Rhône
The Cuvée du Sommelier from Domaine de Boissan is a 100 percent Grenache from the Southern Rhone that pours light garnet. The fruit is delicate and tart, with a hint of cranberry and Bing cherry. This table wine has no affectation—it's an everyday drinking wine, perfect to serve lightly chilled with salami or cheese, or for dinner with lamb chops. It's beautifully balanced, with dry tannins and fresh acidity, a hint of limestone, mint, thyme, and lavender. A perfect spring picnic wine, and a good deal for about $9. (Find this wine)
The Brotte Côtes du Rhône "La Grivelière" is made in the southern Rhône from 80 percent Grenache, 10 percent Syrah, 5 percent Cinsault, and 5 percent Mourvèdre. It's round, dry, and mellow, aged in oak casks (but not overwhelmingly oaky.) It has some nice complexity: deep plum flavors, dried strawberry and dried currant, with a hint of slate. Notes of eucalyptus and mint make this a good pairing for grilled lamb or seared duck. It sells for $8.50 to $12, and we definitely recommend it. (Find this wine)
Priced at $7 (and sometimes less), Bodegas Borsao's Monte Oton Garnacha 2008 is a steal. It has earthy, leathery qualities and a bit of dustiness to accent dense dark fruit. We were reminded of blackberry cobbler (with just a hint of tart acidity). It's spicy and drinkable—we actually preferred it over several more expensive wines. Open it early or decant to bring out the dried fruit flavors. (Find this wine)
What happens when you spend a little more on Grenache? We'll keep you posted.
Note: not all wine stores put their inventory online--bring this list to your local wineseller and they may have these bottles or similar wines to recommend.
Disclosure: All wines except the Monte Oton and Cuvée de Sommelier were review samples.
About the author: Maggie Hoffman also writes about cooking for Pithy and Cleaver.