Grenache - The Next Pinot Noir?

A Few Reasons I'm Betting On It!


Hindsight of course is 20/20, and looking back at the surge of popularity that Pinot Noir experienced over the past decade one can see some of the factors that helped to contribute to the grapes rise in fortune. Of course we all attribute a considerable impact to the movie Sideways, which glamorized Pinot Noir like no other grape before. Add to this the growing popular awareness of the so-called French paradox and the wine industry's passionate affair with Pinot Noir and you have all the pieces in place, save one: the consumer.

Now here's the funny thing. If you ask consumers what it is they like about Pinot they'll tell you a few things. The wines are fruity, they are also soft and easy to drink, or at least tend to be  in the most popular incarnations. The funny thing here is that this style, profitable as it may be, is not what has driven the passion of vintners for decades. No, there are very few winemakers out there dreaming of producing a fruity, easy to drink Pinot from fruit farmed on the flatlands in some back water appellation. The industry wants to make art, the consuming public by and large wants to drink something that's fun. Why raise this issue? Well, I think it may very well by the lynchpin that pulls the whole Pinot Noir train apart.
With the disconnect between producers and consumers inherent in Pinot Noir one has to think how long the Pinot wave can continue to grow. In fact I would say we've probably peaked, both at the bottom and top of the market. Too much cheap, crappy Pinot Noir is now being produced in marginal growing regions, and too much expensive, crappy Pinot Noir is being produced in what we have been lead to believe are the greatest appellations for the variety, like for example in that meaningless Sonoma Coast appellation that sprawls across more than half a million acres. Put succinctly, I believe we have already planted far more acres of Pinot than there are great acres of plantable land. It's not an uncommon situation. Just look at Cabernet, which is planted just about anywhere it'll grow and produces decent wines in many places, but great wines in but a few. We all know, because we've been repeatedly told by those in the know, that Pinot is an even bitchier grape, fickle and less adept at adapting to terroir that falls outside of it comfort zone.

So there we have it. We're making more of the light, fruity, low tannin easy drinking style of Pinot Noir that consumers want and winemakers are uninterested in because the market demands it. The market demands it to a certain extent because the industry has glamorized Pinot Noir, one of the world's truly noble varieties that is worshiped within the industry. Of course the two styles have very little in common, the commercial style of wine and the Grand Cru efforts, so why don't we fight for a change. I'll start. I've been rather vocal over the years about my general dislike, though dislike is perhaps to strong a term, for Grenache. It's a grape that does very little for me, but it is also a grape that can produce large volumes of fruity, low tannin, easy to drink wine. I drink a fair amount of this style of wine, though derived from Barbera, Dolcetto, and Sangiovese as opposed to Grenache. This is right for me and my palate but today I've come to take a stand for Grenache!

You see it has taken me some time, only about 30 years, to wrap my head around the concept of wine appreciation. Very few people give a damn about things like terroir, typicity, and the like; most people just want their wine to taste good. Pinot Noir is virtually built upon typicity and terroir, which, as I've suggested. may have helped add a certain appealing mystique to it. It also helps explain away why people may not like a specific Pinot, not that that is right or wrong, though it is more wrong than right. Let's face it, the people want what the people want, and we in the industry expend an awful lot of effort convincing them that a specific wine/region/brand is what they want. Well guess what. What they want is Grenache, fruity, almost candied, easy drinking, exuberant Grenache and the truth of the matter is that probably more than half of the Pinot vineyards in California are better suited for producing exactly that Grenache than Pinot!

So what we have is the perfect confluence of a market place clamoring for a style of wines that seems tailor made for Grenache. We also have thousands of acres of vineyards in California, not to mention around the globe, that are ideally suited for Grenache, a notoriously vigorous vine that is know to be a prodigious producer. All that's missing is the critical/industrial acclaim! That is building no doubt but there is a high degree of wine snobbism at play here, and of which I myself have been guilty. It's time to move beyond that, and with the industry's help we are. My recent visit to Santa Barbara's wine country was in no small part driven by an interest in Grenache from a region that has a well deserved reputation with the variety, and Rhone varieties in general. What I tasted just helped further convince me that Grenache's moment will come. It's time to let the wine drinking public out there know that a great Grenache is better than a crappy Pinot, and often the same price!

