Thursday, September 16, 2021

Classy Grenache

  Grenache | Wine Varietals | Gold Medal Wine Club

Grenache is a class act. Its bright berry flavors and sassy spiciness have made Grenache a favorite in the southern Rhone Valley, Spain, California, Washington state and Australia.

The rule drink-or-wait for most red wine is wait a few years, or longer in some cases, before you pull the cork.  Not so with Grenache, an inviting red that shuns aging in favor of drink while still relatively young, for full enjoyment.

In its youth, Cabernet Sauvignon is raw and disjointed, young Pinot Noir tends to be grapy and lacks definition, and the same holds for Syrah.  But, with one or two exceptions, Grenache is ready to enjoy right out of the bottle.

In Spain it's Garnacha

Same grape, different name. Garnacha probably was first planted in the northern region of Aragon, then spread throughout Spain.  In one of those odd occurrences where a grape is not exported from France, Garnacha eventually made its way to Roussillon, in the south of France. 

Fans of Spanish red wines understand that the best expression of Garnacha comes from Priorat (Priorato in Spanish), where it is bottled both as a varietal or popularly blended with a handful of other red grapes. 

Priorat is a hilly enclave in Catalonia, producing concentrated reds based on Garnacha, sometimes blended with Carignan, or Merlot and occasionally Syrah. Priorat has become the darling of Spanish reds, thanks to pioneers Alvaro Palacios and Rene Barbier.  Priorat wines are expensive and sought after by those who like their reds powerful and richly textured.

The popularity of Garnacha as a blending grape is also important in Rioja where the traditional blend, based on Tempranillo, can include up to 30% Garnacha.  In neighboring Navarra, Garnacha is valued as a blending grape.  

And, Garnacha is the favorite grape for Spanish rose wines, that draw a lot of snarky comments from people who turn up their nose at pink wines.  Garnacha rose are the Spanish equivalent of French Grenache Rose.

Grenache and Chateauneuf-du-Pape 

Grenache Noir can be found across southern France where it is bottled as a red varietal and is the main grape for the oceans of pink wine, with the best roses coming from Tavel and Provence.  These two wines are the benchmarks for roses made from Grenache. 

The majority of Grenache, however, is planted  in the southern Rhone valley, with Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Pope's new castle) the grape's finest expression.  Fact is, the best use of Grenache in France is for Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Vineyards Near Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Provence, France Stock Photo, Picture  And Royalty Free Image. Image 99605100.
Old vine Grenache, near Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Originally, Chateauneuf-du-Pape was a blend of 10 grapes.  In 1936, three more grapes were added. Today, 18 grapes are authorized.  At the top of the list is Grenache, considered the essential core of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Mourvedre and Counoise are the next important red grapes.  

Few producers use all 18 grapes, concentrating on less complicated blends based on Grenache.  There is also a Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc, made mainly from Grenache blanc  and the northern Rhone white grape, Roussanne.   

Grenache's Worldwide Outposts 

Grenache has had a varied history in Australia.  Vastly popular in the 1960s, it began to lose interest and was eclipsed first by Shiraz (Syrah) and then Cabernet Sauvignon.  

Best Australian GSM wines - panel tasting results - Decanter
Aussie GSM wines

Today, the must popular use of Grenache by Aussie wineries is in GSM blends.  The popular blend of Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre was also of interest for a while in California and Washington.

At one time, Grenache was one of the most widely planted old vines in California, alongside Zinfandel and Carignane.  A lot of rose was made from Grenache, likely trading off the popularity of Tavel and Provence roses. 

Fortunately for California grown Grenache (and wine drinkers), a group of interested winemakers and consumers called the Rhone Rangers, got wine consumers interested in Grenache again. 

The rising popularity of GSM blends sparked an interest by Washington wineries in Grenache, though eventually the focus turned to varietal,Grenache, showcasing the grape's bright fruit and Washington's signature zingy acidity. 

Its been a struggle getting Grenache through the winters of eastern Washington and today there's maybe a dozen wineries in Woodinville and the Columbia Valley making varietal Grenache.

Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 19

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