With origins in Spain, Grenache has long been a popular vine amongst European growers. It can be produced as a single varietal wine, or blended with others to produce wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, ‘GSM’, or even mixed with white grapes to produce roses. The high sugar content of the Grenache has made it an exceedingly popular wine for light drinkers, and it is used on a regular basis in fortified wines, and in Australia is the basis of almost all of its fortified wine production. With such a wide popularity, it might be expected that Grenache is a popular vine for South African growers, but in fact it makes up only a tiny percentage of the red wines grown there.
It is hard to find reasons for the lack of Grenache grapes within South Africa, although the popularity of the grape is considerably lower in the Southern Hemisphere, where Chateauneuf is not drunk as extensively as in Europe. However, the grape itself is a good, strong grower, although it can be affected by mildew and rot. A bigger preventative may be the growing requirements, since Grenache often needs hot, windy areas with very dry soils. This may not be the best vine to grow in South Africa, which often experiences cold, wet springs and autumns when the Grenache is producing its fruit. Its tendency to growing very tight bunches of grapes, along with a woody vine, is also likely to make it unpopular in areas of South Africa where mechanical viticulture is used.
South Africa’s Grenache growers do have an opportunity to celebrate their vines, with the International Grenache day celebrated every year, but it seems that it is just not as appreciated as it could be. One of the problems may be that Grenache is simply used too often in blends for growers to realise that it can also make a great wine by itself. In fact, it is used in combination with most of its relatives from the Northern Hemisphere, including Shiraz and Cinsaut, but it does so in such a subtle and gentle way that drinkers may not even realise that Grenache is part of the mix. Wine blenders use Grenache excessively due to the sweetness and lack of acidity in the grape, and a rather pleasing fruity flavour that serves as the background to stronger wines.
Wine drinkers searching for this wine may find it very difficult to locate a good Grenache. Picking a good blend such as the Forrester Grenache Shiraz blend may be a suitable alternative. This mix uses almost 50% Grenache, so the character of the wine can be seen here. Another version is the Black Rock Carignan/Shiraz/Grenache mix from the Swartland region. This blend combines three grapes to produce a deeply fruity and rich wine, and is particularly good since the wines have been fermented separately before being brought together along with blackberries, prunes, raspberries, apricots and peppers, along with a dash of tobacco to increase the smoky flavour of this mix.