Going solo and doing just fine… Interesting single-varietal Grenache proffered by growing number of top SA wine cellars not content with blended wines only

Neil Ellis Estate_041 - Tasting Room 2015 (cropped)

An artist’s impression of the Neil Ellis cellar complex, home of highly-rated wines including Grenache

COULD wine lovers take a big liking to South African red wines made solely from Grenache? It’s early days still, but notable how many leading cellars in the Cape have warmed to this variety, widely planted in Spain and France, typically used in Rhône-style, Shiraz-led blends but also making for very respectable single-varietal wines. That SA Grenache on its own can be rather good, there’s little doubt, however to become more than niche is a big ask. Or not?

Spice Route Grenache 2013 (label) 2

Grapes from Malmesbury. A taste profile that will appeal to many wine lovers. R110 pb in Paarl

For years, Altydgedacht of Durbanville was the only local cellar bottling a wine made from the Italian grape variety Barbera. Of late, the Merwida outfit near Rawsonville has enjoyed some success with their version, yet the category seems destined to remain on the sidelines. On another front, until recently many thought Cinsaut (French) unsuitable for seriously good stuff from the Cape – often somewhat rough, good quaffing at best. That was until Eben Sadie upped the ante with his ‘Pofadder’, and then others including Adi Badenhorst (also outside Malmesbury), Stellenrust and MAN Vintners (both in Stellenbosch) entered the fray. No fireworks yet though…

TOKARA Limited Release Grenache- NV (label)

Grapes from Hemel-en-Aarde. “Floral… fruit pastilles… a herbal note…” R250 pb

And these aren’t the only reds confined to the collection of curiosities unlikely to develop a significant fan base as single varieties under a South African banner, despite some exceptional bottlings here and there from time to time: e.g. Malbec, a French (Bordeaux) cultivar usually best used in blends, outside Argentina that is; e.g. Mourvèdre (French), a Rhône-style blend component that Bot River’s Beaumont and others have tried to make a thing of; e.g. Nebbiolo and Sangiovese (both Italian), which Somerset West’s Morgenster, Bottega/Idiom and others would argue are not just for dabbling with; e.g. Petit Verdot (French), typically more at home in Bordeaux-style blends, although there have been a number of performances to the contrary from KWV in Paarl.

Saronsberg Grenache 2012 (label)

Grapes from Malmesbury. “Ripe cherry… fynbos and spice… violets…” R120 per bottle

But Grenache – or Grenache Noir, to differentiate the red grape from the white Grenache Blanc, or Garnacha, as they might call it in Spain – could be a different story. The number and calibre of cellars now fielding a Grenache in their range is rising year after year. Small, boutique and artisnal cellars as well as the large Distell group and some of the country’s top independent wineries are among the participants. A case of gaining traction, you could argue, with the following wines from top cellars receiving particularly good reviews during the past couple of years:

David Grenache 2012
Diemersdal Grenache 2013
Nederburg Private Bin Grenache 2009
Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Grenache 2010, 2011
Saronsberg Grenache 2011
Soldaat 2013 (Sadie)
Spice Route Grenache 2012
Tierhoek Grenache 2010
Vriesenhof Grenache 2013


Neil Ellis Grenache Label - jpg (cropped)

Grapes from the mountain vineyards of Piekenierskloof, west of Citrusdal. “Perfumed and spicy with rich plum…” R275 pb

Of all the SA Grenache producers, Neil Ellis of Stellenbosch has the best track record over the past 10 years with five vintages highly rated. And there is now plenty to choose from, with the following cellars having joined the ranks: David Sadie (Malmesbury), Diemersdal (Durbanville), Nederburg (Paarl), Saronsberg (Tulbagh), Eben Sadie (Malmesbury), Spice Route (Malmesbury/Paarl), Tierhoek (Piekenierskloof), Vriesenhof (Stellenbosch), Tokara (Stellenbosch), as well as AA Badenhorst (Malmesbury), Painted Wolf (Paarl), Lynx (Franschhoek), Waverley Hills (Ceres/Tulbagh) and Zevenwacht (Kuils River).

Diemersdal Estate Grenache NV (label)

Durbanville grapes. “Plums and cherries… hints of spice, smokiness…” R110 per bottle

In a casual Top Wine SA tasting involving Grenache vintages from Diemersdal (2013), Neil Ellis (2011), Saronsberg (2012), Spice Route (2013) and Tokara (2012), Spice Route was the favourite of the majority, followed by Neil Ellis, and all were deemed interesting. Assessing the wines without knowing the identities of the cellars or the variety, a couple of tasters felt that some of the wines reminded them of Pinot Noir, one suggested Shiraz. And when the labels were revealed, some people commented that the wines were lighter, more medium-bodied than what they’d expected of Grenache.

Perhaps limiting the pace of growth are the small plantings in terms of Grenache as a percentage of the national vineyard and the belief among certain cellarmasters that the more interesting expressions tend to depend on age – the grapes from which the Neil Ellis originates come from vines that are around 60 years old. Rarity usually equates to costly, but maybe the increasing number of players coming to the party will tip the scales… A case of watch this space!