Grenache is a wine that many have never heard of, but it’s one of the best examples of how trying a new wine can open you up to a world of new experiences, flavors, delicious wine with food pairings.
And recently Grenache made headlines in a rather unconventional way. Cass Vineyard may seem like a typical vineyard situated in the wine growing region in France, but in 2000 it became one of the first, at least in California, to implant grapes cloned my the DNA of grapes grown in France.
The idea might be unsettling at first for some, but the idea is that the grapes are of better quality and produce a result nearly identical to what you’d find from France, and also grapes that are meant to be fairly hardy. All told, Cass Vineyard has eleven varieties of grapes that are the result of cloning.
One of those varieties is Grenache. Cass Vineyards’ Grenache 2017 was praised by Michele Elyzabeth, a contributor to Latfu, as a smooth, pleasant wine with richer notes and a burst of red fruit flavors. Of all the eleven varieties, it was the Grenache she gravitated towards–but are Grenache wines really worth trying, and how do you find the best ones?
What are the Grenache grapes?
Grenache grapes are considered among the more delicate grape varieties and are typically harvested around late September. They are thought to originate in France, though it is possible they simple became popularized there, this popular belief by consumers is actually contradictory to the most opinion that they originated in Spain. Grenache is grown on over two hundred and forty thousand acres of vineyards in the regions of Southern Rhone, Provence, Roussillon, and Languedoc.
Typically, they are a fairly light bluish purple before being picked. Despite being less well known, they are actually the second most grown grape variety in France, behind only Merlot, which constitutes over two hundred and eighty thousand acres. In fact, Grenache is among the most planted grape varieties globally. Though it’s known to be grown in France, it’s also grown in Spain, which is likely its true country of origin. In addition, you’ll find it grown in vineyards spanning California, parts of Australia, and Sardinia, an Italian isle.
If Grenache is so widely grown and produced, why haven’t I heard of it?
Rest assured, you’re not alone if you’ve either never heard of Grenache or you aren’t very familiar with it. Grenache is most popularly sold not alone so much as in blends. You’ll find it in Spanish wine blends, especially wines from Rioja like Tempranillo.
In French wines, Grenache has prominently featured a variety of wines, especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where Grenache can constitute as much as eighty percent of the blend. In both France and Spain, Grenache is sometimes used for Rose, and in Australia, Grenache is featured in a variety of blends as well.
One of the most popular uses is to blend Grenache with Syrah.
Where is it most commonly grown?
Obviously we’ve already somewhat discussed different growing regions, but to give you a bigger picture, Grenache is still mostly grown in France, but Spain accounts for over one hundred and fifty thousand acres devoted to Grenache, followed by Italy with about a third of that size, and United States with around ten thousand acres; Australia grows just a few thousand below that.
How is Grenache produced? Compared with other wine grapes, Grenache is fairly simple to grow but can be especially susceptible to volatile climates and temperature changes in general. It actually grows best in climates that are hot, arid and windy, with warm soil with proper drainage. It’s also typically grown with smaller yields at a time.
As far as fermentation, Grenache is actually quite tricky–too long and the wine risks becoming overly tannic, and barrel aging can easily overwhelm the subtle, fruity flavors.
What are the best food pairings for Grenache?
Grenache is considered an approachable red wine but can be more bold and robust when blended with other wines. While it’s hard to say definitively to very best food pairings simply because of the varying ways Grenache is used, overall Grenache is an excellent accompaniment for a variety of meat dishes that are a bit heavier or more robust.
- Meat stews are an excellent pairing. Slow cooked pork, goulashes, and even hearty vegetable dish stews all work well. Fattier meats are complemented with the fruit flavors and fuller body, so long as it’s Grenache that presents complexity. For an exceptionally earthy stew, Spanish Grenache blends tend to be a nice choice.
- Wild game like venison and rabbit tends to have very pronounced potent flavors that can be difficult to pair wine with, but Grenache and Grenache blends with deeper berry notes help balance out the strong flavors and complement with a touch of bold fruity notes.
