Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Get to Know your Grapes Series - Grenache a.k.a. Garnacha

Grenache "Noir" Grapes
Here is some wine trivia to impress your friends - if Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the top two most widely planted red wine grapes in the world - who gets the bronze medal? What is the third most widely planted red wine grape? If you guessed Pinot Noir INRA Clone 113, then you are wrong, but you are also a wine geek of epic proportion and should be writing your own blog or studying for your Master Sommelier exam. If you happened to guess Grenache - you would be correct!  To be more specific - Grenache Noir, as there is also a white wine grape called Grenache Blanc.

Grenache is a grape that ripens fairly late, so tends to do best in hotter, dryer areas such as Spain (where it is known as Garnacha), the Southern Rhone in France and parts of California.  In fact in California there are a group of wineries that have formed a non profit organization to promote the 22 different Rhone varietals including Grenache.  

There are member wineries throughout California, but the majority are located in the Paso Robles area.  Some member wineries such as Tablas Creek, actually imported Grenache cutting from France to replace their existing Grenache vines.

Grenache by its lonesome is a bit lacking in acid and tannins, but higher in alcohol so is most often blended with other grape varieties add alcoholic strength and complexity. Châteauneuf-du-Pape (translates to "new wine for the Pope") wine from the Southern Rhone in France typically consists of about 80% Grenache,  while the other 20% can consist of (per French wine laws for the region) Cinsault, Counoise, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Syrah, Terret noir, and Vaccarèse. White grapes are even allowed which can include Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Picardan, Roussanne, and Picpoul. Typically, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and many Grenache blends throughout the world are "GSM" blends or Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.

Typical Aromas of Grenache.  Grenache is so often blended that its very interesting aromas can sometimes get lost in the mix, but look for fruit aromas like plum, cherry, and raspberry, plus herbs, black pepper and very interesting aromas like earth, citrus rind, licorice, black olives, cinnamon, and menthol.  One of my favorite aspects of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is how amazingly complex are varied the aromas can be in a good example of this wine.

Typical Styles of Grenache Wine. When Grenache is used as more than just a blending grape to accentuate other grapes, it can produce some fantastic (and expensive) wines. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is probably the most famous name, but my favorite examples come from Spain. Wines from Priorat in Spain are big and bold and can be very expensive. However I have never regretted a splurge on a Priorat, or on wines from one of my all time favorite wineries - Alto Moncayo. Alto Moncayo is in the Campo de Borja region of Spain, and makes Garnacha based wine at three price levels: Around $30 for their Veraton, around $50 for their Alto Moncayo, and around $100 for their Acquilon.  Each wine is great, and each more expensive wine is worth the extra money. Wines from this region won't be as big and tannic as Priorat wines, but if you want to see what a Grenache/Garnacha based wine is capable of - give these wines a try!

Who Makes Grenache Wines? Grenache needs certain climate conditions to produce good wine, so focus on these areas when choosing your Grenache wines: 
  • France. Grenache is the star in the Southern Rhone, but Grenache is also used in other French regions such as Gigondas and Vacqueyras. Last week I purchased my first Vacqueyras, so stay tuned for my upcoming review!
  • Spain.  Called Garnacha in Spain, you can find epic wines are made in Priorat, plus stellar wines in Campo de Borja. Campo de Borja is home to some of my all-time favorite wines, Grenache or not!
  • California.  In Central California and Paso Robles. Includes epic, OMG, once in a lifetime type wines made by Sine Qua Non. If you have not heard about this winery, look them up - a small winery producing very little, but very excellent wines.  I have only been luck enough to try a Sine Qua Non Syrah, but would love (love, love) to try one of their Grenache based wines.
  • Italy. Grenache can be found in Sardinia under the name Cannonau.  I have never tried one of these wines but would like to hear from someone who has and is will to share with the group!
Words of Advice. Some things to keep in mind to make sure you get the most out of your Grenache Purchase:
  • Experiment! Grenache wines from different parts of the world will be very different based on the winemakers decisions regarding blending other grapes, oak aging, etc. You should try some some Grenache wines from France, Spain, and California to see which appeals most to you.
  • Look at list of Rhone Rangers for California wines.  When picking a California wine, take some time and check out the list of Rhone Ranger wineries.  These wineries are serious about these varietals, so it's a safe bet that you can find the best stuff here
Looking for some good brands to try? Here are a few Suggestions.
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  I am not very familiar with many brands of this classic wine, but I've always found Guigal wines to be very reliable.
  • Gigondas. To try something different in a French Grenache wine, try something from Gigondas.  This Les Halos de Jupiter is a wine I've reviewed on this blog and really liked!

  • Campo de Borja. I may have mentioned an affinity for Alto Moncayo earlier in this post, but I'll mention once more - you will not be disappointed! Also, wines from the same family of wineries that are priced more for everyday consumption can be found under the Borsao label.  Even their sub-$10 Garnacha is a great value wine!
  • Tavel, France. Don't forget the Pink! Grenache is used to make some great Rosé wines as well, few better than from the Tavel region of France.  Here is one that I reviewed on this blog that was great!
  • Goin' Back to Cali. For Grenache wine from California, don't forget to check out the the list of Rhone Ranger wineries.  You will find great wineries like Tablas Creek and their Cotes de Tablas. 

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