This summer, I went to a wedding and was served the most delicious homemade Indian food I’ve ever tasted. I filled my plate with buttery chicken makhani, smoky tandoori, and a huge variety of spicy curries. The bride and groom provided two different alcoholic beverages to pair with the food: lager beer and Grenache. I’ll admit that when I saw Grenache on the menu, I was a little skeptical. I wasn’t sure how the wine’s flavors would interact with all of the complex spices in the meal. To my surprise, however, the Grenache blend the couple chose perfectly complemented the food. The fruitiness of the Grenache played well with the creamier dishes on the table, while the spicy notes in the wine enhanced the food’s smoky paprika and cardamom flavors. Grenache and Indian food is now one of my favorite pairings.
While certain Grenache wines pair very well with Indian food and other types of spicy cuisine, overall, Grenache food pairings can be difficult to get right. That’s because Grenache tends to be low in acid and high in alcohol, with prominent tannins and oak flavors, all of which can overpower lighter dishes. However, when you strike the right balance between the wine and the food, a successful Grenache food pairing is one of the most satisfying tasting experiences you’ll ever have. This guide will provide some tips for how to think about pairing food with Grenache wine, whether it’s aged Châteauneuf-du-Pape or young Côtes-du-Rhône.
Pairing Grenache with Rich, Bold Foods
I’ve met a number of wine enthusiasts who are afraid to pair Grenache blends with rich foods like stews or curry because they believe the wine is too low in acidity to cut through the high fat content in these dishes. While it’s true that Grenache is generally much lower in acidity and higher in alcohol than other food-friendly wines like Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, this wine variety can still beautifully complement a rich, hearty dish if the wine and food are carefully matched. Here are a few Grenache food pairings that you can try for yourself:
- Stews and Goulash: Choose full-bodied styles of Grenache to pair with tender, slow-cooked pork, braised lamb, or root vegetable stews. The bold fruit flavors in the wine balance the fat content in meat-based stews and add complexity to dense vegetarian dishes. New-World Grenache, like 2010 Sine Qua Non Grenache Five Shooter, is a great choice for stews and goulash, as it has a layered complexity that can stand up to these hearty dishes. Some Australian wines like 2002 Torbreck Grenache Les Amis and Washington wines like 2012 Cayuse Grenache God Only Knows are other excellent New-World options.
- Game Meat: The spiciness and bold fruit in Grenache make it an excellent pairing with game meat such as wild boar, rabbit, or venison. Lighter meats like rabbit pair best with elegant and aromatic Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe blends. More robust meats like venison pair better with Grenache-based wines from Priorat (which are bolder and even more fruit-forward than Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe). A bottle of 2010 Clos Mogador, with its intense dark berry flavors and smooth tannins, beautifully complements lean red game meat. Other options are 2000 Costers Del Siurana Dolç de L’Obac and 2002 Clos Erasmus Priorat.
- Spicy Dishes: What makes Grenache so special is that it’s one of the few grape varieties that can pair well with spicy foods like curry, mole sauce, or bulgogi. The peppery flavors in the wine complement the heat in traditional Indian, Korean, Sichuan, and Mexican cuisine. Grenache blends pair especially well with dishes containing paprika and chipotle, as these spices have a smoky quality that matches the smokiness in Grenache. However, only pair Grenache with dishes that are lightly-spiced–too much heat will overpower the palate and will be accentuated by the alcohol in the wine. Look for Spanish Grenache-based blends like 2015 Alvaro Palacios L’Ermita Velles Vinyes, which is vibrant, citric, and peppery enough to stand up to spicier cuisine. 2008 Espectacle Del Montsant is also a great pairing for spicy foods.
The key to finding the right Grenache food pairing for boldly flavored dishes like the ones above is to select an older bottle of wine that has smooth, well-integrated tannins and that hasn’t spent much time in new oak barrels. Aged bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Grenache blends from Priorat fit this profile, as do high-quality New-World wines from producers like Sine Qua Non.
