September 17 is The International Grenache Day. So, it is a good time to say a couple of words about this interesting and beautiful grape variety.

Let’s think about names and wines. Famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape; mostly known wine of Spain – Rioja; popular pale Provence rose with a light aroma of lavender and thyme; prestige aged wine of Priorate; saturated rose of Tavel and Lirac; popular GSM blend of New World – all of them (and many others) are based on Grenache grape.

Grenache (French name) or Garnacha (Spanish name) is a variety of Vitis vinifera.

It originated from Aragon, the region of northern Spain. Aragon, as an independent kingdom, appeared at the beginning of the 11th century, and during Middle Ages Catalonia, Valencia, Mallorca, Roussillon (South of France), Sicily, Sardinia, and Neapolitan kingdom were consolidated under its power. Together with Aragon power Garnacha came on these lands except mainland Italy. Sardinia, where Grenache is known under Cannonau’s name, claims that Grenache was born on the island, and from there came to French and Spanish lands together with Aragon kings. However, a genetic study doesn’t confirm it.

Grenache requires plenty of sun and warmth, so it made a lodgment in places with appropriate climates.

In France, Grenache through Roussillon came to Provence and Languedoc, and from Languedoc to South Rhône. In all these regions it plays a dominant role in viniculture.

In Spain, until the 20th century, Garnacha was planted mainly in Navarra and Catalonia. However, the infamous phylloxera epidemy of the 19th century helped to wildly spread this variety. Garnacha is more resistant to phylloxera than other Spanish varieties and was planted on the place of killed vines. Nowadays it is in second place in the country after Tempranillo.

In the 18th century, Grenache was imported into Australia, and many years was the most popular red variety on the continent. Only in the second half of the 20th century did Shiras gain first place.

In the 19th century, California started to use Grenache wildly, and in the last decades, it has become one of the main varieties of Washington state.

Grenache is usually used in blends, although the most famous wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Priorate are made from pure Grenache.

Grenache is a red grape but is has thin and pale skin. The pigments in wine oxidize quickly and easily, and wine starts to lose color then is still young. Grenache is a late-ripening grape and requires hot weather (in return it is stable to drouth and strong wind), at the same time it is rich in sugar. Such properties combination makes it a high-alcohol variety. Grenache has soft tannins; it gives full-bodied soft wine with round tanning. It nicely accepts oak (although requires carefulness with young oak) and is good for aging. Acidity depends on the climate, but is medium on average.

The main aroma is fruity. Classic Grenache has the aroma of red berries, mainly strawberry and raspberry, and white pepper.

What do we have in practice based on such varietal properties?

Because of thin skin and light pigmentation, Grenache is ideal as a base for rose, moreover, for a wide range of rose. And it is used for rоse production of different kinds.

Everybody knows the rose of Provence, this region is specialized in them. They are pale, almost colorless, light wines with a slight aroma of lavender and thyme. Usually, they are blends with Grenache domination. Provence has a sunny but soft climate, so wines are light-bodied with nice refreshing acidity.

At this point, small excursus about rose technology should be made. Just to give some idea what is the difference between the technology of red, white and rose wines production. Colors and tannins come to wine from the grape skin. Accordingly, white wine is made by fermentation without skin (grape is crashes, pressed, and only juice is fermented). Red wine is made by fermentation with skin. And the rose is made by short fermentation with skin (usually from 2 to 4 hours), and continuation according to white wine technology. The shorten fermentation with the skin, the lighter color, and fewer tannins have wine. Rose of Provence is such wine. The longer fermentation with skin, the more saturated color has wine, the more tannic it is. Excess of tannins makes rose unpleasant, so in the case of varieties with high tannins, like Cabernet sauvignon, long fermentation with the skin doesn’t work. But Grenache with its thin skin, soft tannins, high sugar, and strong fruity aroma is ideal for saturated rose. Long (for rose, of course) fermentation with skin gives intense-colored, medium- or even full-bodied aromatic, refreshing rose. By the way, clarets of Bordeaux (that they call “claret” in Bordeaux, not in Great Britain) are made in the same way, but they have a different varietal combination.

