Musings on Grenache
The Wine Gourd
I have always thought that one of the most intriguing grapes is the one usually known as Grenache. This is because you can make such a wide variety of styles and make them all well — everything from strong and tannic (eg. in Priorat), through herbal and spicy (eg. southern Rhône), to soft and fruity (eg. Barossa), and on to rosé (eg. Tavel and Provence), as well as dessert wines (eg. Banyuls). To me, very few of the usual rosé grapes can make a fine red wine, and few of the red-wine grapes can make a good rosé — it is “horses for courses”, except for Grenache.
This musing was inspired by reading two wine articles in the same week, one extolling the virtues of Grenache in California (How California’s Central Coast winemakers are making grenache their own) and one extolling the virtues of Grenache in South Australia (Great groovy grenaches). These articles embody two different approaches to the topic of making wine from Grenache, but they both focus on making mono-varietal wines. of which we are seeing more and more these days.
Traditionally, in southern France Grenache is combined with Shiraz, and sometimes Mourvèdre / Mataro or Carignan, while in Rioja it is blended with Tempranillo. All of these blends are excellent uses of Grenache, but it can easily stand on its own if handled correctly. Mind you, Grenache can also make some pretty uninspiring wines, if you don’t pay attention to what you are doing, especially regarding over-cropping.
To quote the Australian article: “Lighter-bodied, lower-tannin, soft, fruity, early-drinking red wine is in vogue everywhere, and is being promoted by a younger generation of winemakers who need to sell their wines young. In places … where they can’t do much of consequence with Pinot Noir, astutely produced Grenache can perform a similar role.”
To quote the US article: “Vintners … are shedding that [jug wine] baggage. They’ve optimized viticulture and dialed back the tonnage to produce varietal Grenache as nuanced and delicious as top-shelf Pinot Noir — often at half the price. Winemakers explore both the rich, ripe side of the grape, which retains acidity deep into the harvest season, as well as lighter, fresher expressions that play up floral aromatics and taut textures.”
Formally, the grape’s name is Grenache Noir, to distinguish it from the white-wine Grenaches (Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris). However, since the variety most likely originated in the region of Aragon in northern Spain, we should probably use its Spanish name: Garnacha Tinta. It has even been suggested that the Aragonese (who use the Catalan name: Garnatxa Negra) originally got the grape from Sardinia, where it is called Cannonau. However, it was apparently first recorded in Spain in 1479, in Sardinia in 1549, and in France in 1780.
The grape ripens late, and so it is widely grown in areas that are too warm for, say, Pinot Noir, with which it is so often compared. The above map is taken from: Distribution of the world’s grapevine varieties (produced by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, 2017).
Winemakers worldwide often comment on the “malleability” of Grenache, as well as on its ability to express terroir. It is less distinctive as a grape than are many other varieties and so, as noted above, it can make a wide variety of styles. It is thus somewhat surprising that PlantGrape lists only 23 approved clones in France, compared to 20 for Cabernet Sauvignon but 47 for Pinot Noir.
There are a number of examples where Grenache has been used to make interesting vinous comparisons. For example, in Australia The Artisans of Barossa Grenache Project involved six winemakers each taking a row of Grenache from the same Barossa Valley vineyard in 2017, and then applying their own vinification and maturation approaches, thus producing six different wines. These wines were released as a 6-pack, thus allowing wine lovers to make the direct comparison of wine-making versus terroir. In that regard, Max Allen noted: “10 months after vintage, the winemaking influence is far more obvious than the vineyard-derived characters that all six wines should, theoretically, share.”
With a somewhat different objective, in Spain Celler de Capçanes produces a 4-pack of wines called La Nit de les Garnatxes (this is Catalan; in English, it would be: The Night of the Grenaches). These are Grenache wines produced from grapes grown on each of the four different soil types in their Priorat vineyards: limestone, clay, slate / schist, and sand / alluvial. In this case, the same wine-making technique is applied, so that wine lovers can make a direct comparison of the four terroirs.
Check out these great Grenaches we currently have in stock
PAUL LATO 2016 GRENACHE “ORA LABORE” BIEN NACIDO
AARON 2014 SAND AND STONE PROPRIETARY RED PASO ROBLES
BECKMEN 2016 GRENACHE SANTA YNEZ VALLEY
HERMAN STORY 2015 CASUAL ENCOUNTER GSM , SANTA BARBARA
KEPLINGER 2015 “HANGMAN’S” HUDSON VINEYARD CARNEROS 99 POINTS
GROUNDWORK 2015 GRENACHE, SANTA BARBARA
SANS LIEGE 2015 PICKPOCKET TEMPELTON GAP, PASO ROBLES
SANS LIEGE 2015 “THE OFFERING” SANTA BARBARA
TORRIN 2013 “BANSHEE” GSM CENTRAL COAST – 95 POINTS PARKER