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Grenache Noir

ripe grenache noir grapesGrenache Noir a Jus Blanc, to give it its full French name, is the world's seventh most extensively planted red wine grape in 2010 according to a study by the University of Adelaide, down from second place in 1990. It thrives in very warm, arid, viticultural regions and therefore it is no surprise that traditionally it reaches its apogee of importance to wine producers in the south of France, especially in the southern Rhône, Provence and Languedoc-Rousillon, and also in Spain where it is known as Garnacha and is second in importance only to the Tempranillo grape. It is a late-ripening, thin-skinned variety which has been historically important for the production of rosé wines as colour concentration can be lacking unless it is grown in stony soils composed of schist with the restricted yields that are often the result of very old vines. It is not uncommon for wine estates in both France and Spain to boast of Grenache vines that are eighty to one hundred years old and sometimes even older. Grenache does not do well in damper conditions as it can be very prone to rot. The winds of the Mistral in the Rhône valley minimise any such risk and actively encourages organic, and even bio-dynamic, viticulture. It is a hardy variety which is left to grow as a bush vine not needing any special training techniques. In recent years it has started to become quite a popular grape variety to cultivate in California and Australia with both the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale being particularly adept at producing Grenache wines with good concentration.

Grenache wines display fragrant, aromatic perfume and, late ripening in very warm climates leads inevitably to high fruit-sugar levels in the grapes and after fermentation a.b.v. levels are often around 15%. As a result the wines have a lush, smooth mouth-feel but due to the balancing ripe fruit flavours, predominantly raspberry, cherry and black fruits, they do not suffer with a problem of the wines tasting "hot" from the elevated alcohol. It is a major component of red Châteauneuf du Pape wines and an important part of the GSM Blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre) that is responsible for many other of the southern Rhône's best wines including Gigondas, Tavel, Lirac and the best Côte du Rhône crus. In Spain it is commonly used to blend with Tempranillo in Rioja and is also behind the recent emergence of Priorat as an area producing extremely good wines from old Garnacha vines. Grenache makes very food-friendly wine with low-ish tannins and a degree of spiciness and white pepper which partner a very wide range of both meat and vegetable dishes as well as cuisines - try a Grenache, or Grenache-based, wine with less spicy Asian food as well as with more traditional mediterranean fare.

History of Grenache Noir

The history of the Grenache grape usually places it as being of Spanish origin from Aragon although a counter claim exists that it is actually the Sardinian variety Cannonau which found its way to Spain via trading routes. A third possibility is that it was brought by the Carthusian monks from Provence to the priory in the hills above Tarragona, to the area which is now Priorat. Whatever the truth it is fairly clear that the Spanish Garnacha spread to the south of France where it was well-suited to conditions there. In the 17th. and 18th. centuries long before the AOC regulations came into force it was often used to beef-up red Burgundies whose more marginal climate and lack of modern viticultural knowledge resulted in thin, acidic wines in need of more fruit, alcohol and texture. Post-phylloxera it became much more widely-planted throughout Spain and the French south producing vast quantities of pale red wine with decent alcohol levels. In Rioja it became very well-established as a disease-resistant variety becoming a valuable addition to many Rioja blends. European Union subsidies awarded grants to growers pulling up vines in lower quality vineyard areas to reduce the vast wine lake that existed in the 1970s and 1980s reducing the total area under vine and this had an impact on Grenache / Garnacha plantings. The producers in the better appellations of the southern Rhône, however, were clearly onto something and in the last couple of decades the grape has undergone something of a re-assessment with the quality markers clearly identified. A leading proponent of the Grenache variety is Philippe Cambie, the southern Rhône Valley's leading wine consultant, who has almost single-handedly championed the grape and extolled its virtues. The careful selection of site geology and yield restriction, either by vigorous pruning or by virtue of the vines' age, helps to maximise the grape's potential for making wines of very high quality. Slower, cooler fermentation helps to preserve flavour and tannin in a wine not renowned for its natural depth and structure while minimal racking reduces premature oxidation.

