Grenache is among the most planted grape varieties in the world and in particular, it extends in various forms throughout Spain and Southern France.
Its initial diffusion was indeed in the western Mediterranean and it is now ascertained that it had its origin, with the name Garnacha, in the northern province of Aragon in Spain. It later invaded Rioja and Navarra before colonizing the Pyrenean area, in particular, the French Roussillon, subject to Spain until the seventeenth century. From that point, it spread eastward into the Languedoc and southern Rhone.
Thanks to the robustness of the stalk, it is suitable for traditional sapling viticulture in warm, dry and windy terrain. It germinates early and in areas with a long vegetative cycle it can reach high sugar levels. The wine that is produced is generally lighter than other reds with a tendency toward rapid oxidation, a certain rusticity and a touch of "aromatic sweetness". The bouquet boasts aromas of berries, in particular strawberry and raspberry, flowers such as rose and violet, wild herbs, and spicy notes suggesting white pepper and menthol.
It should be considered that the low Spanish yields tend to concentrate the pigments, similar to the effect of severe pruning and the use of the poorest French soils, thus allowing full maturity of the fruit which produces dense and full-bodied wines. The bouquet is inevitably altered: blackberry, blueberry, ripe cherry, fig, Mediterranean scrub, chocolate, coffee, sweet tobacco, undergrowth.
Garnacha in Spain
The grape variety's most common form of wine with dark berry aromas, is Garnacha Tinta. It is a black grape with white pulp. At the beginning of the 2000s, there were about one hundred thousand hectares widely cultivated in the north and east.
In Rioja, Garnacha produces full and fascinating wines when combined with the more austere Tempranillo to which the vines at higher altitudes and therefore the coolest climates, are dedicated. Garnacha is more common in the warm Rioja Baja district with a long and sunny ripening season. The wine typically expresses with notes of blackberry and plum jam, balsamic and nutmeg.
In the district of Navarre, located on the north-eastern border of Rioja, a different style of wine is produced. These are light and moderate reds and rosés (rosados) which, according to the five micro-climatic subzones, express aromatic traits reminiscent of red flowers, strawberries, aromatic herbs and spices.
Somontano in Aragon represents about two thousand hectares in total where Garnacha is the most widespread traditional variety. This district offers a mild and rainy climate with sandy and gravelly soils. The wines produced here are elegant, fresh and aromatic with notes of wild berries, silica and chocolate depending of the geography of the region.
Also in Aragon, Campo de Borja produces full and fruity red and rosé wines from old Garnacha vines on marly and ferrous soil. These wines express aromatic notes of blackberry and tobacco. Calatayud has a mosaic vineyard on rocky terrain and the variety stands out with fresh and fruity wines.
Vinos de Madrid is an appellation in great ascent which has chosen Garnacha as a grape variety symbol of its regional viticulture. Here there are several sub-zones, in particular San Martin de Valdeiglesias where the wines present a more dense and spicy profile with touches of green pepper, and Navalcarnero where they are lighter and more fruity.
La Mancha, to the south-east, is a desert plateau that holds a record for the cultivation of wine grapes, and by virtue of early harvests, Garnacha expresses the freshest and most aromatic wines.
The most characteristic Spanish wine obtained from Garnacha Tinta is the Priorato, a concentrated Catalan cult wine from volcanic soil in which the old vines together with a brown slate soil with elements of quartzite, the Llicorella, give a rich and seductive aromatic profile of blueberry, cedar, raspberry, graphite, vanilla, licorice, chocolate, tea leaves and eucalyptus.
Ampurdan-Costa Brava is the appellation nearest French soil whose red has a cherry color and a fresh aroma of plum.
Tarragona is the broadest appellation of Catalonia and produces wine with a powerful and fruity bouquet.
The Garnacha Blanca produces floral white wines in Catalonia, Rioja and Navarra.
Grenache in France
The French census at the beginning of the millennium calculated about ninety thousand hectares planted with Grenache Noir (the Garnacha Tinta variety in Spain), particularly in the Midi and, although it was a very widespread variety, was mainly mixed with grapes richer in color and tannins and was produced by different names.
In the windy Rhône of the South lies a large surface area of the grape where the classic Côtes du Rhône with the aromas of wild berries is produced. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most representative appellation of the area with the typical galet, a pebbly soil of red stone that absorbs the heat sometimes mixed with clay and gravel, and with the aristocratic yields it is able to give concentrated and distinctly fragrant wines with aromas of pepper, blackberry, raspberry jam, orange peel, dried rose and cocoa.
Gigondas, towards the north-east of the district, produces a robust and powerful wine from very sunny vineyards that translates a bouquet of plum and star anise.
