Whether you call the grape Grenache or Garnacha, it’s all delicious, exciting, and an adventure of a grape. While the exact origins of the grape are debatable, Grenache either originated in Northern Spain or the island of Sardinia. No matter the grape’s exact location, Grenache from southeastern France and Garnacha from northern Spain is what’s captured wine lovers’ hearts. Small producers in the United States and Australia have also taken a liking to the grape in recent decades.
Grenache is one of those grapes that’s known for its versatility. When tended to and done properly, the grape can produce great, bold, and age-worthy single-varietal styles. Grenache is also the perfect blending grape, and this is seen in many parts of Spain and southeastern France.
Grenache is known for having a medium-full body along with moderate tannins and acidity. As with most reds, it will be very dry and usually ends up with a fairly high ABV. Grenache also tends to be very approachable and palatable, as it tends to be very fruit-forward. While the grape is great for wine drinkers that prefer fruit-driven wine, it can also be an adventure for other wine drinkers. Though it’s not as common, some earthy, less fruit-driven Grenache is made and can be very tasty.
The fruit notes and aromas found in Grenache tend to be savory strawberry, plum, and occasionally blackberry and raspberry. Depending on the style of winemaking and aging, leather and oaky notes are also common. Regions such as Priorat, Sardinia, and parts of southern France tend to produce more of the funky, earthy notes. These can include floral, herbal, tobacco, and a variety of other interesting bits.
Grenache Blanc / Garnacha Blanca
Grenache Blanc is a closely related mutation of Grenache that is used for white wine production. In the Rhone Valley, single-varietal Grenache Blanc is fairly common, but it is also prevalent as a blending grape alongside Roussanne, Marsanne, Bourboulenc, and Clairette. Similar blends are also produced in the neighboring region of Provence but include other grapes such as Ugni Blanc and Rolle. Garnacha Blanca is also popular and becoming increasingly common in the Spanish wine region of Catalonia, where it is called Garnatxa Blanca.
Grenache Blanc is typically a very full-bodied white with moderate to high acidity and alcohol. Depending on the winemaker and terroir, the aromas and notes can include a variety of fun bits. Common fruit aromas and notes include honeysuckle, lemon, pear, and melon. Other aromas and notes that commonly balance out the fruits are brioche, gravel, saline, floral bits, and herbs. One of the most beautiful and captivating aspects of this grape is the soft creaminess that is often found in the wine.
Spain is at the heart of Garnacha in terms of its ancestral claims and its vibrant and authentic expressions of the grape. In Spain, the grape is believed to have come out of the Aragon wine-growing region. Over the centuries, Garnacha has spread its way throughout the country and found many uses.
Today, it is grown and produced in large amounts in Rioja, Navarra, Catalonia, and its homeland, Aragon. In Rioja, it is commonly used as a blending grape to round out and add more fruit to the region’s dominant grape, Tempranillo. In Catalonia, where the grape is called Garnatxa, it plays an increasingly big role in the famed DOC of Priorat. Here, it is commonly blended with Carignan. Garnatxa is also used in other blends and even as single-varietal wines in places like Terra Alta. Finally, Aragon produces hearty, powerful, and well-structured single-varietal Garnacha at high altitudes. This is no surprise, as Aragon is one of the two contenders for the grape’s birthplace.
Grenache made its way to southern France in the 1800s, particularly in the Rhone Valley. It grew easily and made approachable and sellable wine. The grape has gone through the highs and lows of differing times, but it has undergone a slow renaissance in recent years. The European Union, France, and Spain have pushed growers to reduce low-quality Grenache vines, even going as far as to pay them. While this has led to a decreased output of Grenache, it has allowed quality Grenache producers to hone in on the grape and shine.
Grenache is the dominant grape in southern Rhone, where it is usually blended with Syrah and Mouvedre. Southern Rhone red blends have become some of the most popular styles of wine in the world, by wine-producing and consumer standards. Many people refer to the blends of southern Rhone as “GSM Blends”. The Grenache here tends to be bold, tannic, and more earthy than its Spanish counterparts, though they are still very fruit-forward grapes here. Chateauneuf du Pape is arguably the most famous region in southern Rhone and produces some of the best representations of the grape. Gigondas, Lirac, Tavel, Vacqueyras, and Rasteau also produce reputable and great quality Grenache.
The grape is also grown throughout the appellations of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, where it is commonly blended with Mouvedre, Cinsault, and other varietals.
The Italian island of Sardinia is one of the contenders that claims to be the ancestral home of the Grenache grape, or as they call it, Cannonau. This style tends to be high in alcohol, low in acidity and has moderate tannins. This combination, along with other stylistic and terroir-related factors make for soft, but well-rounded and powerful expressions of the grape.
The DOC of Cannonau di Sardegna covers the entire island. Many of the reputable producers are found along the eastern coast of the island, but small pockets of Cannonau are found in all regions of the island.