Though the grenache varietal has been around for centuries and is the second most widely planted grape in the world, its popularity and recognition lag far behind cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and syrah (shiraz).
France, Spain and Australia are the primary producers of grenache, and the United States is starting to see some growth in its grenache plantings, too.
Grenache, due to its highly perfumed aroma, is popular in blends, usually with syrah and mourvedre grapes. This happens most in France's Southern Rhone region, where Chateauneuf de Pape is famous.
Grenache, however, is increasingly finding a foothold as a feature varietal. Old vineyards in Australia and Spain are producing some world-class red wines from grenache. Some are expensive and some are the best bargains you'll find on the market.
The scent of grenache is of strawberry, cherry and currant fruit that evolve into anise, pepper and spice flavors.
Grenache has a soft, refined and elegant texture and gentle, fine tannins. Think of it as a warm-climate pinot noir. It is sexy, hedonistic, soft and sensual, but not in an overt fashion.
What makes grenache particularly interesting is its versatility with food.
It pairs well with traditional meats (steak, lamb or pork chops), slightly spicy foods (Thai), grilled or smoked foods, tomato sauce dishes (pasta, pizza and chili) and fowl (chicken and duck).
Here are some good examples:
2001 Beckmen Grenache ($23): Beckmen is one of the pioneers and key producers of grenache in California. Beckmen is very consistent in every vintage, a very safe pick.
2002 Ross Estate Grenache ($21.99): Old vines tend to produce the most outstanding grenache wines and Ross Estate has vineyards more than 75 years old. Made by Rod Chapman, who has 18 years experience making Penfolds Grange, Ross Estate is one of the up-and-coming stars of Australia.
2001 Artazuri Red ($10.99): Spain is the value frontier of grenache (known as garnacha), with so many interesting and affordable bottlings. Spain tends to produce bold and fruity grenache coupled with spicy American oak.
Jay Kam is president of Vintage Wine Cellar.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org