Pairing Grenache with Lighter Foods
While there are many complex, age-worthy Grenache wines on the market, this isn’t the only style of Grenache that pairs well with food. Producers from the Côtes-du-Rhône typically make easy-drinking, Grenache-based wines that are meant to be drunk young and pair perfectly with many kinds of food. Whenever I’m invited to a barbecue, I bring a young Grenache blend from the Côtes-du-Rhône because it’s the perfect complement to nearly every dish on the table. Everything from macaroni salad to grilled salmon is improved by this versatile style of Grenache. Here are some pairings for young, fruity Grenache:
- Grilled or Smoked Fish: Grenache-based wines usually overpower fish dishes, however, with the addition of smoke, the pairing becomes much more balanced. Fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna, and sea bass absorb more smoke flavor than leaner fish, making them a perfect match for a smoky young Grenache. You can even use oak wood to grill or smoke the fish, mimicking some of the oaked flavors in the wine. For this pairing, I enjoy young Côtes-du-Rhône blends like 2016 Le Clos du Caillou La Réserve, which is spicy and rich. If the fish is especially fatty, serve a wine like 2016 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée XXL, which is full-bodied and fruity.
- Grilled Vegetables: Like fish, vegetables are usually too subtle in flavor to pair well with Grenache, but grilling gives them enough intensity to stand up to this variety. Young New-World wines like the fruit-forward and finessed 2016 Booker Vineyard The Ripper go well with grilled vegetables such as eggplant, bell pepper, and zucchini. Or, try 2015 Horsepower Grenache Sur Echalas Vineyard or 2014 Alpha Omega Grenache/Syrah, both of which have floral qualities that complement vegetable dishes.
- Cheese Platters: Young, fruit-forward styles of Grenache from the Côtes-du-Rhône or California are the perfect complement to cheese platters and charcuterie boards. Unlike aged wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat, which overpower most types of cheese due to their intensity, young, easy-drinking Grenache wines are straightforward and fruit-driven, making them a perfect choice for cheese platters. My go-to pairing in this category is sharp cheddar and smoked gouda served alongside a bottle of 2012 Santa Duc Rasteau Les Blovac. Other excellent Grenache wines to pair with cheese are 2013 Ridge Grenache/Mataro Lytton Estate and 2013 Keplinger Basilisk.
A bottle of Grenache doesn’t have to be old to be enjoyable–in fact, young, approachable wines are sometimes easier to pair with food than wines with greater aging potential. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a few bottles of young New-World and Côtes-du-Rhône wine on hand.
Finding the Perfect Grenache Food Pairings for the Occasion
The key to finding the right Grenache food pairing is to match the fruit, smoke, and spice in the wine to the dish being served. The prominence of each of these flavors will vary depending on which other grapes, if any, are in the blend, as well as where the wine was produced and how it was made. The following is a basic guide to how Grenache is used in wines around the world:
- Southern Rhône Blends: The most common Grenache blend in the Rhône features a mix of Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre. If the wine has more Syrah, it will be more structured and intense in flavor. More Cinsault means it will taste more fruit-forward and lively. More Mourvèdre tends to give the blend a gamier taste, and more Grenache will make the wine taste smokier. Regardless of the proportions of the blend, French Grenache wines often have savory smoky, spicy, and herbal notes along with their fruitiness.
- Spanish Garnacha: A blend of Garnacha (the Spanish name for Grenache) and Tempranillo is common in Spain. The more Tempranillo the blend has, the more fruit-forward the wine generally is; the more Garnacha is in the blend, the spicier the wine will taste. Spanish Garnacha tends to be extra big and bold, with lots of red fruit flavors and fairly high alcohol levels.
- New-World Grenache: Producers in Australia and California make Rhône-inspired Grenache blends using Syrah and Mourvèdre. These grapes add intensity and gaminess to the wine, respectively. These wines are usually richer and more full-bodied than their French peers and don’t generally have the herbal flavors of Old-World Grenache.
As you can tell, pairing Grenache with food isn’t always easy, in part because this variety is so often blended with others, making the whole question of flavor profile a bit more complicated. The bottom line: if the wine is especially smoky, choose a dish that’s spiced with plenty of paprika or has been grilled. If the wine is fruity and lively, then pick a lighter dish to complement it, like grilled fish or vegetables. If the wine is spice-driven, consider serving a heavily-seasoned dish like a curry or Moroccan stew. Pairing Grenache with food is a delicious adventure that can reveal a lot about this unique grape variety and how it’s used in the wine world–fortunately for fine wine lovers, it might take some practice.