Grenache (gren-AHSH)


Grenache is well known both as a white grape (grenache blanc) and a red (grenache noir). The red grenache noir is especially valued and makes a slew of stunning wines around the world. It is, for example, the lead grape in many southern French wines including, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-du-Rhône, and Gigondas, as well as the top grape in many northern regions of Spain, including Campo de Borja and Priorat. And, when the vines are old, grenache makes devastatingly great wine in Australia. In California and Washington State, the grape continues to inspire many avant garde winemakers, and there are now remarkable examples of grenache and grenache blends in both states. Though France is often thought of as grenache’s ancestral home, the grape is Spanish in origin and rightfully ought to be known by its Spanish name garnacha. While garnacha’s parents are not known, it is thought to have arisen in Aragon, one of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain. That said, until recently, a strong scientific hypothesis had grenache originating in Italy first as a white grape also called vernaccia (garnaccia, garncha) and later brought to Spain (where it muted to form a red clone) and from there to France. But for as similar sounding as the names vernaccia and garnacha are, molecular analyses show no genetic relationship between the two grapes. The Italian connection is not without merit, however, since DNA typing shows Sardinia’s important grape cannanou to be garnacha tinta/grenache noir. Like pinot noir, grenache is genetically unstable and is therefore difficult to grow and to make into wine. From less than ideal vineyards, grenache noir can be heavy handed, simple, and fairly alcoholic (there are countless examples of this in central and southern Spain, southern France and the Central Valley of California). But when grenache is at its best, the wines that result have an unmistakable purity, richness, and beauty, plus the evocative aroma and flavor of cherry preserves. Grenache is not particularly high in tannin, and thus great examples have a sappy, luxurious texture. In most places where it is grown, grenache is blended with other varieties—carignan, syrah, and mourvèdre, in particular.

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