What is Grenache
Known throughout the world, Grenache’s famed home is southern France. In its most famous appellations, this spicy grape is one of the 13 permitted blending varieties and often the primary grape used in the Rhône Valley’s famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is also used in neighboring appellations, like Vacqueyras and Gigondas.
Of course, these days, Grenache’s fame neither begins nor ends in France. Spain produces rich and focused wines from this variety, most notably in regions like Catalonia’s Priorat, where the grape provides the backbone for ageworthy wines. The grape is actually believed to be native to Spain, where it is referred to as Garnacha, although it did not become of premium importance to Spanish winemaking until after the phylloxera epidemic of the 1800s.
In the vineyard, these light, thin-skin purple grapes appear as sizeable berries, often hidden beneath a canopy. Grenache thrives in hot, dry climates with well-drained soils. Even then, it is a late-ripening variety, often outlasting the harvest dates of other varieties. Because of its thin skin, this grape performs well as the base for rosé, producing vibrant pink wines from skin contact. The grape is known for its tolerance to wind, too, which is particularly useful in the Rhône, a region known for wind so fickle it has own name: Le Mistral.
Because of its late ripening, Grenache has the potential to produce extremely high alcohol wines. The most identifying flavor note with this grape is white pepper; wines are often subtly spiced, expressing bright red fruit, like strawberry, raspberry and tart cherry.
Grenache in France
Of the permitted varieties in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache is the most common. Elsewhere in the Rhône Valley, it is a key variety in Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre (G-S-M) blends, and contributes to the rosés of Tavel and Lirac.
The grape is also widely planted in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region. Winemakers often blend it with Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah and Mourvèdre. In Rousillon, it is used in still dry wines as well as vins doux naturels like Banyuls or Rivesaltes.
Garnacha in Spain
This grape has found success in diverse regions around the world. In addition to the Rhône and Catalonia, Garnacha is often made into rosé and still reds in Spain’s Navarra region. It is also grown in the Aragon and Rioja regions. Several different clonal varieties of Garnacha are used in Spain, and they differ in color and intensity. In Aragon, the grape is used to produce single-variety wines, while in Rioja it tends to be blended with Tempranillo.
In Sardinia, Grenache, called Cannonau, is made into rich red wines. The grape is also grown in Australia, California, Washington, Israel, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and South Africa.