Every year I fall more in love with grenache - seduced by its juicy raspberry fruit, fragrant white pepper aromatics and intriguing juxtaposition of power and delicacy.
However, it remains a sadly underrated grape, something that the folks behind International Grenache Day this Friday would like to see remedied and are endeavouring to get a glass of grenache into more wine drinkers' hands on the 21st.
In France it's called grenache, in Spain it goes by the name of garnacha and in Sardinia it's known as cannonau and with significant amounts produced under its French moniker in Australia and the US, it's one of the most widely planted wine grapes in the world.
Though it may rank high in the varietal charts in terms of volume, when it comes to international prestige it's generally considered lowlier than so-called noble grapes, such as pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. True, its simplest examples can be a tad light and rustic, but given the attention it deserves and particularly off the old vines that concentrate its flavours, it can really get exciting.
Spain, where it's the country's most widely planted red, grows more of the variety than any other nation. Although historically overshadowed by Spain's flagship variety, tempranillo, its reputation was given a major boost in recent decades by the complex and intense examples coming from the Priorat region, which are now some of Spain's most sought after wines.
It's a warm climate-loving grape, which is why we see very little planted here, and why it's so well suited to hot spots in the likes of Spain. "Garnacha can turn warm weather into freshness and delicacy," states Spanish fan, winemaker Telmo Rodriguez.
In Australia - which boasts some ancient grenache vines - its potential has increasingly been recognised by high-profile winemakers, such as Stephen Pannell, who's made it the focus of his S C Pannell in the McLaren Vale.
"Garnacha makes great wine all over the world and is made in a climate similar to where we live," he notes. "I've found refinement and delicacy in the variety. In the past, power and intensity was regarded as important, whereas now we're looking for drinkability, which grenache has.
"We also need varieties that don't need as much water."
"Too bad for the snobs who don't want to touch grenache; says Rick Burge, who makes grenache at Burge Family Winemakers. "They're great value too," he adds.
Unfashionable status means good grenache and its blends can be found for less than $20.
In France, where grenache is widely planted in the Southern Rhone and Languedoc, the fact that it's largely part of a blend has kept it low-profile. For example, in Chateauneuf-du-Pape it may be a core component in many blends, but it's one of 13 varieties permitted. Despite this, domaines such as Chateau Rayas, which makes a 100 per cent grenache chateauneuf, prove it can be great as a stand-alone variety and also has the potential to age, something that has been questioned by its critics.
So this Friday if you've yet to experience the joys of grenache, why not give it a go? And if you're already a convert, International Grenache Day is encouraging people to get friends over for a glass or two to spread the word, or make sure they order a bottle with dinner. You can also link up with the international grenache loving community via twitter, using the hash-tag #GrenacheDay.
GREAT VALUE GARNACHA
Rojo Granrojo Garnacha, Valdepenas, Spain 2011 $14.99
Made from 40-year-old vines, this Spanish garnacha with its bright, juicy raspberry and blackberry fruit and hints of white pepper, spice and herb, illustrates the variety's ability to offer amazing value for money. (From Fine Wine Delivery Company, Farro Fresh, Liquorland, branches of New World, Glengarry, First Glass, Point Wines, Primo Vino and other independent wine stores.)
Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, France 2010 $21.99
A Grenache-dominant blend with ripe, fresh and mouth-filling dark berry and black plum fruit, a touch of food-friendly tannins and an attractive earthy, stony and spicy undercurrent. (From Caro's.)
d'Arenberg Sand Hills McLaren Vale Grenache 2010, Australia 2010 $89.95
Historic McLaren Vale winery, d'Arenberg - which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year - has got so enthusiastic about grenache that it's just released three stellar sub-regional expressions. The Sands Hill is my pick, with its pretty, lifted raspberry fruit, minerally undertones and fabulously silky texture. (Available on order from independent retailers.)