This week we’ll discuss one of my go-to wines for the barbecue grill. I was inspired by last weekend’s Memphis in May barbecue competition, where a couple hundred smokers were gathered together in one place. Just needed a good red to go with it.
Try a new wine this week!
Grenache has always been one of my favorite grapes. For something that’s out of the mainstream, it’s grown around the world, from France to Spain to Australia and many other places. You can find it in some of the world’s best-known red blends, and other times it’s bottled on its own. And it’s great with grilled meats, a good reason to try some now.
My favorite experience with grenache and grilled meats was near the Spanish town of Calatayud, at a restaurant surrounded by extremely stony, high-altitude grenache vineyards. Mountain peaks surrounded them, providing a picture perfect backdrop outside the restaurant windows. Inside, I had a long lunch, with many dishes cooked over an open fire. I don’t recall the entire menu, but I won’t soon forget the rabbit, lamb and pork. And the old-vine grenache.
Grenache tends to have a deep color and a smooth, food-friendly texture, with “red fruit” flavors reminiscent of strawberries and raspberries. It can vary with the climate and winemaking style, as can any good red, from medium- to full-bodied. Those Calatayud vineyards had ancient, stumpy vines that yielded few grapes, but intensely flavored ones. (Calatayud is between Madrid and Barcelona, not far from Zaragoza.)
Like most much-loved wine grape varieties, grenache came from France (though Spaniards may not agree). In the southeast it’s used for two very different wines. It plays a large role in Tavel Rosé, a wonderful dry rosé, as well as in nearby Chateauneuf-du-Pape, that great, typically long-lived, and often expensive red blend of up to thirteen different grape varieties.
And in Australia there are lots of “bush vine” grenache vineyards. I haven’t seen them, but can easily picture them in my mind. And I’ve had the wines a lot, especially the well-known blend of grenache-syrah-mourvedre. Oftentimes only the initials are used.
One blend that I found last year, and have enjoyed around the barbecue recently, is from southern Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. Rock Point “River Rock Red” is a blend of one-third grenache with some merlot and cabernet franc, and a very small amount of syrah and cabernet sauvignon adding a touch of complexity. Its deep color belies a smooth finish, with flavors of cherries and spice in between. It retails in the $10-$15 dollar range.
River Rock Red contains 34% grenache/24% merlot/23% cabernet franc/10% cabernet sauvignon/9% syrah. Southern Oregon’s longer, warmer summers allow these Rhone and Bordeaux varieties to fully ripen.