So with one eye on the not too distant Grenache Day 2013, Friday, September 20th I'm going to get the ball moving with this handful of reviews. I hope it encourages you to give Grenache a first, second, or third try. Grenache really has everything it needs to be the next Rockstar wine, what will it take to push it over that edge? I've included some Grenache based blends here as well and while that might make for a more interesting wine from the winemaker, or wine geek perspective I do not believe that these blends really will help broaden Grenache's consumer base. Syrah and Mourvedre just are too assertive and frankly interfere with the expression of Grenache's purity of fruit in my opinion. I see the future of Grenache, the success of Grenache based on that purity and accessibility. I see the future of Grenache as a varietally labeled wine.

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Top Grenache Tasted July 2013

Harrison Clarke Grenache Santa Ynez Valley Harrison Clarke Vineyard (2010)
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Martian Ranch & Vineyard Ground Control Grenache Noir (2011)
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Harrison Clarke Wine Sorellina Grenache Harrison Clarke Vineyard Purisima Hills (2009)
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Tercero Grenache Santa Barbara County Watch Hill Vineyard (2009)
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Zaca Mesa Cuvee Z (2009)
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Stolpman Grenache Santa Ynez Valley (2011)
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Tercero Cuvee Christie Santa Barbara County (2009)
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Martian Ranch & Vineyard Ground Control Grenache Noir (2012)
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Mentioned in this article


  • We have talked about Grenache before, and it can produce great wines (certainly the Rhone Valley shows that, as well as exceptional wines like La Petite Siberie). It works for me as both a lead in a blended wine (I prefer a balanced Roussillon blend of equal parts Grenache Syrah, Carignan), and as a varietal wine.

    I think several wine producing regions in the USA would do well in producing bodied, dark, and fruitful Grenache wines rather than attempting to make grapes produce good wines in regions and climates which are marginal to their requirements. Your points are well taken, and I support your revolution!

    BTW, I think places like Texas, 4th leading wine producer in the USA (and my home state), would fair far better pursuing the hot weather grapes of GSMCC than dabbling with Bordeaux grapes...just one opinion. :-)

    Aug 08, 2013 at 11:42 AM

  • Snooth User: vin0vin0
    Hand of Snooth
    357808 7,237

    During a trip to the central coast last January we found a lot of grenache/GSM blends being produced in Paso Robles. During a side trip to Los Olivos we also found Kaena Wine Co. ( doing several different grenache and grenache blend bottlings, all excellent stuff.

    Aug 08, 2013 at 12:35 PM

  • The Pinot from Villeneuve Vaude, in the Eastern part of Switzerland, has some serious and some absolutely fruity, fun, and chuggable choices. There aren't many to choose from, but they got it right.

    Aug 08, 2013 at 1:34 PM

  • Snooth User: Adroblaw
    962077 30

    Will Ca Grenaches sell at Ca prices in light of the wonderous and incredibally inexpensive Spanish products out there? I guess since CDP seems to sell out.

    Aug 08, 2013 at 2:02 PM

  • Snooth User: JustinHS
    1329828 1

    Hear hear! I think your initial view of Grenache is colored by the overcropped vines grown in CA Central Valley, and doesn't give credit for the amazing Garnachas from Northern Spain - Calatayud, Campo da Borja, Navarra, and Southern France especially the Roussillon and Southern Rhone. It is a great grape that can turn its hand to anything from modest to top-notch, depending on how it is cropped and vinified. Glad to see you have seen the light, and tip Grenache for the greatness it deserves!

    Aug 08, 2013 at 3:12 PM

  • But it will not be the next rock star. I have spent many years as a University level wine educator, wine journalist and sommeliere trying to get people to drink Grenache. They try it, they like it and that's the END of their Grenache experience. I did a proprietary survey of my students about Grenache and suffice it to say, it was not at the top, or even in the middle of their "Like List."

    Aug 08, 2013 at 3:42 PM

  • Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre--that's the great combination of the Rhone! I suspect that there are a good number of places where that would do well. The counties north of San Francisco seem to be a bit cool and rainy for the Rhone varieties; their climate approximates more that of the Bordeaux area. But it seems to me that the Rhone varieties ought to do very well indeed in the Monterey area--a little warmer, just a little less rainy.