- Grilled lamb chops and skirt steak are both succulent, slightly smoky, heavier dishes that are suited paired with wither rich French and Spanish blends, or purely Grenache wines from the United States and Australia, especially those wines with those darker, more intense cherry notes with full body.
As a rule, Grenache pairs best with red or especially robust meats, but it’s also used with hearty root vegetables, lentils, and earthy notes like mushrooms. Alone, it is especially well paired with grilled and braised meat. Most blends add the complexity of flavor suitable for stews. Aging Grenache in barrels tends to soften fruity flavors and makes it more acceptable for pairing with a robust seafood dish like Paella or a fatty fish like salmon, but generally, most people prefer the bold fruity side to Grenache and serving it alongside bold meats.
What are the main characteristics I should look for when trying to find the best Grenache wines?
Grenache is tricky in that it is so often produced in blends with other grapes. While we’ll be focusing mostly on Grenache and its characteristics by itself, we will also mention some notes about different Grenache blends.
In order to find the best Grenache wines, it’s essential you can identify the best characteristics, and what emphasizes all Grenache has to offer. It’s also important you go into your search understanding what you want. Here are the features of the best Grenache wines:
- Flavor Notes: Flavor notes vary quite a bit depending on if it’s Grenache by itself, in a blend or if it’s been aged. The general rule is that Grenache is a very fruity wine, normally deeper red fruits such as dark cherries and berries. But the very classic note is an almost candied fruit taste with a zip of cinnamon. That will offer the very best in terms of a classic Grenache.
- The most common flavor notes are cherries, raspberries, and blackberries. However, you want Grenache that contains layered flavors, with smoky or spicy notes like tobacco, anise, and even a spice, because that will provide the best in complexity.
- When blended with Syrah, you want a bottle of wine that adds accent notes of pepper and some floral profile, though the berries should still be the most prominent flavor. The best Grenache with Syrah blends is able to retain the deep and robust berry flavors while adding signature pepper notes that make these blends exceptionally well suited for foods off the grill. These blends are common in American Grenache.
- Grenache from Sardinia often present some herbaceous, more savory notes which are best suited with root vegetables and heavier stews. Just make sure you still see berry notes and cinnamon or something like it present, or you risk losing the best of classic Grenache flavors.
- Grenache from Northern Spain should present classic cherry flavors, but with a tint of citrus, either grapefruit or orange. Because of this, you’re looking for a slightly brighter and lighter take on Grenache, one which can go with heavier seafood or fatty fish dish.
In short, for an American Grenache, look for some floral notes and a few peppery notes; Northern Spanish Grenache and blends should have a tint of citrus; Grenache from Sardinia and Cotes de Rhone should have herbaceous notes.
For any Grenache, you need to make sure a cherry flavor with some spice, mostly cinnamon, is the front and center flavor note you’ll be presented with.
- Body: The best Grenache and Grenache blends are medium to full body, but often taste more like they have a medium body. On the fuller side, Grenache offers the best in its signature notes and holds up to heavier vegetable and meat dishes.
- Alcohol level: Grenache wines should have a medium-high percentage of alcohol for wine, with levels hovering around fifteen percent–sixteen percent is about as high as you want to go for the most balanced wines.
- Acidity and Tannins: Speaking of balance, it’s something that Grenache is prized for. Because of this, you want Grenache wines that have moderate levels of both tannins and acidity. Too much acidity and you lose that candied rich berry flavors; too little tannins and you lose complexity.
- Aging: The most common method is oak aging. While aging tends to add complexity, the risk here is that you’ll end up with those candied fruit flavor notes fading. If you do want Grenache with an oak age, make sure that cherry is still the first flavor note you see, and there is still a bit of spice present, with little in the way of vanilla flavors. You’re actually better off with a Grenache blend if you want it aged.
- Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat, as well as Spanish Grenaches, are the best Grenache wines that are aged; most of the rest are best without aging.
