Grenache is the main source for an amazing range and styles of wine. It’s the most widely planted black grape variety in the world, but which also tends to hide itself from view. Most notably Grenache is the main ingredient in the world famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but the sheer diversity and quality of the grape is exampled in the large selection of Jarrold wines where Grenache plays a leading role and you may be surprised at the wines included in this (take a look at the end of this edit to discover three of these).
Because it is mainly a large and important component in many red wines, it is not seen or advertised that often (on its own) on a wine label. Yet without its presence and intrinsic qualities two of the world’s finest red wines - Châteauneuf-du-Pape (in the Southern Rhône) and Priorat (in North-East Spain) would not necessarily exist, or certainly be a revered as they are.
Grenache – or Garnacha as it is called in Spain (where it is believed it originated from) – does have some growing restrictions though. Because it is quite late budding and ripening it only does well in hot and dry areas – but in these it ripens to produce levels of exotic, jammy red and black fruit flavours with wonderful and broad spice notes, including white pepper, Indian spices and liquorice. And as its acidity levels are relatively modest the overall effect, in best examples, it to produce highly accessible, juicy and hedonistic wines. Like many varietals its yields need to be controlled and it can be prone to accelerated oxidation once opened (ie if you keep it overnight).
Such is its ubiquitous nature and quality that it also plays supporting roles in other famous wines, such as Rioja, Navarra and Australian Châteauneuf models, here often referred to as “SGM” s – the “G” being Grenache. In fact, the famous Barossa area in South Australia is home to some of the oldest and finest “bush vine” Grenache in the world.
The reason that a lot of Grenache is grown in these bush vine trained styles is partly down to the fact that it is naturally strong and woody with an upright growth pattern. It is also, simply, because when vines are grown in arid and hot conditions, well - they just don’t grow very fast. These bonsai twisted framed plants have become symbolic with the variety Grenache – most famously in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (please see picture). And not unsurprisingly grown in these sort of conditions yields are often, automatically, low – adding to the concentration of juice in the berries.
The other – maybe surprisingly - star role for this variety is often being the main component in many of the finest rosé wines, for example in Southern France (especially Provence and Tavel in the southern Rhône) and Spain (such as in Navarra). With its thin and relatively light colour pigmented skins it delivers a bold and silky mouth feel and above all fruity rosés with hauntingly pale colour and alluring red berry and soft red fruits flavours. In fact, the most revered of all Provence rosés – Garrus from Château d’Esclans – is made from 80 year old single vineyard Grenache.
From easy drinking, more everyday styles, Grenache can elevate itself to world class wines of incredible levels of richness and savouriness. The top two examples in the world include the well-known region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and maybe the less well known Spanish region of Priorat in Catalunya. Here knarled old Garnacha forms the fundamental basis of the blends which make the finest Priorat wines (usually blended with Cariñena (Samsó)), which is Carignan in France). Grown in arid land on the schist and silica soils called locally llicorella these are serious challenges to the best of the southern Rhône with their spicy and full bodied black fruit character and dried fruit intensity – not unlike an Italian Amarone in a way.
Returning to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, top examples are simply remarkable for their richness and individuality. Grenache is always the largest part of any Domaine’s wine here – and on odd occasions this can extend to 100% - most famously in the most expensive of all estates Château Rayas. Grenache’s bedfellows are usually a cocktail of Syrah (famous for the red wines in the north Rhône) and Mourvèdre. Proportions vary – for example in the superb Château de Beaucastel (available in Jarrold’s) they use more Mourvèdre than usual but in general Grenache usually accounts for at least 70% of the blend. The top wines of this appellation are truly hedonistic, rich and savoury with remarkable depth of fruit and Indian spice flavours, but also very well balanced for wines so rich. And this same recipe is used in other southern Rhône areas – such as the Côtes-du-Rhône, where top villages such as Gigondas and Vacqueras challenge Châteauneuf-du-Pape head on, but also in more everyday and value for money examples from around the generic Côtes-du-Rhône (Villages) appellation.
And there are some twists in the tail with Grenache – it has two close cousins Grenache Gris, with its coppery skin, and the green skinned white version Grenache Blanc. Although nowhere near as widely planted as Grenache Noir they provide for an interesting diversion and soft juicy, almost dried stonefruit richness and gentle spice for a white partner.
And finally, Grenache is also behind some of the finest (mainly gently fortified) red dessert wines in the south of France. Here late harvested, ultra-ripe Grenache berries produce sweet (but not too sweet) wines with wonderful cherry and strawberry liqueur like qualities – great as an after-dinner drink in the own right but also some of the few wines of the world which genuinely work well with chocolate! Top regional examples include Banyuls (near the Spanish border), Maury and Rivesaltes (in the Roussillon) and Rasteau in the southern Rhône. Banyuls and Maury, in particular, drink not unlike a good quality port but without the spirity “kick” that port can have.
One of Grenache’s great qualities is how well the wines work with savoury dishes. As we move fully into autumn fare – not least the game season – these wines all work very well with autumnal ingredients and dishes.
And to finish here is the Jarrold present selection of wines where Grenache plays a leading role in the blend. Nick has highlighted five of these which he thinks are especially good and/or value for money: