Grenache is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It is frequently used as a blending grape, as is often the case in the Rhone Valley and Priorat, but increasingly it is being bottled on its own.
Of Spanish origin, grenache is thought to come from the Aragon province. Some Sardinians dispute this and claim that the true birthplace of grenache is Sardinia, and that Aragonian conquerors stole the grape and later claimed it as their own. The common belief, however, is that grenache was brought to Sardinia during the period of Aragon rule in the 14th and 15th centuries.
One thing is certain: Grenache spread to southern France from Spain, and today the French regions are more closely identified with the grape. Much to the chagrin of many a Spaniard, the French title grenache has become the most popular international name.
No matter what it is called elsewhere, garnacha or, as the Catalonians say, garnaxta is one of the most widespread and important wine grapes in Spain. It still reigns not only in Priorat, but also in Navarra and is a blending grape in Rioja.
Grenache is still a major player in Sardinia, but if you go there, you best refer to the grape as “cannonau.” Though there is no name consistency, Sicily, Calabria and Liguria also grow grenache. Grenache has made it to the new world and has become a fixture in GSM (grenache, syrah, mourvedre) blends that are found in the United States and Australia. For years, it was used in jug wines that came from California’s Central Valley.
What is the big deal about grenache? Why is it so popular? Grenache is a pretty sturdy grape. It not only stands up to heat, but also thrives in Mediterranean climates. At the same time, it can be grown in certain continental regions. Characterized by red berry fruits and a host of spices, it has a broad appeal on the palate. New-world renditions tend to be more fruit-driven while those from Europe are often a bit more peppery. It ranges in body and can be soft and supple or hearty and tannic. Not least, it can be made into rosé, and some of the world’s most famous pink wines are composed entirely or primarily from this delicious grape.
Instead of recommending three from Spain, France or even Sardinia,
here are three from other areas that are worth a look:
Odisea Garnacha, Two Rows, 2007 (Lodi): Adam Webb and Mike Kuenz are obvious grenache fanatics, as they started Odisea to pay homage to the wines from the south of France and Spain. This is a particularly Spanish-influenced wine, as it is composed of 15 percent tempranillo. Despite being aged in French oak barrels, it has an American-oak, vanilla-like overtone — but mostly, it explodes with a bastion of red berries, blood orange and spice. Suggested retail: $20
Bisson Rosso del Colline Genovesato IGT, Il Granaccio, 2007 (Liguria, Spain): This 32-year-old winery is known for its superb, mineral-driven white wines but Il Granaccio is an irresistible gem. This is a terroir-laden wine with a thick core of black currant fruit with white pepper and baking spices. Suggested retail: $25
D’Arenberg Grenache, The Custodian, 2006 (McClaren Vale, Australia): This eclectic and eccentric winery is always reliable, and The Custodian is one of its longstanding stalwarts. Juicy with hints of spice and floral aromatics, it is a beautifully Australian expression of this grape. Suggested retail: $18
Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.