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Essential Guide to Grenache Wine

Grenache Wine Guide

Would it surprise you to know that Grenache is responsible for some of the most delicious and expensive wine in the world? From exalted regions like Châteauneuf-du-Pape to cult California wines, Grenache is just as important in the wine world as Cabernet Sauvignon.

Grenache Red Wine Profile

MAJOR REGIONS: About 456,000 acres worldwide

  • France (~250,000 acres) Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
  • Spain (~170,000 acres) Priorat, Calatayud
  • Italy (~55,300 acres) Sardinia, Sicily, Calabria
  • United States (~10,000 acres) California, Washington
  • Australia (~8,000 acres) South Australia

Grenache Characteristics

FRUIT: Strawberry, Black Cherry, Raspberry
OTHER: Anise, Tobacco, Citrus Rind, Cinnamon
OAK: Yes. Usually Medium Oak Aging
TANNIN: Medium
ABV: Medium-plus alcohol (13.5-16%)
COMMON SYNONYMS: Cannonau (Italy), Garnacha (Spain), Garnatxa (Spain), Grenache Noir, Alicante (Rare)

What does Grenache Taste Like?

The unmistakable candied fruit roll-up and cinnamon flavor is what gives Grenache away to expert blind tasters. It has a medium-bodied taste due to its higher alcohol, but has a deceptively lighter color and is semi-translucent. Depending on where it’s grown, Grenache often has subtle aromas of orange rinds and ruby-red grapefruit. When Grenache is grown in Old World regions such as Côtes du Rhône and Sardinia, it can have herbal notes of dried oregano and tobacco.

3 Very Different Tasting Grenache-Based Wines

Spanish Garnacha

The Calatayud is a warmer growing region in Northern Spain where late-ripening Garnacha grapes can get very high sugar levels. The ripe grapes usually ferment to alcohol levels above 15%, which adds both body and spice. Garnacha from this area often smell slightly of ruby-red grapefruit with lots of cherry and licorice flavor.

French Grenache

The Southern Rhône is known for Grenache-based wines. The region’s wine varies year-to-year based on vintage variation. Along with cherry fruit expect more smoky herbal notes including oregano, lavender, and tobacco. The Rhône is a slightly cooler region often making wines with more finesse and slightly less alcohol.

US Grenache

American Grenache is both fruit-forward and aromatic with crisp acidity. Instead of herbal aromas like many Old World Grenache, the American versions smell more like licorice and flowers. American Grenache is often blended with a touch of Syrah to add tannin and smooth out the flavor.

Poppy Restaurant in Seattle, WA. photo by Helene Dujardin Photography[/caption]

Grenache Food Pairing

The spice in Grenache makes it a perfect pairing with spiced and herb-heavy dishes including roasted meats, vegetables, and a variety of ethnic foods. Alcohol is a solvent to capsaicin, which is the heat unit in spicy foods. A lighter-alcohol Grenache served slightly chilled can help reduce the burn of spicy food.

The official #GrenacheDay occurs annually on the 3rd Friday of September. It was started by the Grenache Symposium in 2010.

6 Surprising Facts About Grenache

Grenache Acreage is Falling!
In the 1970s and 1980s, the worldwide acreage of Grenache was closer to 800,000 acres; a size with the potential to produce up to 2.5 billion bottles of wine a year. The reduction of acreage is partially due to the recent spurn of low-quality wines, which are produced with high-yield grapes like Grenache and Cinsau(l)t.
12,000 Acres in China!?
Rumor has it that there are close to 12,000 acres of Grenache vineyards in China. The wine industry in China includes 7 growing regions and 40+ indigenous grape varieties that are not known outside of China.
The Most Expensive Grenache
Bottles of Château Rayas and Domaine du Pegau in Châteauneuf-du-Pape go for close to $600. In Priorat, Clos Erasmus and Alvara Palacio’s ‘Ermita Velle Vinyes‘ are two Spanish cult Grenache-based wines nearing the $300 mark. Finally, Sine Qua Non in Santa Barbara run upwards of $500.
Dessert Wine from Grenache
Rasteau, Maury, and Banyuls are all fortified dessert wines called “vin doux naturel” from France made with Grenache. The production of vin doux naturel is similar to making Port wine.
One Winery Responsible for Grenache in the US
Tablas Creek has worked with Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape since 1989 to bring in cuttings of Côtes du Rhône wine grapes to America. The nursery at Tablas Creek is almost single-handedly responsible for the US plantings of grapes like Grenache and Viognier.
Burgundy’s Secret
Burgundians are guilty of blending Grenache from neighboring Rhône region in the 17th century to improve the flavor of their Pinot Noir red wines. Of course, at the time adding wine from a different region wasn’t illegal.

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Statistics on Grenache in California Tablas Creek Winery
Statistics on French Grenache
Grenache Symposium and #GrenacheDay
“Grenache: The Great Unsung Hero” Stephen Spurrier from Decanter
Statistics on South African Vineyards Sawis.co.za
Statistics on Garnacha in Spain Garnachadeespana.com
Statistics of Grenache in China Wine Business Journal

About Madeline Puckette

I'm a certified sommelier and creator of the NYT Bestseller, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. Find me out there in the wine world @WineFolly