Grenache is one of the most widely planted red grape varieties in the world. Approximately half of its 450,000 globally planted acres are in France. Spain holds the second-highest number of vineyards globally, with just over 140,000 acres. The grape needs hot and dry conditions to ripen fully. Outside of France and Italy, the grape also grows in Sardinia, Italy, Paso Robles, California, and small pockets throughout South Australia.
Where Grenache Comes From
Grenache goes by more than one name depending on where it comes from – similar to Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. For versions that originate from Spain, Grenache is called Garnacha. Most historical documentation shows that the grape is indigenous to northeastern parts of Spain. More specifically, the autonomous region of Aragon. From there, French winemakers north of the Pyrenees mountains in the Languedoc-Roussillon region began experimenting with the grape. Word of the grape’s success spread further north-east to the Southern Rhône, where winemakers at the time happened to be looking for a blending grape. Thus, the now famous – and highly accoladed wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – were born.
What Grenache/Garnacha Tastes Like
In the DOs (denominación de origen) of Aragon in Spain, Garnacha is typically a single varietal expression. It’s deep in color, full-bodied, concentrated, and intensely fruity with white pepper spice. In nearby Priorat in neighbouring Cataluña, it’s common for winemakers to blend the grape with Carignan. These wines also have high concentration, although more mineral-driven, with complex fruit characteristics and toasty oak.
In this clip from Sommelier’s Notebook An Intro to Grenache, Sabato Sagaria explains why the llicorella soils in Priorat are essential for ripening this heat-loving grape.
West of Aragon in Rioja, the grape plays a more minor but essential role. Together with Tempranillo, Garnacha adds perfume, body, and alcohol to the final expression.
French winemakers in the Languedoc-Roussillon often blend Grenache with Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan or Cinsault. A typical profile doesn’t exist since the styles can vary so greatly. It often depends on the winemaker’s preference and composition of the blend, plus the vineyard micro-climate. Most combinations have a spicy and herbal characteristic, reminiscent of herbs that grow locally. In the Southern Rhone, Grenache plays an integral role in the world-renowned GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) blends of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. GSMs have a full-body, rich texture, and a concentration of red fruit flavours.
If you love the GSM expression but don’t want to spend too much, opt for a generic Côtes-du-Rhône, which is easy to find in the $20-$25 range. Or, for something in the mid-range, look for Gigondas or Vacqueyras. Both have Cru status but are often in the shadows of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Try It Chilled
Contrary to most people’s beliefs, full-bodied wines such as Grenache can – and should – be chilled. A good-quality bottle that holds good structure and moderate tannins should be served at cellar temperature, between 62-65°F (16-18°C). This range is below modern-day room temperature, which means the bottle should be popped in the fridge for 10 minutes before opening.
Given the popularity of Grenache in Spain and southern France, it’s no wonder that we see it create some of those area’s most popular rosés. Grenache goes into Provence Rosé and Garnacha Rosado. Both versions are typically dry with zesty acidity and lively red fruit flavors of strawberry and watermelon.
Food Pairing Ideas
The full body and moderate to high alcohol levels in Grenache make it the perfect pairing for hearty dishes. Its subtle spice flavors can help bring out the spice or herbs in roasted dishes or braised meats. For root vegetable fanatics, try Grenache-based wines with a veggie stew. For meat lovers, anything off the barbecue will do, such as slow-cooked pork. Are you looking for something with a bit of spice? Fortunately, Grenache is an excellent accompaniment to spicy cuisine. Try it with Indian curries or Sichuan dishes.
Nicole MacKay in the Managing Editor of the SOMM TV Online Magazine. She holds her WSET 3 and is a Spanish Wine Scholar through the Wine Scholar Guild. With a passion for food and travel, she's often found in her kitchen adjusting perfectly good recipes to be gluten-free and plant-based.