You have to feel sorry for poor Grenache. It has an identity problem, rarely gets any billing, is a little wild, and sometimes you don’t even know you’re drinking it.
Grenache Noir, as it’s known in France, is called Granacha Tinta or Aragones in Spain. It can also be called Cannonau in Sardinia, Alicante in some parts of France or Aragon, as well as Lladoner, Uva di Spagna, Tentillo, Tinto, or Bois Jaune. Garnacha Tintorera is not Grenache at all. Garnacha Tintorera is really Alicante Bouschet, which is not the same grape as plain old Alicante. You see the identity problem.
Whether Grenache is first or second in acreage planted worldwide depends on which source you consulted. However, Grenache is definitely not planted in as many areas around the world as Cabernet Sauvignon because it needs a long warm growing season – many wine regions simply don’t have the climate to grow Grenache successfully.
Those of you who don’t care about the geek stuff can pass over this paragraph. Pierre Galet lists some 362 clones of Grenache – which can have implications on quality and yield. Grenache will oxidizes easily if not
treated carefully in the winery, in which case it won’t age well. Treated properly, however, it often ages extremely well; some Chateauneuf-du-Papes will age for years. Grenache grows well with goblet style pruning and non-fertile, rocky well-drained soils. This grape buds early but needs a long growing cycle to ripen properly, and the yields need to be kept low to attain quality. It also suffers from coulere and downy mildew.
For those of you who like blind tastings, Grenache is lighter in color than many varietals but high in alcohol – which is an unusual combination. Add in the lower acidity, and it will help you to identify Grenache.
On the palate, Grenache is all about strawberries, pepper, roasted nuts, and spice. This grape also shows more red fruit and white pepper than its common blending partner Syrah which exhibits more black fruit and black pepper. Then, as it seduces you with its lovely fruit, it can whack you on the side of the head with its possible production of high alcohol up to 16% and intoxicating delight. Something like a bad girlfriend I suppose. Remember, this is a low acid grape with moderate tannins, but still a little on the wild, rustic side. Defiantly not as refined and elegant as a Merlot, but oh so much more fun.
Grenache often gets hidden away with many different wine styles of blended winses using it – that identity problem again. It’s used in those wonderful Tavel roses for a brunch sipper, the big dry reds from the Rhone, and also in the fortified wines of Banyuls.
Grenache rarely gets the big label billing that a Cab or Merlot does. In the Old World it hides away on the AOC regional label. The Cote de Rhones from France must have a least 40% Grenache. Wines from Roussillon have some in their blends, and it also shows up in Vin de Pays through out southern France.
The Spanish, who have been growing it for about 800 years, hide the name under the regions of Priorat with their almost black wines and huge amounts of alcohol, blend it in Rioja, and use it in Navarra for their roses. The great Spanish wine, Vega Sicilia, uses Granacha as part of its big, wonderful blends. Too bad the bank account shudders when this one is brought home.
At the other end of the spectrum, in California’s Central Valley, they tend to beat Grenache up with over-yielding vines and then use it in jug wines, although Bonny Doon and Alban show it well with their low yields and meticulous care and attention in the winery.
Australia uses it as a blend with GSMs (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre): look for Penfolds and D’Arenberg. Grenache is actually Australia’s big secret ingredient. That Shiraz you’ve been drinking probably has a little Grenache in it.
However, I think it’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape that does Grenache the best by far. This is one of the main grapes of the 13 permitted in the AOC. Vieux Telegraphe and Chateau Beaucastel are at the top end, but they each use different amounts of Grenache in their blends. At the price point, they’re so much better than
cult Cabs. For a lower price point but still good quality, look for Cote de Rhone, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras.
It’s hard to make a generalization about food pairings and Grenache, as this grape comes in many styles. Banyuls makes an outstanding match with dark, semi-bitter chocolate. I’ve actually known people who have developed such an addiction to Banyuls and chocolate they’ve phoned me late at night asking if I have a bottle stashed away somewhere. Poor souls. With the Rhone Valley think roasted or meats off the barbie. And for afternoon brunches, Tavel fits the bill – but be careful of those seemingly carefree roses because there’s a big alcohol punch hidden in the fruity strawberry flavors.
So this weekend, why not forget the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot. Pull out a bottle of Grenache preferably a Southern Rhone. Call your significant other, turn down the lights put some music on, and indulge in something a little different. Mind you, if you have the Beaucastel, I will not be held responsible for what happens.
Susan’s Note: I’m also long-time fan of Grenache – although it never seems to last long in my cellar. Now here’s the problem for this weekend. I have the dark chocolate but no Banyuls. Hmmm… looks like a trip to the liquor store is in order.
And a here’s how wine guru Jancis Robinson describes this grape: Grenache is an unlikely hero of a grape. Reviled or at best ignored in much of the world, it is the grape chiefly responsible for two of the great, and increasingly celebrated, red wines of the world, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and, a more recent star, Priorat. In both Rioja and Navarra it is regarded as playing a distinctly ignoble second fiddle to Spain’s vine specialty Tempranillo.
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