Mediterranean grape “par excellence”, the heat-loving Grenache (also known as Garnacha/ Cannonau /Tinto Aragonés) is a black grape known for its generous strawberry nose with notes of ripe raspberry, cherry, figs, pepper, coffee, spices, sometimes “pot pourri”, roasted nuts, gingerbread, leather and… inebriating levels of alcohol.
From its power base in Aragon or Cataluña (Spain) - or Sardinia (Italy) some still argue-, Grenache conquered the Languedoc, the Roussillon, Southern Rhône, Provence (France) and Italy. Some 150 years ago, it was brought in Mc Laren Vale & Barossa (Australia) and more recently, it expanded from California to Washington State (USA) thanks to a movement called the "Rhone Rangers". As many ancient grapes, Grenache has muted to create what are considered new varieties such as Grenache Blanc, Gris & Rose and is related to Mencia, Alarije, Verdejo and Airén...
Believe it or not, Grenache was once the largest planted black grape in the world. Traditionally abused to produce huge yields of the highest possible levels of alcohol for table wines, cheap rosés or fortified wines, Grenache’s production diminished drastically in the 60s, 70s and 80s. In the 1990’s, however, a growing interest of Rhône wines and Priorat shed the light on this grape. Indeed, when yields are controlled, old vine Grenache can produce amazingly concentrated wines in the dry regions of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gratallops, Rioja, Barossa, McLaren Vale, Washington State to name a few. Today, total plantings around the world is around 150,000 hectares.
As a thin-skin grape, when over cropped, Grenache might sometimes lack color and tannin and has a tendency to oxidize early. As a result often blended with a little of other local grapes: Cabernet, Merlot and Cariñena in Priorat; Tempranillo in Rioja; Syrah & Mourvèdre in Southern Rhône and Australia, mostly to add black fruit notes and structure (tannins and acidity) for ageability. Other grapes also mitigate the high levels of alcohol. When oak is used, it is done subtly not to overpower the fruit.
For a pretty good overview of what Grenache can produce, taste a Garnacha Rosado from Navarra, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape by Rayas, a Priorat by Ferrer Bobet, an Australian from Tim Adams and a Grenache-based Vin Doux Naturel by Mas Amiel… To learn more about grape varieties, where they grow and how they taste, enroll the next WSET Level 2 offered in PHUKET or BANGKOK
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Anderson K. & Nelgen S. (2020) Which Wine grape Varieties Grow Where? A Global Empirical Picture Revised Edition Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press