Grenache Noir is the 7th most planted grape in the World and is believed to have originated in North of Spain.
Grenache produces small sized, thin-skinned berries that form compact clusters. It’s a grape that buds early in spring and has a long ripening cycle, which means that it’s susceptible to frost during budburst in spring and in order to fully ripe it needs to be in a warm and dry climate. It also has a high resistance to wind (wind is very beneficial for Grenache because it helps ventilate the compact cluster and prevents the formation of fungal infections) and expresses better when planted in poor soils, producing concentrated and rich wines. When grown in warm areas, where the grape can reach a full maturation and produce high levels of sugar, it can develop wines with high levels of alcohol; one of the main characteristics of Grenache wines. Regions like the Southern Rhone and north east of Spain are ideal for the growth of this grape.
Since Spain it’s the birthplace of this grape I have to start by describing the wonderful Spanish wines of Garnacha. Its main denominations of origin are: Madrid, Rioja, Calatayud, Cariñena and Campo de Borja in the province of Aragon; Navarra (mainly used to produce fruity rosé wines); Empordà, Terra Alta and Priorat in the province of Catalonia.
Without any doubt Priorat is the region that has recently gained worldwide attention for producing some of the best Garnachas or Garnatxa, its Catalonian name.
The region has a Continental climate with very hot summer days, cool nights and low rainfall (400-600 lts/year). The landscape of Priorat is full of hills that very from 100 to 700 mts of height, with a very poor soil formed by black slates or “Licorella”. This type of soil reflects the sunlight, absorbs heat and drains water very easily. If we add all this factors we have to realize that the plant has to invest a lot of energy in order to survive in this area. The vines tend to develop very deep roots to look for sources of water and nutrients. This requires a large investment of energy for the vine, which at the end will translate in very low yields.
Even though during the maturation period temperatures can reach up to 40°C during the day, they can go as low as 12°C during the night. This really determines the personality of Priorat wines because, although the grapes fully ripe and can easily reach 15% Vol after fermentation, they still maintain a pleasant acidity thanks to the cool nights and the big temperature oscillation.
The normal blend for Priorat is Garnatxa and Cariñena, but varietal wines from Garnatxa tend to be very fruity with intense aromas of ripe red and black fruits that vary from plum, raspberry, strawberry and cherry, a spicy background, medium acidity, medium ripe tannins and high alcohol level; they almost give a liquorish feeling. Sometimes they can also have petroleum aromas that come from the influence of the soil.
In Spain, this grape is used to produce red, rosé and even sweet wines. Some producers in regions like Montsant and Empordà are well known for making delicious natural sweet wines of Garnatxa.
Fresher and finer versions of Garnacha are being made in La Sierra de Gredos, Madrid. The elevation and cooler climate translates in aromatic wines with lighter color, softer body and higher acidity.
When we talk about Grenache Noir we also have to talk about the Southern Rhône. In the regions of Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, this grape thrives, especially in this last one. The hot and dry Mediterranean climate influenced by the power of the Mistral wind and its sandy and stony soils produce wines that have intense and concentrated aromas of ripe black fruit (almost marmalade), sweet spicy notes of licorice, anise, cinnamon or white pepper with medium to low acidity, medium ripe tannins and high alcohol level that gives the wine a kind of sweet taste.
In Southern Rhône, Grenache is normally blended with Syrah and Mourvèdre (GSM blend) and sometimes with Cinsault.
In France, Grenache Noir is not only used to make dry wines. The regions of Rasteau in the Southern Rhône, Maury and Banyuls in Roussillon produce well-known fortified natural sweet wines from this grape.
We leave France and go to the Italian island of Sardinia. Here, Grenache is called Cannonau and is used to make dry reds, rosés, passito and even fortified or “liquoroso” wines.
This grape is mainly grown in the eastern coast of the island, under the appellation Cannonau di Sardegna DOC.
Sandinia has a Mediterranean climate that produces rich, meaty and concentrated Cannonau reds. They have to age for at least one year in oak barrels. It’s important to say that wines from Cannonau in Sardinia are mainly varietal, a difference when compared to Priorat and Rhône where it is almost part of a blend.
Grenache is not only important in the Old World. In regions of the New World like Australia (Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale) you can find vines dating from 1800’s. These regions have a hot weather, low fertile soils and dry climate, perfect for the growing of the grape. It is produced as a varietal wine and also as part of the GSM blend in dry reds, rosé and Port-styled wines.
Grenache is also planted in California, especially in the Central Coast, with a similar Mediterranean climate found in Southern Rhône. In resent years this has motivated producers to grow and improve the production of Rhône varieties. The area even counts with a group of producers called “The Rhône Rangers”, who work hard in fomenting the production and improving the quality of the “American Rhône wines”.
Grenache is known for its medium intensity garnet color, intense ripped black and red berries aromas with notes of sweet spices. In the mouth they are normally silky and meaty, with medium tannins, medium to low acidity and high alcohol levels that, as I mentioned before, gives the wine a sweet perception (sometimes its also due to residual sugar). It’s a wine that gains complexity, roundness and finesse when aged in oak. Depending on the level of the barrel’s toastiness it can develop aromas of vanilla, tobacco or cigar box.
Grenache wines are known for having a good aging capacity, thanks to its high alcohol levels, especially when blended with other grapes. 100% Grenache wines can evolve very quickly and show some signs of oxidation.
It’s a grape that can really showcase the characteristics of a terroir, a climate and a region. It is a varietal capable of making many different profiles of wine.
In case you need an excuse to drink a glass of Grenache, its international celebrating day is the third Friday of September.