Grenache is a variety which still battles for the status of a serious wine in most countries. This is despite the fact that well made Grenache is an excellent food wine. When one feels to to drink a red wine with Asian food, for example, Grenache is my first choice because of the generally lower tannin levels.
The poor reputation stems from a couple of decades ago, when the Rhone region produced very high yield, cheap Grenache, which tasted predominantly like lollipop. We know these times are over, and this tasting provided further proof. A surprising outcome was that the cheaper wines tasted were just as interesting or even better than the expensive wines. I am listing the wines in ascending order of price.
2009 Cien y Pico Tintorera. This cheap Grenacha from south of Madrid was surprisingly complex with savoury and earthy flavours dominant. The mouthfeel was not that great, but this cannot be expected for the price (89 points).
2013 Head Old Vine Grenache. This wine was matured in large 2000 litre used oak barrels and therefore has seen very little oak. The wine is red fruit dominant and quite balanced, but not very intense (89 points).
2012 Head Old Vine Grenache. This is a much stronger wine from the great 2012 vintage. This wine was stored in 500 litre oak barrels and the oak is more noticeable here. However, the fruit is very intense and more than matches the oak. There are smoky characters in this wine, but it is very elegant and well integrated (90% Grenache, 10% Shiraz). For me, the wine of the night (93 points).
2008 Montirius Cotes du Rhone. This wine had some rough edges. A blended wine, clearly entry level (86 points).
2011 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Rouge. This GSM blend comes from Paso Robles, California. It is an elegant and balanced wine with licorice flavours strong, and firm tannins. Again, the mouthfeel is a little lacking (91 points).
2011 Tablas Creek Espirit Rouge. This is the premium wine. Raspberry flavours dominate, and there is more fruit concentration, but the finish is surprisingly short (90 points).
2013 Head Ancestor Grenache. The first 100% Grenache made by Alex Head. The fruit comes from Eden Valley (as opposed to the Old Vine Grenache, where it comes from the Barossa Valley). The aroma is strong. There is raspberry on the pallet, but also a strong confectionery flavour, which I found off-putting. On the plus side, the wine is intense, smooth and finishes with silky tannins (91 points).
2011 Domaine de Marcoux CNDP. This Chateauneuf-du-Pape is based on 80% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. It shows red fruit characteristics and is quite complex with good length. It is slightly earthy on the finish and will develop secondary characteristics over time (92 points).
An interesting aspect of the tasting was that it would not have been easy to pick the country of origin of these wines, although the Australians were a bit more fruit focussed.