As we celebrate this widely planted, but often under appreciated, grape varietal I wanted to share some information and insight that might encourage you to give it a try.
Grenache is a black grape variety with a thin skin that ripens very late, which makes it the perfect vine to be cultivated in warmer and drier climates. Ripe Grenache grapes are typically high in sugar, which translates to a higher level of alcohol in wines, and low in acidity, which means that the wines might not age as well as we would hope.
Due to the abundance of red-fruit flavours that are typical of Grenache, it is often used to make rosé wines by means of the short maceration method - you can read more about this here.
Around the world
Grenache is thought to have originated in the region of Aragon in northern Spain. By the 19th century the vine had made its way through the Languedoc and to the Southern Rhône region where it was well established. In Rioja, Garnacha (as it is known in Spain) was not widely planted until the early 20th century, following the phylloxera epidemic.
Grenache is grown in most wine regions in the world, with France, Spain and Australia being among the most important regions for this varietal.
In France, Grenache is the second most planted varietal, after Merlot, with the most expensive wines coming from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Grenache also forms an integral part of most Rhône-style blends to which it adds red-fruit flavours and body.
Garnacha can be found in most regions in Spain, but is more prevalent in the northern and north-eastern parts. It adds fresh red fruit characters and body to wines produced in the Rioja area and is often used to make dry rosé in the Navarra region. The Priorat region is home to some of the oldest Garnacha vines and produce powerful wines from the small, concentrated berries.
Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale is home to most of Australia's old Grenache vines. Wines from these regions have concentrated red fruit and spice flavours and generally have good ageing potential.
In South Africa
Until recently, Grenache has mostly been planted to be used as a blending component rather than being used to produce single varietal wines. Johan Delport, currently of Waverley Hills Organic Wines, was the first to make single varietal wines from Grenache.
The biggest challenge that South African winemakers face when producing Grenache is seemingly the age of the vines from which they can get grapes. Grenache tends to produce much better/higher quality berries from vines that are older than 50 years, but in South Africa the oldest vines are about 40 years old.
However, Grenache is becoming more popular among winemakers and wine drinkers alike, and we should be seeing some more Grenache wines available at outlets in the future.
In your glass
Grenache is a lighter red wine, which means that you will see a less dense, ruby colour in your glass (especially for younger wines).
Typical Grenache flavours are red fruits (strawberry, red cherry, plum) and spice (white pepper and liquorice). The wines usually have a higher alcohol level, with lower levels of acidity and soft tannins.
It is a lovely wine to enjoy in summer if you chill it slightly, but is equally enjoyable in winter making it the perfect wine to keep around all year long.
What to try
Just a few of the South African Grenache producers that you can try are:
- Cape Wine Merchants - House of Erasmus Grenache
- AA Badenhorst - Raaigras Grenache
- Fairview - The Grenaches Grenache Noir, Stok by Paaltjie Grenache Noir
- Naudé Wines - Grenache
- Waverley Hills - Grenache
If you feel that I did not include your favourite producer, please leave a comment in the comments section below.
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