As we bid fair-well to Summer and winter fast approaches, the need for comforting stews and casseroles rumbles in our stomachs.
While we reluctantly let summer go, I for one prefer the food and wine of winter months purely because it gives us all an opportunity to get stuck into some ballsy, serious reds and broader whites that face up to it’s more hearty fair.
Wine after all is made for food; it enhances and changes its flavour profile, making perfect sense to pair one with the other. A great source of inspiration and understanding of this co-dependant relationship for me, comes from a particular old-world wine region – The Rhone Valley. The southern Rhone benefits from constant sun and limestone laden soils well suited to red varieties like Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and for the whites Grenache Blanc and Clairette, to name just a few of the grape varieties that form this region’s wines.
In this land nature is generous and provides a rich source of delicious colourful produce. Fruit aroma’s of peaches, apricots and melons radiate and fuse with thyme, rosemary, lavender and honey nuances. And it is the comforting slow cooked and braised dishes that best suit the warm Grenache dominated wines of the region. Packed with all that sweet fruit, sunshine, spice and a savoury edge that marries superbly with meaty, gamey flavours of which hare, partridge and wild boar spring to mind.
Grenache is a wonderful variety which is very underrated, it especially shines when it’s produced from old, low yielding vines found in the southern Rhone, giving that extra degree of concentration and oomph needed for the grape to excel. Because of its pale and light colour, you would be forgiven to think the wine does not pack a punch…. but it does. The alcohol levels this grape produces sometimes exceed 15.5 degrees, which is testament enough! The wines are medium to full-bodied and ooze with aromas that just make you want to get stuck in. Aromas of candied, juicy raspberries and cherries with characteristic notes of cinnamon spiced hot-cross buns mingle with smokey, herbal, tobacco notes. The rather tough, edgy tannins and a wee spike of acidity work well with the aforementioned meaty dishes.
A great example that captures all of this is the 2010 Gigondas by Chateau Saint Cosme. This estate, situated in the village of Gigondas, has been in the Barruol family since 1490 and the 15 hectares of vines they own average at 60 years old. The current custodian, Louis Barruol is the 14th generation to work this land.
The unique microclimate of this estate provides the perfect conditions for late ripening as it’s cooler than the surrounding areas, giving the grapes extra hang-time on the vines. The resulting wines are balanced, with a muscular minerality, lively acidity and taught tannins ensuring they have the necessary building blocks to age gracefully.
The 2010 Gigondas is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 18 % Mourvedre and 2 % Cinsault. The 2010 vintage is characterised by freshness, giving structure and finesse to the wine.
A nose of cherry, strawberry and spicy gingerbread notes repeat on the palate. The tannins are taught, giving a solid wine with definition that delights and definitely needs to be laid down for 5 years before the full spectrum and harmony of this offering can be experienced.
South Africa has some wonderful examples of Grenache/Grenache based wines too. Neil Ellis make a stunner from grapes sourced from old vines in the Piekernierskloof region near the town of Citrusdal (Cape West Coast). Eben Sadie’s ‘Soldaat’ from his Old vine series is another great example of the merits Grenache has to offer.
Being a late ripening variety, Grenache needs plenty of sunshine to ripen fully, but the emphasis is more on sun rather than heat. The sugar levels can climb fast when temperatures are high, which results in flabby wines that lack definition and are uncomfortably high in alcohol. So as we prepare for the colder months, let us take comfort in knowing that we still can enjoy a glass of sunshine and bring warmth to any occasion.