Grape of the month
Grenache is one of the worlds most widely planted grapes, especially around the Mediterranean basin where it thrives due to the heat. It is a big part of the wine industry stretching from Spain, and upwards through South of France. It has had a bad reputation for several years, regarded as a "junk" grape due to usage in poor volume driven red wine blends from South of France and Spain. Luckily the trend has just started to turn, Thanks to several passionate young winemakers eager to express terroir and quality in their winemaking.
Grenache is the French name of a grape known by several names. In Spain, it is called Garnacha and in Sardinia, it goes by the name of Cannonau. The Garnacha grape originated in Spain and then travelled across the border into Southwest of France, and then further upwards to Provence and the Rhone Valley.
It has a great resistance to heat and drought and needs a lot of sun and heat to thrive. A ripe Grenache grape has high degrees of sugar, and it is not uncommon to see 15-16% abv in a finished dry red wine.
Although Grenache is resistant to heat and drought, it is not so resistant to cooler climates and diseases. A big problem is coloure but also downey mildew and bunch rot.
When harvested the Grenache grape needs to be handled with extreme care as it can oxidise very easily and loose precious colour.
A luscious grape that contributes to the body in several South Rhone red wine blends, but also a grape willing to contribute on its own in single varietal wines, especially red wines from Southern France and blended into Rose`s from Provence.
Grenache is usually part of a blend in this part of France where it cooperates with the Syrah grape and also Mourvedre and other more unknown varieties. The secret of a good Chateauneuf-Du-Pape is the tannins from the Mourvedre, the complexity from the Syrah and of course the body and fruit from the Grenache. Grenache based wines from this region are bold, alcoholic and full bodied in style, especially the wines from Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, Vacqueyras and Gigondas. In Lirac it is part of both the red wines and Rose's and in Tavel it makes only Rose's. It also plays a part in the production of Cote`s Du Rhone Village wines.
Traditionally Grenache has been aged in old wooden barrels, but the recent usage of new oak has formed a stepping stone towards a more modern and complex Grenache style, one that perhaps is more protected from oxidation, thanks to the tannins in the new oak.
The usage of Grenache in Provence is limited to blends based mainly on Mourvedre with some Grenache. There are single variety Rose`s made from the Grenache grape but these are uncommon.
Southwest of France
In the Southwest of France and Languedoc-Roussillon, Grenache is usually part of a blend together with the Mourvedre grape. The wines here are not as bold, rich and complex as their counterparts in Rhone. There is still a high production of simple fruit forward volume driven wines here, with the lack of complexity and balance. But with a recent generation shift between winemakers and producers the quality is rising.
The Spanish were the first to cultivate the grape on the east coast in Aragon or Catalunya.
In Rioja, Garnacha is regarded as an inferior grape in contrast to Tempranillo. It is mostly used in blends together with the Tempranillo grape.
Navarra next to Rioja has built its reputation on Rosado wine. Over half of the vineyards here are planted with Garnacha and it is mainly used for Rosado production here.
Further east into Cataluna we have Priorat. Wine production here has grown expontentially in recent years, and has grown into a new market trend. Grenache wines from Priorat can be compared to the great wines from South of Rhone in boldness, flavour intensity and complexity. Many wines here are dense and concentrated, produced from very low yielding vines.
Other parts of the world
Grenache has also made its entry into other wine producing countries.
In Australia the Grenache grape was brought here earlier from French settlers together with the Mourvedre grape. Both of these was regarded as low quality grapes for many years. Now recently the trend has started to change and new plantings are growing steadily. The most common is still blends of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache, but single varietals wines are also growing. One can find several high quality and complex Grenache wines in Mclaren Vale, Barossa Valley and Clare Valley.
In USA most of the Grenache has earlier been used in Cheap sweet rose`s, but handcrafted quality wines have also started to submerge here.
Grenache in fortified wines
Because of the fruit forward style and the high alcohol potential, the Grenache grape has been a big favourite in fortified wines by the name of Vin Doux Naturels from the Southwest of France. Especially high-quality complex VDN`s from Banyuls, Maury and Rasteau, but also lesser volume vines from Rivesaltes.
The flavour of Grenache
A simple low-quality Grenache is mostly driven by Red fruit and blackberries with a full body and often a burning alcohol sensation. But if the grower manages to keep the alcohol down, it can be pleasant and fruity.
A high quality Grenache with a good flavour intensity to back up the alcohol, show several layers of complexity. There are raspberries, plums, dark cherries and blackcurrants, together with black pepper, cinnamon. With age also roasted nuts and leather and sometimes coffee and tar.
The problem with many Grenache based wines is the lack of structure not able to back up the very high alcohol content. But when done right the experience can be exceptional.
Another problem is the climate change. With warmer weather, the sugar production in the Grenache grape goes up, and it is becoming harder for winemakers to produce dry wines with an acceptable alcohol content. It is hard enough to balance 15-16% abv in a wine, above this is would be a nightmare.
Grenache based wines are traditionally a fruit forward style and it will be interesting to see if the entry of new French oak into the winemaking process will compliment or degrade the wines
Marius has worked in several parts of the wine business for the last 16 years. He is currently working as a Category Coordinator for wine and spirits in the Travel Retail business. He is also a part of a tasting panel for the financial newspaper in Norway and writes articles and lectures in his spare time.Marius has a huge passion and dedication for the wine and spirits industry. He is a certified Sommelier and is currently undertaking the WSET Diploma in wines and spirits education.