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Pairing Grenache Wines With Food

Palate & PairingThe Grape:

Grenache is a grape with many homes, terroirs and expressions, believed to have originated in Spain.  The grape is found worldwide in countries such as Australia, France, Spain (as Garnacha), Italy and the United States.  It’s a grape that can proudly stand on its own or weave its delicious personality into the classic blend of Grenache-Syrah-Mouvedre (GSM).  It reveals a different side of its character in Roses from Tavel, Lirac and Provence and in the rich dessert wine, Banyuls.

The flavor profile of red Grenache usually displays classic red raspberry, cherry and blackberry scents along with violets and an underlying earthy character of loam and minerals.  With tannins that are soft and restrained acidity, these are wines that are made for near term to intermediate enjoyment (usually 5-8 years) and pair beautifully with foods that aren’t overly heavy.  More on that a little later.  In the Rose category, a mélange of lovely summer scents of watermelon, strawberry and tangerine are typically present.  If you’re fortunate enough to corner the fortified dessert wine from Banyuls, you’ll be treated to quite a treat with notes of dried cherry, fig, raisin, caramel, coffee and dark chocolate tempting your palate.

Grenache is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, the vines prolific in their production of fruit.  But it’s in France’s southern Rhone region, notably Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Rasteau, where vintners limit yields, that the grape best expresses itself in wines that are rich and expressive .  While southern Rhone regulations allow for up to thirteen grapes to be blended into their wines, there is no doubt that Grenache is the lead player, the grape often blended with the powerful and spicy Syrah, Mouvedre and Carignan to yield a gorgeously balanced wine with power, structure, delicious red and dark fruit and firm acidity.  Grenache also finds a home in the everyday Cotes du Rhone table wine, the wines actually consuming the majority of the Grenache harvest.  If you’re searching for an everyday Grenache based or blend, it’s hard to go wrong with a Cotes du Rhone.  Best yet, they’re very affordable and accessible.

In Spain, where the grape is known as Garnacha, it tends to be located mostly in the north and east, in regions such as Rioja, Navarra, Campo de Borja, Costers del Segre, La Mancha, Penedes (containing the infamous Priorat) and a few adjacent areas.  Often produced from craggy century old vines, the wines from Priorat are inky dark and full of spiced licorice, black plum, fig, and a hint of dried herbs.  The best, such the Mas Doix with a nearly equal blend of Garnacha and Carignan, have to potential to age for ten to fifteen years.  Garnacha is also blended with Tempranillo where it adds its rich red fruit to the blend.

Australia is a large source and home to Grenache, only second to Shiraz.  Especially outstanding are the wines from low yielding old vines in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions of South Australia.  The best wines have greatness written all over them exhibiting dense and muscular black plum, blackberry, dark cherry and at times, a faint and haunting eucalyptus scent.

While the United States hangs its hat on the “Rhone Rangers,” the sad fact is that the wines still struggle to gain a hold in the domestic wine market.  While the quality of wines overall has improved, much of the Grenache still ends up in generic wines.

Pairing Grenache Based Wine With Food:

When you think pure Grenache, think of a wine that’s soft, rich and velvety with expressive red and black fruit (raspberry “jam” aromas are classic), soft tannins and restrained acidity.  It’s an outstanding match for poultry such as turkey and quail and pairs well with mild cheeses such as Gouda, Jarlsberg, milder Fontina and mild cheddars.  Blended with the more tannic Syrah and Mouvedre, the wines take on a heftier personality, allowing them to go head to head with steaks, hearty stews, duck, pheasant and rich, tomato based pasta dishes.  In fact, the more Syrah or Mouvedre in the blend, the better the pairing with hefty dishes.
Roasted pork and lamb dishes are an excellent match, as well.   Imagine rosemary and peppercorn spiced lamb chops or a savory stew paired with Grenache or a blend.

The rose version of Grenache is simply beautiful and refreshing, showcasing a range of color from light salmon to dark raspberry red with aromas and flavors of cherry, watermelon and strawberry.  These delicious summer drinking delights are a perfect match for cooked shellfish such as crab, lobster or shrimp prepared either simply or spiced up with garlic, pepper or chorizo.  In fact, any seafood deep fried, such as clams, makes an outstanding match.  And peppercorn spiced tuna on the grill pairs ideally.  Summer fare is made for Rose.  Burgers, hot dogs, or barbecued ribs in a spicy sauce are perfectly balanced by a Grenache (or blend) rose and cold chicken or a cold cut sandwich is a summer natural!  But you don’t have to stop there.  Egg entrees or aperitifs such as deviled eggs make a beautiful match and a nice alternative to Sherry.  It’s amazing how underappreciated and versatile roses are.  The French figured this out eons ago.

The dessert version of Grenache, Banyuls, is a fortified wine and a heavenly match for dark chocolate.  But don’t stop at pure chocolate.  If you want a culinary experience, try chocolate covered cherries, raisins, figs or even dried oranges to accent the fruit component of the wine.  And cookies dipped in freshly melted dark chocolate, chocolate mousse or lava cake is simply amazing.  This is what pairing is all about, my friends.

Tell us what you like to pair with Grenache based wines and bon appétit….

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