Grenache - under the radar alternative to Pinot Noir

Cavaletti Vineyards
February 19, 2019

Is it Pinot Noir or Grenache?

I recently had the chance to join a blind wine tasting at a wine shop. I have no blind tasting superpowers, but was able to narrow down a lighter bodied and aromatic wine as being either Grenache or Pinot Noir. I guessed Pinot Noir. The wine was actually a 90 point Central Coast Grenache.  This experience got me thinking about how similar these varieties are.

Two weeks later I put on a blind tasting for some friends and I included a lighter styled Pinot in the lineup.  Everyone guessed it was Grenache.

This led me to the question – in a world where a large percentage of American wine drinkers love Pinot Noir why aren’t more people seeking out Grenache?

Grenache is the third most widely planted grape in the world, but most Americans don’t know that it exists. When I pour at an event people often ask, “What kind of wine is Grenache?” They don't ask the same question about Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir.

Another issue is that most Grenache producers have thought of Grenache primarily as a blending grape. Darkness of color is often considered a proxy for quality and Grenache often has body, but precious little color. As a winemaker the temptation is to blend in some Syrah, Mouvedre, Alicante, or Tempranillo to dial up the color. Here is the thing – Grenache is subtle, nuanced, and elegant. Those characteristics often disappear when another varietal is blended into it.

Finally, Grenache has a reputation as a warm climate workhorse. This unfortunately has led to the variety being planted everywhere, and some of those places don't make very interesting wines. Growers are re-examining this warm climate reputation and planting Grenache in more moderate climates with predictably better results.

The Case for Grenache

Grenache delivers value, pairs well with food, and great examples from around the globe.  A good bottle of Pinot Noir normally starts around $60 and climbs easily above the $100 mark, but exceptional varietal Grenache will seldom cost more than $50.  This alone should be a great reason for more lovers of light bodied wine to seek it out.

Grenache is one of the top choices for pairing with food.  The blend of spice and aromatics with the lower tannin profile make it a reliable wine for working with seafood, ethnic dishes, and subtler foods that can be overpowered by bolder wines.

France, Spain, Australia, and California all produce great examples of Grenache.  Having interesting choices from talented producers around the world is another great reason to grab a bottle of Grenache in your favorite wine store or to try a glass on a restaurant wine list.

The next time that you see a Grenache on a wine list or on a shelf take a chance. You won't be disappointed.