Thus, this Grenache property is used by two AOCs of South Rhône, Tavel, and Lirac.

Tavel historically specializes in rose, actually, it produces rose only. Main varieties – Grenache and Cinsault, with Grenache domination. After fermentation with skins for 10-36 hours, they produce from medium to full-bodied (up to 13.5% abv) deep-pink wines with saturated aroma. Normally, a rose is not good for aging and should be drunk young, but for Tavel rose several years in the bottle just give an additional nice and complex taste. Tavel rose always has had a high reputation. They were favorite wines of Avignon Popes; Philippe IV le Bel named them the only good wines in the world; Louis XIV Le Roi Soleil adored them. Honoré de Balzac and Ernest Hemingway also were lovers of Tavel rose. I am not so famous person, but Tavel rose is also my favorite one.

Lirac locates next door to Tavel. They make similar roses, but with a lesser proportion of Grenache.

Spain produces a lot of roses, both from pure Garnacha and from blends, light variants (rosado), and dark, saturated ones (claret).

New World also wildly used Grenache for rose production.

Enough about rose. Let’s talk about red wines.

In France, Languedoc-Roussillon and South Rhône specialize on red wines from Grenache.

Roussillon makes full-bodied, heavy, saturated wine, with a strong aroma of red fruits and spices from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvedre.

Grenache is the main variety of South Rhône. Hot sun and stony soil give it plenty of sugar that results in full-bodied spicy wines with a strong aroma of red fruits. Usually, Grenache blend with Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre, and 14 other varieties, but some winemakers prefer to use it as pure variety.

Among vineyards of South Rhône special place belongs to AOC Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This AOC is famous for its wines and its history. Its name literally means “the new castle of Popes”. In 1308, Pope Clement IV, former Archbishop of Bordeaux, moved the Papacy from Rome to Avignon (South Rhône), where it existed for 70 years before was moved back to Rome. The presence of Papacy was very helpful for Rhône viniculture. The Church always had a good influence on French viniculture development. Popes usually preferred Burgundy wines, by cared about neighbor’s vineyards and promoted their wines on the world market. Wine from this region got “Vin du Pape” name, that later changed to “Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the first French wine region that got AOC category. At the beginning of the 20th century, winemakers of the region suffered from enormous adulteration of their wines, and they pushed the establishment of the Appellation Contrôlée system in France. As a result, their region became the first AOC.

At this point, I return to the varietal peculiarities of Grenache. Grenache from young vines and Grenache from old vines are two different things. Young vines give, as I said, quickly paled wine with soft tannins and a fruity aroma. The old vines (35-100 years) give completely different wines. The grape yield from such vines is very low, a grape is more saturated with phenolic compounds, as a result, we have deep-red wine, with strong but soft tannins, additional leather aroma. This wine is ideal for aging.

Best vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape use old vines.

And not only they are. Let’s go back to Spain, the motherland of Garnacha.

Aragon, where Garnacha is the dominant grape, put wines from old vines into a specific separate category. The bottles with such wine are marked “old vines”. Vines should 35yesr and older. DOP of Calatayud is especially known for “old vines Garnacha”.

But the most famous Garnacha from old vines is made in Priorat. In the 1990-s young winemakers of Priorat concentrated on old vines that grow on stones. Such vines give a very small number of berries, but the content is very rich. They give very dark, almost black wine, and very tannic. It required aging in an oak barrel. The result is remarkable.

And, of course, Rioja, the first Spanish wine, become famous outside the country. It is a blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo.

In the New World Grenache is mostly grown in Australia (especially McLaren Vale), California (North Coast), and Washington. More often it is used in South-Rhône bled – type Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre, traditionally simply called GSM.

All previous speech was about dry wines. Let’s give a chance to sweet teeth. Banyuls region (South-East part of Roussillon) uses Grenache for the production of naturally sweet wine (Vin de naturel). Australians make from Grenache Porto-style fortified wine.

I believe, with such devitrification everybody can find appropriate wine to celebrate International Grenache Day!

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