Grenache Noir Wines

As a result of Grenache's somewhat split personality it has traditionally been used as a component in either blends (Châteauneuf du Pape, GSM blends) or rosé wines. The majority of Châteauneuf reds are made with approximately 75% Grenache in the blend but one very famous estate, Château Rayas, produces a 100% Grenache wine in the appellation.The pronounced raspberry or strawberry fruit, light colour and smooth mouth-feel make deliciously appealing rosés throughout the south of France and in Spain as well. Grenache's propensity for high alcohol has also found favour with French producers of the sweet Vin Doux Naturelles such as Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes, in which wines it is the major component, as well as with producers of Australian "port" whose fortified wines benefit from the use of Grenache.

As a producer of single varietal wines Grenache is a perfect variety to express its terroir in much the same way as Pinot Noir. Its character does not dominate or conceal its origins. Possibly the most exciting Grenache wines of recent years have been produced in the ascendant Catalan region of Priorat, D.O.C. The success of Priorat has been meteoric and well-deserved although its new-found status means that its wines are sold at something of a premium and less exalted sites are being planted producing wines that, although full of ripe fruit, are lacking in the minerality and complexity to be gained from the more propitious slopes. In the late 1980s 5 dynamic and highly-skilled wine-makers working from the same winery identified very old Grenache bush vines growing on the vertiginous slopes and, using modern techniques and small oak barrels, they began to produce concentrated wine with great fruit and depth. In Languedoc-Rousillon it is often blended with Carignan and Cinsault, as well as the better known Syrah and Mourvédre, to produce, amongst many others, Faugeres AOC. Further afield, the Californian Sine Qua Non is a cult Grenache varietal wine which sells for $300 a bottle or more.

 

2 Videos about Grenache - Garnacha Grape Variety

 

  1. La Picoutine Cinsault Grenache Rosé, Vin de Pays d'Oc, 2012

    La Picoutine Cinsault Grenache Rosé, Vin de Pays d'Oc, 2012

    La Croix produces wines of great value and consistency and its La Picoutine rosé makes for a great refreshing summer drink. It is a lively blend of Cinsault and Grenache grapes which come together nicely to forge a nose of summer berries with a zesty strawberry palate.

    Details
    Colour Rosé Wine
    Grape Variety Cinsault, Grenache
    Country France

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  2. Le Clos du Caillou, Côtes du Rhône, Le Bouquet des Garrigues, 2003

    Le Clos du Caillou, Côtes du Rhône, Le Bouquet des Garrigues, 2003

    Aged in old barrels, this southern Rhône red is a warming, spicy red that has enough body to partner it with a range of winter roasts, stews and casseroles.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Country France

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  3. Mont Tauch, Les Garrigues Grande Reserve Grenache Noir, Tuchan, 2011

    Mont Tauch, Les Garrigues Grande Reserve Grenache Noir, Tuchan, 2011

    This is a lovely example of the Grenache Noir grape's capacity to please and is approachable even when still very young and usually works best with food rather than as a drink on its own.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Grenache
    Country France

    Out of stock

  4. Mont Tauch, Les Garrigues Grande Reserve Grenache Noir, Tuchan, 2012

    Mont Tauch, Les Garrigues Grande Reserve Grenache Noir, Tuchan, 2012

    A soft and generous Grenache wine that offers delicious drinking now.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Grenache
    Country France

    Out of stock

  5. Vriesenhof, Paradyskloof Grenache, Stellenbosch, 2012

    Vriesenhof, Paradyskloof Grenache, Stellenbosch, 2012

    This South African Grenache is a red wine with small quantities of Malbec and Shiraz. Cherry and raspberry on the nose and palate with a long, spicy finish.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Grenache
    Country South Africa

    Out of stock

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