A strong case could be made that cabernet sauvignon is the world's greatest red wine grape.
It makes, arguably, France's most famous and usually most expensive red wines (Bordeaux); it is king in Napa Valley, and has been successfully grown around the world from New York to South Africa.
Fans of Burgundy would beg to differ, of course. Its grapes, like pinot noir, makes the most sublime, fascinating, and dramatic red wine — when it's great (which isn't often), they'd argue. Even though it's hard to make a great Pinot noir, many try to emulate great red Burgundy, including winemakers in Australia and New Zealand, California, and even Italy.
Two other nominees for greatest red grape come from Italy. Sangiovese-ites love Brunello, Chianti, and other wines from that grape; Nebbiolo-ists favor the greatness of that grape's star performer, Barolo.
And Australians and those from the Rh?e Valley would chime in with their nominee, syrah/shiraz, which makes the great wines of Hermitage and Aussie reds of power and longevity, like Grange.
Chances are that far down the ballot would be grenache, a less-well-known grape, but one with a precocious personality, the ability to make friends with all the above varieties, and an approachability that is hard to imagine.
Grenache, a prolific producer, is one of the world's most widely planted grapes, best known as a primary grape for the southern Rh?e Valley, where often it is the lead horse in the blended red wine Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
It also contributes to the best C?es-du-Rh?e and Gigondas wines, and is used as a superb blending grape in California for the so-called Rh?e blends.
It is also widely grown in Spain where, as Garnacha, it's a superb addition to many blends, and more recently has shown up as a varietal wine.
On its own, it can make a splendid ros? it can display a dramatic pink color and its fruit qualities are like maraschino cherries, ripe watermelon, and raspberry juice.
And as a red wine, its aromas can include black pepper, violets, blackberries and subtle earth spices, making it like no other grapes.
That almost no certified wine lover would nominate Grenache for a ballot of the top red grapes may be attributed to some bad use of it decades ago. Back then, a lot of this grape was planted in hot, arid regions and used primarily in some insipidly sweet pink wines that left wine lovers bored.
Also, Grenache is notorious for having a light color. Since the common "wisdom" lately is that best red wines are nearly pitch black, the reasoning goes, Grenache-based wines can't be all that great.
Don't tell that to members of the Completely Unofficial Grenache Cheering Society, of which I am the self-proclaimed Chairman for Life. For a dramatic entr? into this group, I urge newcomers to try this week's Wine of the Week.
<CF103>Wine of the Week:</CF> 2011 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache, Barossa ($20) — Traces of black pepper, violet, cherry, and subtle earth spices leap from a glass of this terrific Australian red. This young wine (it's less than 18 months old!) is loaded with flavor, has less tannin than just about any fine wine you could name, and has such dramatic drinkability that it probably will be all drunk up before it reaches its peak in 2-3 more years. A simply fabulous wine that displays all of Grenache's charms.