Grenache blends; the perfect balance of power, personality and presence
Blends of grenache, shiraz and mouvedre (mataro) are extremely popular amongst Australian wine consumers and wine producers are adding the style to their cellar lists in abundance.
The spiritual home of these blends is the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC in the southern parts of France’s Rhone Valley where the Mediterranean climate is ideally suited to these key varietals. Unsurprisingly, given the similarity of climate in areas like McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley and Fleurieu Peninsula, Australian wineries are making excellent examples of the style – albeit with regional variations.
Over in the southern Rhone, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation earned its name from the home of Pope John XXII who moved to Avignon in the fourteenth century. Literally translated, the name means “new home of the Pope” and the pontiff wasted no time in indulging in his love of wine, having quickly planted papal vineyards.
Modern day wine-blending rules require that wines from the AOC be produced from only 18 different varietals. However, in practice, they are dominated by grenache and most have at least a moderate amount of shiraz and mouvedre.
In Australia, most of our examples of the famous papal blend tend to have more shiraz than grenache – although there are exceptions. In the Barossa, winemakers tend to prefer to make blends that are dominated by shiraz while in McLaren Vale, you’ll find a few more that are made in the grenache-focused Rhone way.
I may be biased, and as much as I love the French GSM blends, the local blends offer much better value. If you have $75 to spend, the Samuel’s Gorge “Mosaic of Dreams” from McLaren Vale is music to your taste buds and one of the best around. On a lower shelf, and at the $40 – $45 price point, Torbreck’s “The Steading” is great value if you prefer the Barossa’s fruit-forward style.
There are also plenty of Aussie GSM blends at a more wallet-friendly price point. Henschke Henry’s 7 is the iconic Barossa winemaker’s version of the Rhone Valley’s famous blend of grenache shiraz and mourvèdre (mataro). Rather than create a blend that is grenache dominant, the Barossarians blend with their regional strength by allowing the shiraz to do the heavy lifting in a fusion of shiraz (72%) , grenache (13%), mataro (12%)and viogner (3%) – at least in their 2020 vintage.
The depth of colour to the Henschke blend makes it obvious that this isn’t a real Rhone native. The ruby-esque hue in the glass is a far cry from most of the bricky Châteauneuf-du-Papes that I’ve sampled. That said, on the nose, there’s plenty of the “garrigue” herbal notes of sage and lavender that are typical of the Froggy version. Through the middle, the juicy plum and blackberry characters really begin to explode in earnest – like grenades of piquant red fruits wrapped in cedar and spice, unloading in waves, as the wine passes through the back palate. The herbaceous and scrubby edge to the finale is unoffensive thanks to the naturally bright acidity of the youthful fruit along with the fine tannins which constrain the once boisterous fruit.
It’s a perfect drop for those who enjoy a Barossa shiraz yet struggle with the jamminess that so often overbears the meal it’s lubricating. At $30 – $35 a bottle I reckon it’s good value – almost as generous as the fruit itself!