Sunday, December 25, 2011

Grenache (Garnacha)

For a grape that was once the second most planted red in the world, few have ever heard of Grenache. It is a variety that is packed with fruit flavor, specifically red fruit. It also has low tannin levels which makes it a very easy wine to drink. It is also easy to look at with its intense ruby color. This grape contains high levels of sugar, which makes for wines with higher alcohol levels. Because they tend to oxidize quickly, they are great candidates for screwcaps, no matter which side of the fence you are on in that debate.
Grenache has thinner skins, buds early and ripens late. This longer hang time leads to more concentrated flavor. They are tolerant to drought, which ensures they do really well in hot climates, although you will also find Grenache growing in some moderate climates. They make still red wines, roses and “white” wines, in the manner of White Zinfandel or White Merlot, where a limited amount of time on the skins leads to wines much lighter in color.
Garnacha, as it is known in Spain, is the most planted red grape in that country. Spain is going through a bit of a wine revolution right now, focusing on perfecting what is working and getting rid of what is not so that they can establish a greater international presence. What does this mean as it relates to this grape? In the past, Garnacha wines were mostly made in high volume (i.e. inexpensive) versions. Now, many high quality Garnacha can be found. They can stand alone or they can be blended with Tempranillo, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. Spain’s most popular product of Garnacha, however, is rose.
Navarra and Rioja produce blends or roses, but Priorat is getting a lot of attention recently. The last few decades have seen a great deal of investment and change in the region and it is one of the first two to be awarded the prestigious DOCa status. A group of producers have been working to revamp long neglected terraces on the steep slopes of the vineyards in this region. The local soil, llicorella, is low in nutrients which makes the vines work harder and, thus, produce a more concentrated fruit. This, of course, transcends into a more concentrated wine.
While Syrah may take center stage in the Northern Rhone, Grenache takes over in the Southern Rhone where the temperatures are higher. While sometimes Grenache stands alone here, it will often be blended with Syrah, Mourvedre or Cinsault. The main appellation to look for is Cotes du Rhone, but the very best, and pricier, samples are found in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Lesser priced, but still good quality, wines can be found in Gigondas.
Outside Europe, Grenache wines are being produced in Paso Robles, California and South Australia. In fact, if you can tolerate the name, “Bitch” wine from Barossa Valley is an easy-drinking 100% Grenache listed by Robert Parker as a value red. It makes a great gift for bachelorette parties or girlfriend birthdays.
Tasting Exercise
Find a Garnacha from Spain for your base comparison. A contest with France would be nice but 100% Grenache is quite difficult to find. A Cotes du Rhone is quite likely to be a blend, but Grenache will be the dominant grape, making up 75-80% of the wine. Priorat is worth a splurge for comparison as well. These wines may not be 100% Grenache, but the grape is a constant ingredient. If you would rather, compare it to a New World Grenache from either California’s Central Coast (Paso Robles, in particular) or South Australia. You may find also find a Grenache Blanc or Rose for contrast.
On The Label
Grenache, Garnacha, Gigondas, Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Priorat
In The Bottle
Dark fruit, dried fruit, spice, sweet spice
At The Table
Barbecue, beef stew, goat cheese, hard cheese

Photo Credits:
Grenache wine -
Priorat -

1 comment:

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