WINE / Grapevine

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GRENACHE (or, in Spanish, Garnacha) is a non-U grape. At best, it's middle-class in the South of France, but distinctly working-class in Spain, where it grows almost everywhere. Indeed, thanks to the enormous acreage in Spain, there are more Grenache vines than any other red vine in the world. The Spaniards are working away to replace it with the trendier Tempranillo vine, ignoring the fact that Garnacha/Grenache can make great wines as well as plonk. A little care in vineyard and cellar, and Grenache gives brilliant roses, fruity young reds, and meaty reds that can develop for years.

So for a taste of something different here are a few exciting examples made 100 per cent from Grenache. First, some excellent dry, fruity roses - roses for grown-ups: ***1993 Mount Hurtle South East Australian Grenache Rose ( pounds 4.95 Sainsbury's, pounds 4.99 Oddbins) was the wine that tempted me on to the Grenache trail, lovely and aromatic with soft raspberry and redcurrant flavours and a hint of smoke. ***1992 Domaine Massarnier, Grenache Rose, Vin de Pay d'Oc ( pounds 4.85 Bordeaux Direct with shops in Windsor, Beaconsfield, Bushey, Reading and Woking, and mail order from Reading) is a characterful, mouth-filling exception among French Grenache roses, with concentrated creamy, grassy flavours and crisp acidity. Also good from Navarra in northern Spain is **1992 Chivite Gran Feudo Rose Garnacha ( pounds 3.49 Oddbins), crisp and gently redcurrant-flavoured.

Oddbins discovered a wonderfully fruity batch of red Grenache languishing in the cellar of Randal Grahm, California's specialist in southern French grapes. Grahm normally blended his Grenache into other reds, but that year there had been a glut. It sold out, and now Grahm makes it specially for Oddbins. Watch the kick (13.9 per cent alcohol) from the current vintage, but **1992 The Catalyst, Bonny Doon ( pounds 5.99 Oddbins) is nonetheless very moreish, with its rich, very juicy blackberry and plum fruit. The place in Spain with a reputation for fine Grenache reds is Priorato, a wild, mountainous region of Catalonia. ***1988 Vi Negre Scala Dei ( pounds 4.99 William Low) weighs in at 13.5 per cent alcohol. It is made entirely from Garnacha, despite the claim for 20 per cent Cabernet on the label, and it's a brilliant, big red for this price, raisiny and quite tannic, with dark, concentrated fruit. (This same wine costs pounds 6.50 to pounds 7.50 from stockists other than William Low). Grenache ripens to such a high degree of sweetness that it's often made into vaguely port-style fortified wine in the 'New World', Spain and France. A lovely example is ***1980 Rivesaltes Vieux Reserve, Producteurs de Mont Tauch ( pounds 7.99 Wine Rack), a good value port substitute, soft and sweet with very good pruney, figgy fruit.

Star buy among real ports for drinking this winter is ******1979 Fonseca ( pounds 19.99 Safeway), tremendously concentrated, ripe, cedary, plummy and figgy. (It would also keep five years or so). The ****1978 Fonseca ( pounds 15.95 selected Sainsbury's) nearly scores five stars, also intensely cedary and plummy, with chocolatey depth. This one would benefit from a couple of years in the cellar. ****1982 Warres Quinta de Cavadinha ( pounds 13.49 Victoria Wine, pounds 15.25 Waitrose, pounds 16.99 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up), smoky, plum-and-blackcurrant fruity and herby, is brilliant value, as is the lovely, creamy, walnutty old tawny ***1985 Calem Colhelta ( pounds 10.99 Oddbins). LBV (Late Bottle Vintage) ports are supposed to taste like vintage port in miniature, but rarely do. Here are two well-made exceptions, left unfiltered to preserve their complexity and fruit: ***1987 Niepoort LBV ( pounds 9.75 Bibendum, Gauntley's of Nottingham), powerful, chocolatey and cedary, and ***1987 Ferreira LBV ( pounds 8.25 Gerry's of London W1, Winecellars of London SW18, pounds 8.99 Great Northern Wine Co of Leeds and Ripon, pounds 9.49 W H Brakspear of Henley-on-Thames), inky-dark, with tremendous plummy fruit. ***Tesco Australian Oak-Aged Tawny Liquor Wine ( pounds 6.99 Tesco) isn't port - because it doesn't come from Portugal - but soft, sweet and toffeed, with a long, minty, toasty aftertaste. If it were port, it would cost over pounds 10.

***** superb, **** complex and exciting, *** excellent, ** very good