Are you a fan of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat? Do you know that the base of these wines is Grenache? I would assume most of us do not and that is why we are going to dive into the wonderful world of this glorious variety.
You may not love it or even know much about it, but we are here to let the tender curiosity inside you come and experience it!
About the Grape:
Grenache is a late ripener and needs very warm, dry conditions to grow. Hence why it does so well in Spain and the South of France. The long ripening process allows the sugars in the grape to reach high levels, making Grenache based wines capable of producing alcohol levels that can exceed 15%.
The skin of Grenache is very thin and lightly pigmented, making wines that are pale in colour and low in tannins. Due to having a thin skin and pale colour, Grenache can be a difficult grape to make wine from as it is a lot more prone to oxidation because of its low phenolic compounds. If you would like to read more about oxidation in wine, read our blog on The Different Faults Found in Wine.
Grenache is generally spicy, packed with loads of berry flavours and is soft on the palate. As Grenache ages, the wines tend to take on more leather- and tar-like flavours. Wines made from Grenache tend to lack acid, tannin and colour, and it is often blended with other varieties such as Syrah, Tempranillo and Cinsault, and Mourvèdre.
The intensity of colour found in Grenache - Photo Credit: winefolly.com
Where in the World is Grenache Found?
Grenache or Garnacha (as it is known in Spain) is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world and is of origin to Spain, most notably the ancient Kingdom of Aragon in north-eastern Spain. It has since spread across Spain, mainly to Rioja and Priorat. Besides Spain, there are significant plantings on almost every corner of the globe.
The Southern Rhône wines are dominated by Grenache, especially wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where typically it is over 80% of the blend as well as the in Languedoc where it is used for red wine production and more famously for the production of rosé.
Australia has the infamous “GSM” blend which means a blend dominated by Grenache with Shiraz and Mourvèdre making up the latter. Other countries that have a fair amount of Grenache planted are: Italy, where it is most commonly known as Cannonau in Sardinia and is one of the principal grapes used for winemaking; as well as in the US; South Africa; and with some tiny plantings in both Chile and Argentina.
Priorat is the famous region for Grenache production in Spain where it has been grown for almost 800 years. Priorat is dominated by schist soils in which the grape thrives as well as having very old vines that range between 30 – 100 years of age. Older vines, plus steep hillside plantings combined with the addition of the schist soils result in a very low yielding vine that produces a dense, rich, concentrated and dark coloured wine with firm tannins. This differs from the typical Grenache-based style. 40% of vines planted in Priorat are Grenache. In Rioja, Grenache is mainly used as a blending partner to Tempranillo to aid in giving the wine more fruit-forward characters and some added body.
Freshly picked Grenache from Priorat - Photo Credit: VinePair.com
Grenache is planted all over the Southern Rhône where it is found in wine blends from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras. All the blends are dominated by Grenache. Vacqueyras, however, tends to blend more Syrah into their wines to make them slightly bolder and more pronounced. Vacqueyras' wines have also been known to be called the "poor man's Châteauneuf-du-Pape." Gigondas produces only red wine with their blends that are made up of Grenache but only to a maximum of 80%, whereas Châteauneuf-du-Pape is typically over 80%. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache is fermented in large cement tanks so that oxygen can be controlled to avoid spoilage. As mentioned earlier, Grenache is prone to oxidation.
The Kings of the Southern Rhône - Photo Credit: vinous.com
New World Grenache:
Grenache was the most widely planted red variety in Australia until the mid 20th Century. During its reign it was planted across South Australia and was mainly used in the production of fortified wines. When Australia’s market started to boom and the shift was to focus on more premium still wines, Grenache was then later replaced by Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the early 21st century, Grenache kind of revived itself as winemakers started to find some very old vines across McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley, which is when the GSM blend was born and became extremely popular. Grenache from McLaren Vale is very luscious and rich with spicier notes, whereas Barossa Valley Grenache is known to be quite jammy with intense fruitiness.
In the early days of the Californian wine industry, Grenache was used to make a cheap “jug wine” that was very sweet, pale in colour and referred to as "White Grenache". It wasn’t until the late 20th century where the “Rhône Rangers” movement started taking over the world and that saw a demand for Rhône style blends. Grenache plantings increased significantly and were planted throughout the West Coast of the US. Grenache was one of the first grapes to be vinified in Washington State and is now a major player in Washington State Wines. The State, in my personal opinion, makes the best “Rhône Style” Grenache dominant blends in all of the US.
The Rhône Rangers - Photo Credit: lastingimpressionswineblog.com
South Africa is a small player when it comes to Grenache. It only arrived in the country in the early 1900s due to the Cape having a warm Mediterranean climate, which is perfect for growing. However, the grape didn’t prove to be a success at that time so not much was planted. There is now around 305ha planted throughout the country, which is not a lot. The plus side is that these are all very old vines so what is being produced now is of exceptional quality. There are roughly around 100 Grenache-based blends found in South Africa, so if you are lucky to get your hands on one, savour it and share it with me.
The Glorious Grenache is a former debutante at The Flying Winemaker. Unlike any other grape, we have a quixotic passion and obsession with this variety.
On Thursday, September 20th we will be showcasing a selection of amazing Grenache from around the world. If you would like to let the tender curiosity inside you come and experience it, then join us for our Great Grenachsby Tasting.
We will be showing wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Languedoc, Priorat, McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley. You do not want to miss this.
I hope that now and after the tasting, you will have a better understanding of Grenache and why the wine makes some of the most highly sought after and unique expressions of wine in the world.