Now that warmer weather is here it’s time to start thinking of lighter-styled reds, and none is more suited to the balmy days and cool nights of spring and early summer than the spicy, fruit-laden Grenache.
One of the most widely planted grapes in the world, Grenache owes its parental roots to Aragon in northern Spain. From there it proliferated eastward to the Island of Sardinia and northward into southern France, particularly Languedoc-Roussillon and the Southern Rhône Valley, where today it serves as the basis for many red blends. By the 1800s, the grape had found its way to the New World, emigrating to California’s San Joaquin Valley as well as Australia.
Grenache is a vigorous and versatile grape, thriving best in sun-baked, well-drained soils of schist, granite, limestone and shale. Its dark purple, thin-skinned berries bud early and ripen slowly, hanging on the vine late into the season, thus concentrating the sugars. Low in tannins and high in sweetness, it is often used as a blending grape to add body, fruit and alcohol to more tannic wines. In the Southern Rhône, it is the principal grape in the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend. Spain excels at blending Grenache (Garnacha) with another signature grape, Tempranillo, to produce Rioja wines and with Cariagne to create Priorat. From Australia comes GSM (Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre), particularly from the Borossa Valley and McClaren Vale. Because of its high sugar levels, Grenache is also well-suited to the production of fortified wines like France’s Vins Doux Naturels and Australian Port-style wines. It also serves as the key varietal for elegant fruit-driven rosé wines.
As a stand-alone bottling, Grenache shines. Since tannin and acidity levels are lower, these wines are supple and luscious on the palate, displaying prominent aromas and flavors of red raspberries and strawberries with notes of black cherries, plums, currants, grapefruit, herbs and a peppery spiciness. Alcohol levels are high, often reaching 15 percent and higher.
Grenache is quite food-friendly and can pair well with hearty dishes like stews and roasts, grilled vegetables, legume-based dishes, moderately spiced Asian and Indian cuisine, and sharp Cheddar and smoked Gouda cheeses.
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Grenache wines are high in alcohol. This is because the grapes hang on the vine late into the season, thus developing higher sugar (a.k.a. "brix") levels which are converted by the fermentation process into alcohol. The sweeter the grapes, the more alcohol is produced.
Since Grenache has low tannins (the drying, mouth-puckering compounds in wine), the varietals Syrah (Shiraz in Australia) and Mourvèdre are its natural blending partners. Syrah adds color and darker fruit flavors like blueberries and plums. Mourvèdre provides structure and shores up tannin levels.
Although Grenache prefers hot, well-drained rocky soils, it is a versatile grape that can adapt to various styles of winemaking and varied terroirs around the world. (Terroir is the French word that describes the soil, climate, and terrain conditions of a wine-growing region or vineyard.)
Grenache is also designated Grenache Noir to distinguish it from its green-skinned sibling Grenache Blanc.