Grenache

The recent blog on Châteauneuf-du-Pape  https://winetrust100.co.uk/chateauneuf-du-pape-home-to-one-of-the-worlds-greatest-red-wines-and-ufos/ set me thinking about how the main grape behind this world famous wine is arguably the least known of all the great international varieties planted around the world. Grenache is at the centre of an amazing range and styles of wine, but it also tends to hide itself from view. To illustrate this – and to my own surprise – there are no less than 28 wines in the Wine Trust portfolio where Grenache plays either a lead or supporting role in the blend!

Grenache can stake a claim to be the unsung hero of the wine world and power behind the throne – most notably as the main ingredient, as said in the earlier blog, in the world famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but also in one of Spain’s greatest wines and region – Priorat in the North East. In addition, it is probably the single most important grape behind the world’s finest still rosé wines, most notably in Provence, and then pops up in some very alluring dessert wine styles!

It may surprise you to learn that Grenache is, as of today, one of the most widely planted black grape variety in the world, at well over 400,000 acres. Because it is mainly a large and important component in many red wines, it is not seen or advertised that often (on its own) on a wine label.

Grenache – or Garnacha as it is called in Spain (where it is believed it originated from) – does have some growing restrictions though. Because it is quite late budding and ripening it only does well in hot and dry areas – but in these it ripens to produce levels of exotic, jammy red and black fruit flavours with wonderful and broad spice notes, including white pepper, Indian spices and liquorice. And as its acidity levels are relatively modest the overall effect, in best examples, it to produce accessible, juicy, and hedonistic wines. Like many varietals its yields need to be controlled and it can be prone to accelerated oxidation though once opened (ie if you keep it overnight).

Such is its ubiquitous nature and quality that it also plays supporting roles in other famous wines. Examples include Rioja and Navarra in Spain, and Australian Châteauneuf models, colloquially often referred to as “SGM” s – the “G” being Grenache (the “S” Shiraz and “M” Mourvèdre). In fact, the famous Barossa area in South Australia is home to some of the oldest “bush vine” Grenache in the world. 

The reason that a lot of Grenache is grown in these bush vine trained styles is partly down to the fact that it is naturally strong and woody with an upright growth pattern. It is also, simply, because when vines are grown in arid and hot conditions, well – they just do not grow very fast. These bonsai twisted framed plants have become symbolic with the variety Grenache – most famously in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Barossa. And not unsurprisingly grown in these sort of conditions yields are often, automatically, low – adding to the concentration of juice in the berries.

The other – maybe little realised – star role for this variety is often being the main component in many of the finest Rosé wines, for example in Southern France (especially Provence and Tavel in the Southern Rhône) and Spain (such as in Navarra, the neighbour to Rioja, as well as rosé Riojas themselves). With its thin and relatively light colour pigmented, lower tannin skins it delivers a bold and silky mouth feel and above all fruity rosés with hauntingly pale colour and alluring red berry and soft red fruits flavours.

But it is in Spain that the variety has a fundamental influence in many wine styles. In fact, some producers – like the revered Alvaro Palacios – see such value in Garnacha in red Rioja blends that it is the lead line (over Tempranillo) in his Remondo Rioja estate.

Elsewhere in Spain Garnacha is widely grown and regarded and, to take one example, is the bedrock of one of Wine Trust’s most popular estates and wines Bodegas Borsao – with the everyday crowd pleaser, or the fine single, older vine example Tres Picos, both from the DO Campo de Borja south east of Rioja.

From easy drinking, more everyday styles, Grenache can elevate itself to world class wines of incredible levels of richness and savouriness. As reviewed already, the top two examples in the world include the well-known region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and maybe the less well-known Spanish region of Priorat in Catalunya. Here gnarled old Garnacha forms the fundamental basis of the blends which make the finest Priorat wines (usually blended with Cariñena (aka Samsó in the region)), which is Carignan in France!). Grown in arid land on the schist and silica soils called locally llicorella these are serious challenges to the best of the southern Rhône with their spicy and full bodied black fruit character and dried fruit intensity – not unlike an Italian Amarone in a way.

From easy drinking, more everyday styles, Grenache can elevate itself to world class wines of incredible levels of richness and savouriness. As reviewed already, the top two examples in the world include the well-known region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and maybe the less well-known Spanish region of Priorat in Catalunya. Here gnarled old Garnacha forms the fundamental basis of the blends which make the finest Priorat wines (usually blended with Cariñena (aka Samsó in the region)), which is Carignan in France!). Grown in arid land on the schist and silica soils called locally llicorella these are serious challenges to the best of the southern Rhône with their spicy and full bodied black fruit character and dried fruit intensity – not unlike an Italian Amarone in a way.

Priorat – terraced, old Garnacha bush vines in the famous llicorella soil

Back to the Southern Rhône – if you love Châteauneuf-du-Pape but would like to enjoy similar Grenache based styled which are more affordable and every day, then there are the ever reliable generic Côtes-du-Rhône. Try the excellent Domaine des Pasquières off the Wine Trust list or trade up to the renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape satellite Appellation Gigondas, with Domaine Gour de Chaule.

The world famous Provence Rosé style is arguably exemplified best at the renowned estate of Château d’Esclans, where the refined and rightly fashionable Whispering and Rock Angel cuvées are produced along with the iconic, rare, and expensive Garrus old Grenache single vineyard – which many consider to be the greatest rosé on the planet. Try the benchmark Rock Angel cuvée which simply encapsulates the very essence of the region and style.

The magnificent, panoramic Château d’Esclans

And for sheer value for money, try the Pays d’Oc Southern French Pasquiers one of Wine Trust best value buys.

And there are some twists in the tale with Grenache – it has two close cousins Grenache Gris, with its coppery skin, and the green skinned white version Grenache Blanc. Although nowhere near as widely planted as Grenache Noir they provide for an interesting diversion and soft juicy, almost dried stone fruit richness and gentle spice for a white partner. And excellent example of this style is the South African The Foundry from top winemaker Chris Williams

And finally, Grenache is also behind some of the finest (mainly gently fortified) red dessert wines in the south of France. Here late harvested, ultra-ripe Grenache berries produce sweet (but not too sweet) wines with wonderful cherry and strawberry liqueur like qualities – great as an after-dinner drink in the own right but also some of the few wines of the world which genuinely work well with chocolate! Top regional examples include Banyuls (near the Spanish border), Maury and Rivesaltes (in the Roussillon) and Rasteau in the southern Rhône. Banyuls drinks not unlike a good quality port but without the spirit “kick” that port can have. The Domaine de la Rectorie Cuvée Léon Parcé is sensational! Try with cheese as well chocolate dishes.

Overall, I think Grenache should be more broadly appreciated and recognised for its outstanding qualities, but also its sheer diversity and adaptability to various styles and qualities. It offers tremendous value for money too at all levels.

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