- About blends: While it’s true that there are many fantastic wine blends made with Grenache, it’s also true that not all wine blends are created equally well. When it comes to blends, your best off with grapes that come from the same growing region and also presents fruity deeper berry notes. Stick with Grenache wine blends which incorporate grapes such as Syrah, Cinsault, Cagian, and Mourvèdre.
- About sweetness: Grenache is a bit versatile on this end as well, though it is more commonly presented dry or semi-dry with a touch of sweetness, occasionally some dessert wines are made with Grenache. For our purposes, our picks are dry or semi-dry as it retains closest to the classic characteristics.
Do you have any suggestions for the best, affordable Grenache wines?
Grenache wines can actually be quite expensive with the most expensive bottles going for five hundred dollars or a bit more. But the good news is that there are plenty of options when it comes to the best Grenache wines.
In the best Grenache wines, again, we’re looking for balanced but layered wines, presenting classic candied berry flavors with a bit of spice and a moderate level of tannins and acidity. And while all of these wines are highly recommended, we’ve kept the price at fifty dollars a bottle and under.
- Kalleske Old Vine Grenache 2014: This Grenache from Australia presents an elegant deep hue. You’ll notice classic cherry and raspberry notes, but this overall is a complex and balanced flavor profile, featuring some perfumed notes that mingle with spices, a touch of licorice, and mint. Structured tannins are accompanied by an elegant and long-lived to finish.
- Alto Moncayo Moncayo 2016: If, on the other hand, you’d rather have an aged Grenache wine, consider this option. This purely Grenache wine still features the classic deep fruit flavors, with a bit of balsamic and toasted notes which makes it a fine accompaniment for game meat and richer red meat like lamb.
- Wind Gap Sceales Grenache 2012: This American Grenache wine comes from Sonoma County and presents the ideal blend of signature flavor notes. You’ll notice red and black fruits with layered flavor notes and is an overall pleasant experience. Tannins with spice and structure make this a great wine to pair with grilled foods.
- Figaro Tinto Calatayud – Great Garnacha: At under fifteen dollars per bottle, this is a highly affordable option for Grenache, while still presenting a rather pleasing wine from Spain. Ripe red fruit and spices are the focus and accompanied by a long finish. Many enjoy pairing it with cheese courses or appetizers. While not as layered or complex as some other Grenache wines, this is a simple and classic option and a nice way to introduce yourself to Grenache.
- Andre Brunel Grenache 2016: Finding Grenache under twenty dollars a bottle can be challenging, but this is another one of your best bets for highly affordable Grenache wine, this one coming from France in the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape growing region. Cherry and blackberry present those classic deep fruit flavors, while a bit of black pepper adds some spicy component, making this a suitable wine for serving with grilled food. Since it is more simple, it’s best with steak or grilled root vegetables as opposed to game meat.
- Clarendon Hills Blewitt Springs Grenache: This Grenache from Australia is rich and complex, making the most of the dark fruit classic notes with plenty of spice and tannins to produce an almost pudding-like quality. While the 2007 label is highly acclaimed, 2008 or later is far more affordable, with a price tag under fifty dollars per bottle. A rich experience overall, it also avoids feeling too heavy.
- Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2017: Though it’s under twenty dollars a bottle, this Grenache wine from Spain is a favorite, easy choice, with prominent notes of dark cherries and raspberries present with a smooth and pleasing finish. Black pepper and pepper and spices make for a vibrant-tasting experience with just a touch of leather notes for a wine that is fairly versatile and can be served along with roasted meats, stews but also lightly grilled foods.
- Las Rocas Garnacha 2016: This is a nice selection for a Spanish an aged Grenache with enough structure to hold up its signature if softer flavors. Dark cherry and blackberry work to produce a dark fruit blend with a delicate note and nuanced tannins. This can be used for simple fare, especially lighter red meat.
- K Vintners The Boy Grenache 2016: This American Grenache wine is more complex, with layers and classic and vibrant flavors. It’s well rounded, with darker fruit notes, and touches of floral and even smoky tobacco notes. The plum notes well suit the classically rich cherries and black raspberries. This is an excellent choice for grilled meat, even with a bit of char, or a spicier dish.