Aussie Grenache 

Australia is best known for its Shiraz: everything from budget-friendly wines sporting the image of some cute animal on the label to high-end collectibles like Hill of Grace and Grange. But as good as its Shiraz is, the Grenache is even better. It's a grape that does well in a variety of wine regions from Europe to California, so we decided to try Grenache from around the world (both solo and in blends). Despite a great lineup, Australia scored a hat trick, grabbing the top three spots. Here are the panel's favorites:

2004 Hill of Content Grenache Shiraz, $13.99

All three wines are from South Australia, the driest state of the driest continent on earth, this one from the Claire Valley, a relatively cool climate region best known for its world-class Rieslings. The blend here is dominated by Grenache (90 percent) and offers up light berry and plum aromas that play against a backdrop of cedar, fig and licorice. Rich ripe fruit highlighted by bright berry and spice plum comes through in this elegantly structured wine with a soft but lingering finish.

2002 Twelve Staves Grenache, $24.99

The Mediterranean climate of McClaren Vale in the south of South Australia provides the perfect environment for Grenache. In the Twelve Staves, beautiful black cherry aromas dominate with nice, earthy mushroom and dried meat adding complexity. Notes of oak and vanilla come through, but a few years of bottle age have muted them nicely so that they blend with rather than overpower the ripe, red berry fruit flavors. A nice touch of spice and a cleansing hit of acidity come through on the finish.

2005 Yalumba Grenache, Bush Vine, $13.99

Barossa is arguably the best known wine region in Australia, and Yalumba is that country's oldest family-owned winery. Sourced from 30- to 70-year-old vines that rise from the ground like a gnarled bush, this Grenache has a light, pleasant gaminess that mingles with the aromas of cherry liqueur, spicy rose hip and candied plum. It's an exceptionally well-balanced effort with silky smooth, ripe berry fruit flavors backed by a hint of anise and spice. It's a seamless wine with remarkable persistence.

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