Culinary Arts

Learn About Grenache Wine Grape: History, Characteristics, and Different Grenache Wines

Written by MasterClass

Jun 11, 2019 • 6 min read

Grenache is an innately likeable workhorse wine grape that is made into a huge variety of wine styles. From the fruit-forward, medium bodied bistro wines of Côtes du Rhône, to the fleshy rosés of Provence, to the trendy, blockbuster reds of Priorat, grenache is versatile and approachable, and producers are making grenache wines with more care than ever before.

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What Is Grenache?

Grenache is a red wine grape variety grown widely in France (where it is known as grenache noir) and Spain (where it is called garnacha), but also in the New World. The vine is easy to grow in many soils and can produce large quantities of fruit. Grenache is made into a range of wine styles from dry to sweet. It is often partnered with other grapes in a blend, but 100% grenache varietal wines are not uncommon. Grenache wines exhibit high alcohol and sweet, ripe red fruit flavors, often with a violet-like floral scent.

What Is the History of the Grenache Grape?

Grenache originated centuries ago either in Sardinia (where it is known as cannonau), a Mediterranean island off the southwest coast of Italy, or in northern Spain, in the region of Aragón (where it is known as aragon or garnacha). By the 1800s, grenache was grown in France’s Rhône Valley as well as the southern Languedoc-Roussillon region. In the early 1900s, pest-resistant grenache vines were planted in Rioja after many vineyards were destroyed by the Phylloxera aphid.

Grenache has had its ups and downs in popularity during the last century. In the 1980s, a few growers in California who were fans of Rhône wines reignited interest in the grape. In the 1990s, a quality revolution occurred in Priorat, where Spanish garnacha is blended with cariñena to make powerful, age-worthy reds that achieved global renown. The flip side of this trend is that many acres of grenache have been uprooted as part of the European government’s effort to decrease the amount of inexpensive wine made from varieties like grenache, which can produce low quality fruit if growers don’t tame the vine’s productivity.

What Are the Characteristics of the Grenache Grape?

Grenache vines are popular among both growers and drinkers for many reasons, including their hardiness and ability to grow grapes that are fruity and low in tannin. Grenache grapes are:

  • Naturally sweet. Wines made with grenache burst with juicy, ripe fruit flavors like raspberry, red and black cherry, and strawberry jam. Lozenge candy or candied violets are common tasting notes.
  • Blend well. Grenache is aromatic and full of fruit flavor, so it is an easy choice to blend with meatier, more tannic grapes like mourvedre or syrah.
  • A versatile shapeshifter. Most grenache varietal wines are approachable and ready to be enjoyed young, but with careful winemaking practices from the fruit of old vines, grenache can become a complex, powerful wine that rewards cellaring. The wines of Priorat and Châteauneuf-du-Pape show that grenache wines can be just as full-bodied and concentrated as cabernet sauvignon.

What Climate Is Best for Growing Grenache?

Grenache is widely planted in warm climates in southern France, northern Spain, and South Australia. It needs a long growing season to achieve full ripeness, at which point it has high alcohol potential and significant fruit sweetness. In schist or granitic soils, grenache become more concentrated, balancing the fruit with herbal and animal notes.

What Are the Different Variations of the Grenache Grape?

Like many ancient grape varieties, grenache has mutated a number of times. These mutations are genetically identical to the parent but are different in appearance.

  • Grenache noir is the original and most common grenache, whose thin skins result in a medium-ruby colored wine. It is made into red wines as well as rosé styles.
  • Grenache blanc, a white mutation of grenache, is grown in northeast Spain as well as France’s Rhône Valley. White Priorat wines made from grenache blanc and other white grapes are gaining popularity, and grenache blanc has long been an important blending grape in rich southern Rhône whites.
  • Grenache gris, a mutation named after the grayish-pink color of its skin, is less well-known. It is mostly planted in France’s Roussillon, where it is blended with grenaches noir and blanc in the dessert wines of Banyuls, Rivesaults, and Maury.

9 Grenache Grape Regions and Different Types of Grenache Wines

The grenache grape is made into many different wine styles, from dry to sweet, and from white to red. Flavors may be straight forward and fruity, or deep and opulent, depending on what the grenache is blended with. With grenache especially, it can be helpful to note the alcohol content and appellation to find a wine style that appeals to you.

Spain:

  • Priorat: The wines from Priorat are usually made with cariñena in powerful, spicy blends that are sometimes aged in new oak. These wines can age and are best with grilled meat dishes. White Priorat, a garnacha blanca-led blend, is minerally and floral, similar to sauvignon blanc.
  • Rioja and Navarra: Grenache is used to soften or add aroma to the tempranillo grape. On their own, grenache wines from these regions are light in color with fleshy, red fruit.

France:

  • Côtes du Rhône AOC is the label found on most grenache-based wines made in France’s Southern Rhône region. The grenache is usually blended with a little syrah, carignan, or mourvedre. Côtes du Rhône wine can also be 100% grenache. These are good value wines with moderate tannins and an herbal, tobacco overtone to the red fruit aromas.
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an appellation in the Southern Rhône where 13 grapes, including all of the grenaches, are allowed in the wines. These wines are smokey and intense, with savory licorice notes. Also try wines from the Vacqueyras or Gigondas appellations if you like this style.
  • Provence rosé: Some of the most popular rosés from Provence are often grenache-based, which gives them strawberry and orange zest flavors.
  • Languedoc, a region in southern France, is responsible for juicy, inexpensive grenache/syrah/mourvedre (GSM) blends. The warm climate means that these wines are full bodied and higher in alcohol. Languedoc whites are usually unoaked, easy-drinking blends made with grenache blanc and other local white grapes.
  • Roussillon, the region southwest of Languedoc, is known for fortified dessert wines called vin doux naturels, made from grenache blanc, grenache gris, and grenache noir. VDNs labeled rancio are made in an oxidative style, similar to Madeira.

New World:

  • Australia is known for its GSM blends. Shiraz/syrah is still the most well-known of the three grapes, but a few top producers in the Barossa Valley and the Yarra Valley have recently released varietal grenache wines. The sweetness and alcohol in the wines are amplified by Australia’s warm climate, but producers are using winemaking techniques to create a slightly lighter style of wine.
  • California has been growing grenache ever since a wave of Italian immigrants brought the grape with them to the United States in the 1880s. Small producers in the Central Coast are reviving grenache’s reputation as an easy-drinking table wine, but prizing quality over the quantity.

How Do You Pair Grenache Wines?

Food pairings and aging suggestions for grenache vary based on the style of the wine in question. Serious examples like Priorat or Châteauneuf-du-Pape can age for a decade or more, while most other grenaches, especially rosés, should be drunk within a year or two. Most grenache wines should be served slightly chilled to tame their alcohol. High alcohol also means that these wines are not the best match with spicy food.

Try grenache with:

  • Carnitas tacos
  • Grilled steak
  • Burgers
  • Cassoulet
  • Roasted game bird with herbs

Learn more about wine tasting and pairing in James Suckling’s MasterClass.