Grenache and Food Pairing

Ingredients and Styles

Red, rosé, and fortified dessert wines made from Grenache pair very differently with food, so I discuss them one at a time.

Red Grenache is distinguished by a rich, velvety texture, opulent berry and black-grape fruit, and soft, mild tannins. In some respects it resembles Gamay, but Grenache has more alcohol and significantly lower acidity. Pure varietal Grenache is soft and quite flexible, but it won't pair well with foods that require tannin in the wine to stand up to their protein, such as thick steaks, peppery stews, or heavy pastas. If it's blended with Syrah, Grenache can engage those types of dishes too, as with a good Vacqueyras or Châteauneuf-du -Pape. Unblended Grenache is magnificent with poultry, especially milder birds like chicken, game hen, turkey, and quail. As a blend, it will stand up to gamier squab, duck, or pheasant. It also pairs well with a range of cheeses.

Less tannic styles can be delightful with fish. It is easy to enjoy light Grenache-based reds with seafood paella, cioppino, even bouillabaisse, all of which also pair well with Grenache rosé or rosado wines.

A balanced rosado from Navarra is my first choice with seafood in Spain when I've tired of dry whites or dry sherry, but am not in the mood for a red. Like their counterparts around the world, these Grenache blush wines are perfect with a pepper-crusted tuna, jamon-wrapped snapper, or a straightforward gambas à la plancha (prawns sautéed quickly with parsley, garlic, and smoked paprika, or pimenton ). It's equally delightful with egg dishes such as quiche and frittata. Roast pork, such as Asian Char siu, is another good pairing, as is a basic charcuterie-fromage platter, from saucisson sec to chorizo-stuffed dates. And most dry rosés are magic with sandwiches, and July 4th  burgers, hot dogs, and barbecue. 

Dark chocolate may have no better friend than a good Banyuls, Maury, or Rasteau. The darker, the better: these Grenache-based fortified wines are not as sweet as port, the other great chocolate wine. Opt for treatments of chocolate that pick up on other clues in the wine­ raisins (there's no better wine to go with Raisinettes!), citrus (as in an orange-scented chocolate crème brûlée), or dried cherries (try adding dried cherries to a chocolate bread pudding). Fortified Grenache can be lovely with fruit compotes using either fresh or reconstituted dried fruit, and it is exquisite with baked figs.

Wine Style Ingredients Cuisines + Cooking Methods
Pure varietal Grenache Poultry, especially milder birds like game hen, turkey, and quail When cooking, avoid dishes that need tannin and acid.
Keep spice levels in check so as not to clash with alcohol levels in the wine.
Grenache blended Gamier poultry, such as squab, duck, and pheasant.
Lightly aged soft and semi-hard cheese.
See above.
Lamb in all forms: rich stew, roasted rack of lamb, etc.
Rosé Shellfish (cooked)
Simply prepared shellfish, for example, sautéed prawns, boiled crab
Fish stews, such as bouillabaisse or seafood paella.
Roasted pork.
Egg-based dishes -- frittatas, etc.
Alfresco fare (e.g. cold roast chicken, mixed cold cuts)
Fortified dessert Dark Chocolate
Mocha (esp. with Banyuls)
Fruit (especially dried)
Blue cheese
Combine chocolate with ingredients that pick up other flavors in the wine, such as raisins or dried cherries.
Fruit compotes, fresh or dried fruit.
Baked figs.

Methods of Cooking

Wine Profile

Rich texture, opulent berry and black-grape fruit; soft, mild tannins

Cooking Methods and Ingredients

Avoid dishes that need acid or tannin to stand up to their protein, such as red meats or spices that will clash with the alcohol. That said, Grenache is quite versatile, with mild game birds one of the best matches.

Wine Profile

Velvety textured, but tempered with more tannic structure, berry and black-grape fruit

Cooking Methods and Ingredients 

The tannin from traditional blending partners, such as Syrah, mean the meat choices expand. Lamb, in all forms, excels! Lighter Grenache-based blends work with fish stews, paella, etc.

Wine Profile

Lighter red berries, dry, medium-alcohol 

Cooking Methods and Ingredients

From roast pork to frittatas to jamon-wrapped snapper and sandwiches, Grenache rosés are versatile. It’s more a matter of what the wine cannot pair with. A few examples to avoid: raw shellfish (needs a higher acid wine), green and cruciferous vegetables (too fruit-driven a wine), and dishes that are richer in texture, such as a heavy pasta or thick stew.

Wine Profile

Full-bodied, sweet (but not as sweet as port), plum, raisins, dried cherries, caramel, coffee 

Cooking Methods and Ingredients

Dark chocolate and other ingredients that pick up notes from the wine, such as raisins or dried cherries.

Pairing Pointers

Grenache Pairs Well With: 

  • Alfresco fare (as a rosé or lighter red). Served with a slight chill, a crisp rosé can be excellent with cold roast chicken, mixed cold cuts and sandwiches, potato salad, coleslaw, and anything on the grill – hot dogs, burgers, grilled corn, and juicy spareribs.
  • Simple preparations of shellfish (again with a rosé). When I think of Grenache rosé, I am drawn to crab simply boiled with a peppery rouille, or scallops and prawns sautéed in fruity olive oil with garlic, a little pepper, parsley, and chorizo. Even lobster, grilled ever so quickly over hardwood, is a great match with a Grenache-based blush wine.
  • Lamb dishes (with a red Grenache). Richer Grenache-led blends are excellent with lamb. The addition of peppery Syrah or spicy Carignan to Grenache's generous, velvety texture provides a tasty backdrop for a rich stew, juicy chops, or a roasted six-rib rack.
  • A range of cheeses (with a red or fortified Grenach). The red wines are especially tasty with lightly aged soft and semi-hard cheeses; blue cheeses are best with fortified examples.
  • Chocolate (as a fortified wine). A rich fortified Grenache such as Banyuls is sublime with dark chocolate mousse, a plate of chocolate-covered macaroons, or dark chocolate bread pudding with dried cherries.

Grenache Does Not Pair Well: 

  • If it's too old (this applies to both reds and rosés). With notable exceptions, most Grenache blends are meant to be enjoyed young. Their low acidity and tannins prevent them from aging well.
  • With raw oysters and clams (as rosé). I was disappointed when trying out various blush wines with platters of raw mollusks, as the wines tasted sour and lost all their charming fruit. With cooked shellfish, however, they fared much better (baked clams casino and fried oyster poor boys being especially tasty).
  • With dishes that need tannin and acid (as a red). It's difficult to pair pure Grenache reds with steaks, roasts, and rich stews, although Grenache blended with other grapes can work. The less Grenache, the better when matching the wine to a dish like cassoulet. Keep your spices balanced and not too hot to avoid popping the naturally high alcohol.
  • With green and cruciferous vegetables (as a red). Unless your Grenache is part of a blend dominated by green, unripe fruit, like Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan, or Mourvèdre, it's likely to be too ripe and jammy to go with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leafy greens, or asparagus. Making adjustments to sweeten and mellow the vegetables (adding bacon to Brussels sprouts or grilling your asparagus) will help make the match more palatable, but it's still a stretch.
  • With fresh white summer stone fruit and tropical fruit (as a fortified wine). I find it challenging to pair classic Banyuls with ripe peaches, nectarines, or plums, or passion fruit, guava, or papaya.