    Aug 08, 2013 at 4:15 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 4,006

    There are plenty of places in California that grow Grenache already. As Justin mentioned, there's a lot of crappy jug wine made from Grenache grown in the Central Valley. There are also lots of places north of SF that can and do grow Grenache successfully. For instance, Unti in Dry Creek Valley is just a bit too warm for Syrah on its own, IMO, but their Grenache and their Petit Frere (a GSM) are quite good. Up in the Sierra Foothills, there are good Grenaches being produced as well. But I don't think it will catch on that big. For one thing, there's enough of the mediocre PN out there that the price is low and the brand recognition is high. Some folks don't like the herbal profile of Grenache or its strawberryish tendencies. Like my father--just not a fan. And there are so many imported Grenaches or blends at low prices that the industry sees little incentive to get into a low profit market like that.

    Aug 08, 2013 at 4:57 PM

  • True enough. Costco, under its Kirkland brand, sells a Cotes-du-Rhone Villages for $7. It's good; it's very good. So there's really not much of a market to encourage upper-end production in the US, when a good French one is available for $7, and as you say, the lower end is already active.

    Aug 08, 2013 at 5:17 PM

  • i love Grenache! Try Tablas Creek Vineyard 2010 Grenache from Paso Robles! Amazing!

    Aug 08, 2013 at 5:40 PM

  • Here's an article called "Grenache - Pinot noir of the South?" from last year

    Aug 09, 2013 at 8:29 AM

  • Grenache by itself has lots of promise because of its exuberant juiciness and body, but lacks something in color, acid, and structure. Blended with Rubired (for color), Trebbiano (for acid - taking a cue from Italy, where they don't hesitate to blend whites into reds), and Tannat (for tannin), it could really make a mark. GSMCC blends are based on nothing more than tradition in southeastern France. California already produces plenty of Rubired. Much of its land area is arguably better suited for growing Trebbiano and Tannat than Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. Strike the right proportions in the blend, and the market would probably follow. But it would take time.

    Aug 09, 2013 at 9:03 AM

  • Snooth User: johnmmoore
    170772 16

    If you can find a cool climate Syrah or Grenache, it's a completely different animal. I haven't had the chance to try many Northern Rhone wines, but regions in CA like Santa Rita Hills and Santa Lucia Highlands have wineries creating this type of Rhone red. There aren't a lot of cases produced, so they're less likely to be found in chain stores. And no, the masses aren't ever going to flock to this flavor profile. But for those who haven't considered just how different a cool climate Grenache or Syrah could be, seek them out. You could fall in love.

    Aug 09, 2013 at 2:57 PM

  • Try Bokisch Garnacha. . .out of Lodi. . .In a word: EXCELENTE!!!! (And, very Reasonably priced!!)

    Aug 09, 2013 at 3:54 PM

  • Snooth User: JPlasse
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1282591 160

    At Andis Wines in the Sierra Foothills, we love making Grenache and our customers love it too. Here's a fun short blog on how we are Getting to Great Grenache:

    Aug 14, 2013 at 1:25 PM

  • Snooth User: gerrad
    79282 57

    South Australia also produces some pretty excellent varietal and blended grenache styles, especially out of Adelaide Hills, McClaren Vale or Barossa. Try; Chapel Hill, d'Arenberg, Hewitson,Paxton and particularly the wines of former Penfolds head winemaker John Duval or the awesome rhone inflected output of Spinifex and of course the mercurial vinous gems that are the wines of Torbreck.

    Aug 17, 2013 at 5:03 AM

  • Snooth User: DuncFair
    107097 12

    Curious as to why you review Zaca Mesa's Z-Cuvee in a Grenache column but fail to review or even mention their 'straight' Grenache.

    Sep 20, 2013 at 3:28 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Simple answer. They didn't have any to taste while I was there. I tasted whatever was offered the day I visited the winery, with additional notes here:

    Sep 20, 2013 at 3:36 PM

  • Snooth User: DuncFair
    107097 12

    Ahh. Should have thought of that since I bought one of the last two cases available this season.

    Sep 20, 2013 at 3:56 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    So it's your fault! That is kind of funny. I'm guessing it's pretty darn good?

    Sep 20, 2013 at 4:09 PM

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