Grenache is (finally) having its day in the spotlight
Every grape has its day, it seems. Each major variety is honoured somewhere in the world with a festival or a competition. The best known on this continent is Oregon’s annual International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville.
In Ontario, we have the annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration for three days in July, known punningly by its acronym, I4C. The original idea for Ontario winemakers was to spotlight Riesling, but that variety had already been bagged by Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington State. They call their event Riesling Rendezvous.
Earlier this year, I tasted a slew of wines in Toronto made from the Grenache grape as a prelude to a competition called Grenaches du Monde, which was held in a monastery in Zaragoza, Spain on February 5th.
The competition was open to all wines made from Grenache and its synonyms, Garnacha, Garnatxa and Cannonau. Some 600 wines from eight countries were entered in this year’s competition.
Bon Appétit magazine called Grenache “The best grape you’ve never heard of,” although it’s the second-most widely planted variety in the world. But you won’t find it in Canada, as the variety is a late ripener and requires hot, dry growing conditions. That’s why its natural habitat is Spain (where they call it Garnacha), Sardinia (Cannonau), California’s San Joaquin Valley and Australia. Barossa and McLaren Vale winemakers usually blend Grenache with Shiraz and Mourvèdre. They label this blend familiarly as GSM.
Perhaps Grenache is best known in the south of France, where it’s a major component of Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (usually 80 percent of the blend, although Château Rayas famously makes their Châteauneuf from 100 percent Grenache). And of course, Grenache plays a major role in the rosés of Provence and the southern Rhône.
Being so widespread around the wine world, it has picked up more synonyms than a rock star at a beauty contest. Here are just some: Granaccia, Lladoner, Tinto, Tinta, Carignan Rosso, Carignane Rousse, Tinto Arogonese, Uva di Spagna, Sans Pareil, Tinto Menudo, Tinta Mencida, Tintilo de Rota, Roussillon, Roussillon Tinto Rouvaillard, Cannonau, Alicante, Rivesaltes and Redondal.
Being a hot-weather grape, it accumulates a lot of sugar, which in turn produces a high-alcohol wine. Expect spicy, red berry notes in its flavour profile with a suggestion of white pepper. It tends to show a tawny hue at the rim as it ages — as a result of oxidation — developing tar or leather notes. That’s why it’s generally blended with Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault in southern France and Tempranillo in Spain.
Because of its propensity to deliver high sugar levels, Grenache is used extensively in the production of fortified red wines such as Banyuls and the vins doux naturel wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon and for Australia’s Tawny (“port”).
Getting back to that pre-Grenaches du Monde tasting, our group was presented with 10 wines. Here are my top choices:
93 Bodegas Ruberte Tresor Garnacha 2013, Campo de Borja, Spain
Dense purple-black colour; cedary, black cherry nose; full-bodied, elegant, rich blueberry flavour; beautifully balanced and seamless.
92 Vieux Telegraphe Châteauneuf du Pape 2011, La Crau, France
Mature ruby colour; dry, savoury nose of dried plums, liquorice and pencil lead; full-bodied, dry, elegant and rich. Beautifully balanced with a bitter chocolate finish. 60% Grenache.
92 Bodegas Alto Moncayo 2011, Campo de Borja, Spain
Dense purple-black colour; spicy, strawberry and raspberry nose carried on oak notes; full-bodied, vanilla oak and well extracted red and black fruit flavours; fleshy and fruit-driven but finishes firmly. 16% alcohol.
90 Henschke Johann’s Garden 2013, Australia
Dense purple colour; smoky-herbal, blueberry nose; full-bodied, dry, blueberry flavour; firmly structured, spicy with lively acidity. 60% Grenache with Shiraz and Mourvèdre.
90.5 Tres Picos de Borsao Garnacha 2014, Campo de Borja, Spain
Dense purple colour; savoury-herbal nose of red berries, black olives, spicy oak with a floral grace note; full-bodied, sweet, juicy black raspberry flavour; mouth-filling, well balanced carrying its 14.5% alcohol very well.
90 Pagos del Moncayo PdM Garnacha 2013, Campo de Borja, Spain
Dense purple-black colour; smoky, herbal, pencil-lead nose with spicy oak; elegant black fruits and black olive nose; full-bodied and juicy but finishes dry and firm.