Grenache or Garnacha: A Versatile Grape

Author: Edwin Núñez, Education Chair
Initial Publication Date: April, 2016
Grenache or Garnacha: A Versatile Grape
Edwin Núñez, CWJ

Main Producers
Grenache is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It plays an important role in France where some 100,000 acres are planted in Languedoc-Roussillon and 120,000 acres more in the Rhone Valley. In total, France has about 250,000 acres planted. In Spain, where it is known as Garnacha, over 180,000 acres are planted in the Rioja, Priorat and Navarra. Italy follows with some 55,000 acres cultivated. In Sardinia its name is different: Cannonau.

Grenache grape bunches
Ampelographical studies indicate this grape originated in the Navarra region of northern Spain. From there, it spread worldwide. (Regardless of the ampelographical studies, don’t tell the Sardinians that Cannonau has its origin in Navarra or you will get in trouble. Sardinians claim the origin of the grape is in their island.)

Pink Grenache wines
In the New World Grenache got well established in California and in Australia. The Rhone Rangers movement in California has called attention to this grape in the New World. It is responsible for the interest generated in other regions to start planting Grenache. It is now being planted in Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

Vine Characteristics
Cultivation of this grape presents the grower with some advantages and difficulties. It favors vertical growth and has a sturdy canopy, making it thrive in regions where strong winds like the Mistral are commonplace. It is also well suited to the dry and warm Mediterranean weather. In contrast, Genache is a grape that buds early in spring, making it susceptible to damage by late frosts. It also grows slowly, requiring a long growing season. Buds, flowers and grapes run a higher risk of being exposed to damage by inclement weather or storms. It also means that vines can be damaged by the diseases that may reduce their yield or fruit quality. Amongst these are downey mildew, coulure and bunch rot. The slow ripening pace, however, guarantees high sugar and alcohol levels in the wine, frequently reaching 15% ABV (alcohol by volume).

Since the Grenache grape is thin skinned, it does not produce tannic or deeply-pigmented wines. Its wines are somewhat more colored than Pinot Noir’s and are medium-bodied reds. This pale coloring makes the Grenache grape very suitable for the production of rosé wines. It is the main grape in the famous Tavel and Lirac rosé wines and an important grape in the light colored rosés of Provence.
Grenache is frequently used in blending. In the Rhone Valley, the GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends are famous and very appreciated. Blends with Tempranillo are frequent in Spain. In blends, Grenache adds a lot of fruitiness without added tannins. Due to their reduced tannins, Grenache based wines are not considered good candidates for extended cellaring. However, exceptional producers like Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat can make wines that benefit from aging. They usually make concentrated wines using low yield practices in poor soils that are well concentrated age well in the cellar. Wines made from Grenache grapes also have to be monitored in the cellar because they are prone to oxidation.
Expect from Grenache wines flavors of berry fruits like strawberries and raspberries. Also reported are flavors of blackcurrant, coffee, honey, leather, cherries and some earthy and herbal notes.

When deciding what foods to pair with wine, we must bear in mind what its acidity and tannins are. The higher the acidity of the wine, the more foods it will pair with. The wine’s flavor won’t be vanquished by the amount of vinegar, tomato sauce or sauces with pronounced citrus components. The wine will have enough acidity to stand on its own. Lower tannin content wines like those made from Grenache are easier to pair. They don’t need high fat dishes which are can attenuate the high tannins in the wine. Thus, lower tannin wines can pair with many more dishes that are not high in fat content. It pairs well with lamb, beef and stews.
Small Surprises
We will be surprised that there are other variants of Garnacha with some peculiar characteristics. Amongst these is one that called Garnacha Peluda (Hairy Garnacha) in Spain due to its hairy leaves. In France it is called Lledoner Pelut. Contrary to most grapes, Alicante Bouschet is a very unusual Garnacha grape. It has a reddish pulp and the juice is reddish in color. In Roussillon you will see fields with three kinds of Garnacha. Some have Grenache Noir that has a purple skin, pale reddish skinned Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc that has a greenish skin.

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