If you’ve enjoyed wines from the Southern Rhone in France, or from any one of several regions in Northern Spain, you are certainly familiar with grenache, or garnacha as it is known in Spanish-speaking countries. But, if you’ve yet to spread your wine wings and can’t recall even hearing the words grenache or garnacha (sounds like that melted chocolate stuff, right?), now is your chance to try something new. Dominant in the two areas mentioned above, and in other regions around the world, where it is also known as cannonau, alicante, garnaxta, or grenache noir, it is the most widely planted red wine grape on Earth. Regardless of where it is found or what it is called, the Big G is a must-know for wine-lovers of all shapes and sizes.
Grenache is a thin-skinned grape, which means that it doesn’t have very much of that mouth-puckering dryness caused by heavy tannins that some red wines have. It can be sensitive, finicky, and tough to manage properly It tends to produce wines of medium to high alcohol, and its colors can range from a deep pink all the way up to a dark garnet, approaching purple. And, it’s a great blender, getting along happily with many other varieties. The star of the Southern Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is always predominantly grenache, blended with a number of other types of grapes, including syrah, mourvedre, cinsault, and you can look up the rest. (There are fourteen in all.) Some of the GSM blends (grenache, syrah, mourvedre) are among the tastiest, most popular wines on the planet; the three varieties just bring out the best in each other. Once out of the bottle, grenache gives off aromas of strawberries, raspberries, and violets; those same flavors, along with hints of damp earth, minerals, herbs, and spice show up in the glass, and, happily, your mouth. Grenache is responsible for the great rosés of the Tavel and Provence regions, but is produced as rosé wherever it is grown.
A few suggestions, if you’re just getting started with this variety, which might just be my overall favorite, include three I’ve already mentioned in these pages, Viña Alarba (Calatayud, Spain), and two from the Campo de Borja appellation, Tres Picos and Viña Borgia, both produced by Bodegas Borsao. I have, also, some fond memories of the El Chaparral label from Bodegas Nekeas in Navarra. From the Southern Rhone, there are too many labels that I like to list, but talk to your local wine merchant about an affordable Chateauneuf du Pape, or perhaps something interesting from the Gigondas or Vacqueyras regions. Of course, a simple Cotes-du-Rhone or Cotes-du-Rhone Villages is a good place to begin your exploration of this delicious variety. And if the weather is nice, ask for some recommendations on some fun rosé.
Your local wine shop carries mostly new world wines (non-European), you say? Well, you’re still in luck. Great grenache producers can be found in Australia and up and down California. Unfortunately, for the consumer, Grenache is gaining in popularity, so prices on domestic bottlings are rising fast. Start in Spain and France where investigations will be more cost-effective. Once you’ve got your grenache feet under you, spread out, figuratively, across the globe. Different regions will manifest grenache in widely divergent fashions. Start comparing styles and quality/price ratios, find the ones you like, and then get to work spreading the Gospel of Grenache, a message so many people still need to hear.
If you want to learn more, here are a few sites to check out:
tv.winelibrary.com – host Gary Vaynerchuk will either delight you or drive you nuts. No matter what, he is worth watching as he works his way through the wines in front of him. He’s a force of nature, to be sure, but full of great information. Go to this site and type grenache into the search bar. Give yourself a chance to warm up to him. You won’t be disappointed.
http://www.winepros.org – a not-for-profit site titled Professional Friends of Wine, this is a treasure trove of oenological information. Type grenache into the search engine and stand back. You might want to wear boots or an apron – there’s a lot there.
http://www.cellartracker.com – find the search box in the upper left hand corner. Type grenache into the empty field. In the next field/box, click on “wiki articles.” Again, boots or apron required. Maybe even a hat. You’ve just entered serious geek territory.