All about Grenache

I think it began when I had the flights of “Back to Earth Reds” at Bin 36 and then the Bitch from Barossa Australia that I noticed how every bottle of Grenache I tried was not only attractively priced, but was pretty amazing in its taste and body with lots of complex flavors.

Consequently, I think it might be time to take a closer look at the grape itself, and pay more attention to the different styles I’ve had.

Grenache 101 from Wine Pros:

Grenache noir is the world’s most widely planted grape used to make red wine, sometimes made into a stand-alone varietal, frequently as a rosé, but most often as a backbone of red blends.

Used as a component in some Northern Rhône reds, nearly exclusively for Rhône rosés and as the primary component in nearly all Southern Rhône red blends, Grenache is probably most notable as the base varietal for Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhône and Gigondas. In spite of its fame coming from French wines, Spain is most likely this grape’s origin.

Grenache is known by local names (alicante, carignane rousse) in the Mediterranean regions of France. Particularly important in the areas of the Languedoc and Rousillon, there are also variants with different colored berries: white grenache blanc, and pink grenache rose or grenache gris. Nearly three times as much grenache is planted in Spain as in France. The spanish know this grape and wine as garnacha or garnacha tinta, where it is the dominant red wine variety in Catalonia and prominent in Rioja. The grape is known in Italy as cannonau.

In the New World, Australia has extensive plantings of Grenache and has been very successful making full-bodied Grenache-dominated red blends. Until surpassed by plantings of merlot in the past decade, Grenache was the third most planted red variety in California after Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of this acreage is in the Central Valley and used to produce bulk rather than premium wine.

An abundant producer of fruit, grenache habitually will “alternate” a crop of 8 to 10 tons per acre one year and 14 to 16 tons the next. The vine is very sturdy and woody, lends itself well to head or spur pruning, and survives arid and drought conditions better than less vigorous vines. Cool and damp conditions can cause “deadarm” disease in grenache, however, and its compact and well-filled clusters are quite prone to rot. Grenache is also susceptible to shatter or coulure.

The grenache grape is relatively low in both pigment and malic acid, and oxidizes readily. Although some 100% varietal wines are produced from grenache, particularly in Spain’s Rioja and from some “old vines” plantings in California, it is mostly used to “fill out” red blends and soften harsher partners, such as syrah and carignan.

On its own, grenache makes fleshy, heady, very fruity wines in their youth. They tend to age rapidly, showing tawny colors and prone to oxidation or maderization after only a relatively short time in bottle. The general character and mouthfeel of Grenache wines are more distinctive and identifyable than any particular aromas or flavors.

Partly due to its commonplace abundance and partly due to its hardiness in warmer climates that are generally considered to grow lesser-quality wines, Grenache has never achieved as much of a premium reputation as other red varietals. The group of California wineries marketing themselves as the Rhône Rangers are committed to raising both the quality and profile of this and other lesser-known grape varieties.

Over the weekend, I tasted a couple different Grenache wines: one at The Drawing Room on Friday (whose name I unfortunately did not jot down / cork I forgot to take with me, given our haste to make the movie), and a Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Châteauneuf-du-Pape at Kiki’s on Saturday night. The Domaine de Vieux Lazaret is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre (the latter two grapes I should really start paying closer attention to too, since they seem to appear frequently in blends with Grenache), and the wine has some flavors of incense, licorice, and red fruit. Pretty enjoyable, especially when paired with the delicious duck confit, though sadly, by the time we got to the duck, we only had a little wine left in our glasses. We only stuck with a bottle of wine that evening, given that we were attending the DGS event at WineStyles directly after.

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