Grenache, perhaps the world's most widely planted wine grape, travels under a whole codebook of aliases: In Spain, it's called Garnacha and appears in reds from Rioja and Priorato; in Sardinia, it's known as Cannonau; and in the Rhône Valley of France, it's the dominant grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-du-Rhône and Gigondas. At its best, Grenache produces dense, supple reds with flamboyant aromas of pepper, spices, chocolate and black plum. Grown from Israel to Australia, it should be celebrated and famous. So why does The World Atlas of Wine call it simply "a regional grape" that is "pale, sweet, ... useful for rosé"?
AN UNDERESTIMATED GRAPE The main problem with Grenache is that it's just too easy to grow. Around the world, and especially in Spain and southern France, Grenache is often wildly overcropped, yielding vast quantities of mediocre fruit that is indeed suitable only for (cheap) rosé and gives little hint of the grape's potential.
AN UNDERVALUED WINE The best Grenache wines taste delicious immediately, which can lower their price in a snob-driven market that dictates any wine drinkable in its youth can't be great.
A FOOD-FRIENDLY RED Grenache is red winelover's wine. Its juiciness and lush fruit mingle gorgeously with grilled and smoked meats, and its sheer gusto gives it the fortitude for pairing with burgers, steak and lamb.
10 Great Bottles
1999 Argiolas Costera ($12) The progressive team of Franco and Giuseppe Argiolas have turned this Sardinian winery into a great source for velvety, supple bottles such as this lmost-all-Cannonau Costera.
2000 Bodegas Borsao Borsao ($6) One of the world's great wine bargains, this lively Spanish red is unoaked to showcase its blossomy fruit.
2000 Bonny Doon Vineyard Clos de Gilroy ($12) Named in honor of California's great garlic festival, this wine is a spicy, medium-bodied, garnet-colored Grenache blend that's suitable for chilling.
2000 M. Chapoutier Belleruche ($11) A lively, fruity, easy-drinking but rather sophisticated southern Rhône red from a producer better known for high-end bottlings.
1999 D'Arenberg The Custodian ($23) This chewy, gorgeous wine comes from some of the oldest Grenache vines (115 years old) in Australia.
1999 Domaine Les Pallières Gigondas ($33) From a Rhône winery with an all-star ownership (the Brunier family of Vieux Télégraphe and importer Kermit Lynch), this cherry-scented red is polished and silky.
1999 Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel ($22) While this luscious, full-bodied California Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend may be hard to find (only 700 cases were made), it's worth searching for.
1999 Les Cailloux Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($30) This nuanced and powerful Grenache-based blend is a special selection made by its importer, Robert Kacher.
2000 Vinicola del Priorat Ònix ($10) A blend of Grenache and the local Spanish grape Cariñena, this Priorato red is marked by complex aromas of herb, spice and black cherry.
2000 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache ($15) Made by one of Australia's leading family-owned wineries, this dense wine, made from very old vines, is marked by a striking pepper-clove aroma.