Varietal has its day in the sun

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 September, 2011, 12:00am


Tomorrow wine lovers across the world will have the chance to celebrate an apparently underrated grape. The second International Grenache Day will see winemakers, importers and lovers of the variety taking part in various events to bring it wider publicity.

Is this just a cynical marketing ploy? Maybe, but nonetheless it has the backing of some heavyweight independent commentators.

Although master of wine and leading writer Jancis Robinson tells the South China Morning Post that 'I feel we are getting too many grape days nowadays for them to be effective', she adds that 'the first Grenache Day last year was extremely effective'.

She does seem to be a supporter of the grape, though: 'I do feel grenache - unlike cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo, both of which had 'days' on September 1 - deserves more attention.'

So why are those in the grenache know so keen to get the grape more publicity? What are we missing out on? 'Grenache's medium colour, inherent raspberry fruitiness and soft tannins are beautifully suited for much of our Cantonese cuisine,' says master of wine Debra Meiburg. '[But] grenache is always the bridesmaid, never the bride.'

The grape is probably best known for its role in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, from the southern Rhone Valley in France. However, not only is the grape supplemented by up to 13 other, tougher varieties in that blend, but it is also rarely even mentioned on the bottle. Labelling traditions and regulations combine to keep 'grenache behind closed doors', says Meiburg.

'Rhone producers don't bother to mention the grenache variety on their back labels - let alone the front,' she adds.

Producers in Spain and the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in Australia have been keener to promote the blend. In Spain, called garnacha, it most famously appears in the high-end wines of the Priorat region. It is one of the country's most widely grown varieties.

Grenache was one of the first grapes grown in Australia, where winemakers are extremely up front about the grapes in their bottles. A wine that impressed Meiburg when she judged the McLaren Vale Wine Show in 2009 was the McLaren GSM, a blend of grenache, shiraz and mourv?dre.

Fans of the grape have become increasingly frustrated that Rhone Valley producers, an area divided into remote sub-regions by geography and in which producers rarely co-operate to market their brands, are not using the clout of being a French region to give the variety the brand awareness of Bordeaux or Burgundy wines.

In summer last year, a group of winemakers from around the world met with growers, journalists, merchants, wine opinion-makers and scientists to see how more wine lovers could be converted.

In fact, they concluded that the best way to promote wines from the grape was to ignore regions of origin and use simple ideas to raise awareness. Celebrations are marked on a Google map and include promotions at restaurants such as wine-by-the-glass events or wine dinners. In honour of Australian winemaker Chester Osbourne of D'Arenberg, known for his loud shirts, participants are encouraged to wear splashy attire.

'Even the most conservative attendees agreed - after a glass or two,' says Meiburg.

While most celebrations are in Australia, France and Spain, events are planned for places as far flung as Helsinki, Finland, a boat in the South Atlantic, a ranch in Colorado and the trendy Ku De Ta in Bali.

To mark the day in Hong Kong, you can get 20 per cent off all grenache purchases from tomorrow to Sunday at Voice Wine (shop 60, The Pacifica Mall, Lai Chi Kok) or have a glass at Michelin-star FoFo by el Willy (20/F, M88, 2-8 Wellington Street, Central). Or open a bottle at home. 'But be sure to serve it slightly chilled,' says Meiburg.