Vacquerays, just further south, appears more alternative but is not lacking in expressiveness that can be delicately spiced with black pepper.
Tavel produces the exclusive rosé wine of the area of the same name, famous and appreciated in the past, presenting floral notes, small fruits and peppercorn aromas.
Lirac is almost as famous as Tavel, albeit with the production of soft and fruity red wines that are less incisive and complex.
In the Languedoc district renamed the French "New World", there is a common trait of wines originating from the Grenache Noir grape that translate herbaceous and mineral aromas; Faugères and St. Chinian are two appellations that reproduce two different prototypes depending on the presence of schist or limestone in the terrain, more austere and toasted or fresher and more floral.
To the west in Roussillon, Corbières and Minervois are two contiguous and yet different appellations by virtue of microclimate and pedology that respectively reflect a spicier bouquet of pepper, vanilla, juniper or more fruity and mentholated for the latter.
Fitou is one of the oldest denominations, whose terrain is marked by a band of clay-calcareous soil between the sea and the mountainous offshoots, and produces a less elegant and expressive wine.
In the vineyard amphitheater of Roussillon the grape variety is exalted in the versions of mutage wines.
Banyuls is the finest French Vin Doux Naturel, produced in terraced vineyards from old Grenache vines grown as saplings on the southern border with Spain; the dark soil and rancío aging confer notes of chocolate, fig, dried plum, coffee, caramel, medicinal herbs, candied tomato, enamel and tobacco.
Maury in the northern hinterland of Roussillon can be very similar, with the typical bouquet translating toasted aromas of hazelnut and raisins.
Rivesaltes is produced in a large area with Grenache Noir, Gris and Blanc, with an aromatic profile typical for the red versions that expresses notes of cherry and chocolate.
The Grenache winemaking tradition is perpetuated in Provence, in particular in the Côtes de Provence appellation, with excellent rosé wines and some reds to which the variety contributes with aromas of wild strawberry, black currant and musk.
Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence in the westernmost part produces a rich and deep wine with aromas of cassis, cherry and vanilla.
Les Beaux de Provence is a former sub-zone that has since acquired an autonomous status and is distinguished by a pedoclimate in which an organic viticulture has been consolidated with wines rich in spice, cherry and plum aromas.
Grenache Rosè and Grenache Gris are typical of the rosés and whites of southern France.
Grenache in Italy
Grenache is called Cannonao in Sardinia and it claims the grape variety as its own, under the assumptiom that the variety emigrated from the island towards the Iberian penisula when it was under the Aragonese reign. Grown throughout the territory with a presence of about eight thousand hectares, it is a high quality chameleon grape that produces dry or sweet wines. Primarily it is represented in the district Cannonau Doc of Sardinia which includes the entire regional territory in addition to the sub-areas of Oliena, Capo Ferrato and Jerzu. In the past, this wine was considered heavy and alcoholic, to be appreciated only with demanding dishes; today, however, it is produced even with a fresh and fruity profile or elevated through aging in oak. The dominant aromatic themes are of ripe red fruit such as plum and cherry, dried fig, violet and cinnamon.
In the district of Colli Berici in the Vicenza area of northern Italy, the wine is produced with the name of Tocai Rosso or Tai, and about six hundred hectares were recorded in the nineties. This wine expresses a bouquet of red flowers.
Grenache is also produced in Umbria with the name Gamay del Trasimeno, around the lake of the same name, and it offers a typical note of currant.
It is also present in the Marche with the name of Bordò and it differs here by producing a rich and spicy wine with hints of plum and chocolate.
The importance of the vine grew in Italy during the Savoy domination, establishing itself with the name of Guarnaccia or Granaccia in the territory of present-day Liguria. This wine evokes traits of morello cherry and thyme.
Approaching Tuscany, the variety's wine is found with the name of Alicante where it is expressed with a strong chromatic hue and with clear aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cherry and mint.
Towards the south, it was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century in Sicily and Calabria where it is recognized with the name of Alicante Feminello.
Grenache in the New World
The drought resistance of this vine has made it popular in the New World. In the Central Valley, Central Coast and Mendocino in California, Grenache registers great aptitude thanks in part to the trend fueled by the “Rhône Rangers”, with wines that alternate between typical aromatic notes and strong spiced notes depending upon the area of cultivation.
Grenache was the most popular variety of red grape in Australia until the 1960s, albeit generously cultivated with bland wines. Today in the Barossa Valley the Rhone-style concept is overturned with very fruity and spicy wines.
Grenache is a vine born from the Aragonese inspiration capable of retaining numerous styles of enology and of intercepting disparate places. The prototype of the variety has always been able to mix and relaunch with other grapes, yet knows how to celebrate itself among wines with distinct characteristics on a global level.
- Luisito Perazzo