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Garnacha Tinta / Grenache Noir

photo of Grenache by Tim Ramey.Grenache noir is the world's most widely planted grape used to make red wine, sometimes bottled as a single unblended red variety, frequently as a rosé, but most often as the backbone of red blends.

Used as a component in some Northern Rhône reds, nearly exclusively for Rhône rosés and as the primary component in nearly all Southern Rhône red blends, Grenache is probably most notable as the base variety for Châteauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhône and Gigondas. In spite of its fame coming from these French AOCs, Spain is most likely this grape's origin1.

Grenache is known by local names (alicante, carignane rousse) in the Mediterranean regions of France. Particularly important in the areas of the Languedoc and Rousillon, there are also variants with different colored berries: white grenache blanc, and pink grenache rose or grenache gris. Nearly three times as much grenache is planted in Spain as in France. The Spanish know this grape and wine as garnacha or garnacha tinta, where it is the dominant red wine variety in Catalonia and prominent in Rioja.2 Grenache leaf photo. The grape is known in Italy as tocai rosso in Veneto and as cannonau on the island of Sardegna.

In the New World, Australia has extensive plantings of grenache and has been very successful making full-bodied grenache-dominated red blends. Charles Lefranc, who established Almaden in the Santa Clara Valley as the state's first winery, probably introduced grenache in a planting spurt not long after his initial success. Until surpassed by merlot in the decade of the 1990s, grenache was the third most planted red variety in California after zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. Much of this acreage is in the Central Valley, used to produce bulk rather than premium wine, but there are also many quality producers around the state, as well as in Arizona, Oregon, Texas, and especially Washington.

An abundant producer of fruit, grenache habitually will "alternate" a crop of 8 to 10 tons per acre one year and 14 to 16 tons the next. The vine is very sturdy and woody, lends itself well to head or spur pruning, and survives arid and drought conditions better than less vigorous vines. Rootstocks with low vigor can markedly increase fruit quality. A long, warm to very warm growing season is necessary, preferably where average seasonal temperatures are between 62° and 69° F, as grenache tends to bud early and ripen late. Although grenache is fairly resistant, cool and damp conditions can cause "dead arm disease" (eutypa). It is fairly resistant to powdery mildew, but compact and well-filled clusters are quite prone to rot. Grenache is also susceptible to shatter or coulure.

Grenache cluster.The grenache grape is relatively low in both pigment and malic acid, and oxidizes readily. Although some 100% varietal wines are produced from grenache, particularly in Spain's Rioja and from some "old vines" plantings in California, it is mostly used to "fill out" red blends and soften harsher partners, such as syrah and carignan. The combination of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre has becomes so common in California that many bottlings are labeled "GSM". Prior to the establishment of France's AOC, Burgundy's "dirty little secret" was that grenache grown in the Rhône Valley often contributed flavorful appeal to save the sometimes thin and weak pinot noir.

On its own, grenache can make fleshy, heady wines with lots of fruit appeal in their youth. They tend to age rapidly, however, showing tawny colors and prone to oxidation or maderization after only a relatively short time in bottle. The general character and mouthfeel of wines made from grenache are more distinctive and identifiable than any particular aromas or flavors.

*Typical Grenache Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
*Typicity depends upon individual tasting ability and experience and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions, as well as viticultural and enological techniques. This list therefore is merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.

Varietal Aromas/Flavors:

Processing Bouquets/Flavors:

Mouthfeel: fleshy, full

Terroir: (varies)

Fruit: blackberry, black currant

Light Oak: vanilla, sweet wood

Spice: allspice, cinnamon

Heavy Oak: toast, oak, smoke

Floral: orange blossom

Bottle Age: (atypical)

Flavors / Mouthfeel / Texture: rich, concentrated; can take on a "jammy", cooked character when over-cropped or overripe

Partly due to its commonplace abundance and partly due to its hardiness in warmer climates that are generally considered to grow lesser-quality wines, grenache has never achieved as much of a premium reputation as other red varieties. The group of California wineries marketing themselves as the Rhône Rangers are committed to raising both the quality and profile of this and other lesser-known grape varieties.

by Jim LaMar

1. The Italian island of Sardinia, grows cannonau, and would argue that Spain garnished garnacha during the isle's four centuries of Spanish occupation. Earliest mentions of both the Spanish garnacha and the Sardinian cannonau appear in literature from the first half of the 16th century. Genetic evidence that Sardegna has only a single color and a single clone of cannonau strongly suggests that Spain, where three colors and other mutations of garnacha exist, is this grape family's cradle, since a precept of agro-archaeology is that areas of great variance usually indicate birthplace.

2. Prior to 1970, Grenache made up about 2/3 of vineyards, dominating the Rioja; since, the dramatic spread of Tempranillo now accounts for 85% of all Rioja red production. RETURN

1. Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours (pg 396-400) London: Allen Lane/Penguin and New York: Ecco/Harper-Collins, 2012

2. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006

3. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996

4. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983

5. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998

6. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010

7. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003

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Page created February 5, 2002; last updated April 25, 2018
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