Does anyone need a second reason to drink Garnacha? The first reason is obvious. It tastes great.
Truth is, most folks have no idea they’re drinking Garnacha when it’s in their glass. But if your wine-buying habits include any of the warm wine regions of the Mediterranean, you probably drink a fair amount of it already.
Grenache — the French and more common name for Garnacha — plays the lead role in many luscious red, rosé and white blends. It’s like the hidden ingredient in a secret sauce. Yet it is also one of the oldest and most widely planted grapes.
If you drink wines from northeastern or central Spain, including those from the regions of Ampurdàn-Costa Brava, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Costers del Segre, Madrid, La Mancha, Méntrida, Penedès, Navarra, Priorat, Rioja, Somontano, Tarragona, Terra Alta, Utiel-Requena or Valdeorras … you drink Garnacha.
If you’re more of an all-day-rosé person, and you reach mostly for the warm-tasting, fruity, pale-pink blends hailing from Provence, Tavel and Roussillon … you drink Grenache.
If you love the food-friendly blends of the Côtes du Rhône, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages and especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with their fruity complexity, solid structure and precise acid-mineral tension … you drink Grenache.
If your organoleptic fancy is tickled only by the rich, spicy, dark-fruited, full-bodied leathery GSMs of Australia, you drink … well, what did you think the “G” stood for?
And if you’ve had the opportunity to encounter the complex flavours of black plum, field berries, saddle leather and herbs in the tight reds of Sardinia, you drink Cannonau … which happens to be the local name for Garnacha/Grenache.
Did I mention North Africa?
This multilingual grape exists in red, pink and white versions, although black grenache makes up the vast majority of plantings. (There’s also a hairy-leafed clone, Garnacha Peluda, not commonly used.)
Rosés and reds tend to deliver warm, generous, fruity mouthfuls of ripe blackberry, black currant along with subtle, gamey, herbal notes. They are complex, structured and well balanced. The darker the colour, the stronger the flavours will be. Reds are plump, with tongue-coating flavours and a clean, but thick, texture.
The rare and delicious white Garnachas are clean, supple and elegant, with a touch of fennel or anise on the nose, a silky, supple palate and a heady, bitter/clean finish. They are fabulous to drink on their own and are perfectly delectable with a wide variety of foods on a summer buffet table.
For me, Spanish Garnacha has a special cha-cha, while French Grenache has its own panache. In other words, each expression of this grape is unique, revealing the terroir of its source.
In my brief travels criss-crossing the Pyrénées of Spain and France this past summer, I discovered that a lot of folks there are French or Spanish on the surface but have Catalan hearts. Everywhere we went, there were signs of Catalan cuisine, Catalan culture and Catalan dreams.
On the Spanish side, Catalunya is the expansive territorial area that includes the regulated wine zones of Calatayud, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano and Terra Alta.
On the French side, there is the sprawling French grape-growing region of Roussillon. This area, encompassing the lands known as the Pyrénées-Orientales, includes 14 recognized appellations and three IGPs, producing mainly dry still wines but also some of the country’s best sweet fortified and rancio wines. It’ll be a long time before I can forget a vin doux naturel from the tiny appellation of Maury, made in 1925 by a long-forgotten vigneron.
To get a better image of the sprawling home of Garnacha and Grenache, visualize the satellite view of a huge, east-facing amphitheatre hugging the western end of Mediterranean Sea. This is hot country, which makes the grape very happy. It loves the warm winds, the blistering daily averages and the cool evenings that provide grapevines an opportunity to rejuvenate their acid balance.
The countryside shares many of the characteristics of Provence and the Southern Rhône with respect to terrain and climate. And the same wild herbs that grow by the roadside throughout the south of France are here, giving the wines a bouquet-garni aroma commonly known as garrigue.
These wines are refreshing on their own, even better slightly chilled. They adapt to all the fresh and varied foods of the Mediterranean kitchen, and absolutely shine at large family gatherings with a bountiful buffet.
Wines made with Grenache are what I like to call happy wines. There’s no sense of urgency to assess, evaluate or examine them: just kick back, sniff and sip, repeat, and be happy.
Monasterio de las Viñas Special Selection Old Vine Garnacha 2016, DO Cariñena, Spain ($16.95)
A 100 percent pure varietal from small parcels of bush vines at least 40 years old. This is Garnacha at its best. Assertive fruit and terroir bouquet and palate, with plush texture and a tasty, lingering, mineral finish. Superb value.
Monasterio de las Viñas Gran Reserva 2016, DO Cariñena, Spain ($17.95)
A classic blend where Garnacha plays the lead role. It’s an inky, purple-hued mini-monster with bold fruit flavours, solid texture and weight and a superb finish showing breed and elegance. Sunday-night dinner wine at an everyday price.
Castillo de Monseran Garnacha 2017, DO Cariñena, Spain ($10.95)
A terrific-value general listing in Ontario, widely available elsewhere. Rich ruby colour with bright cherry-berry fruit aromas and an easy-going plummy finish. Nicely balanced with some real flavour spunk.
Clos Dalian Garnacha Blanca 2017, DO Terra Alta, Spain ($15)
Stainless-steel fermented to preserve fruit and acidity. Bright straw-gold hue with a nose of white flowers, poached pear and wet-stone minerality. Light enough to go with poached fish; rich enough to pair with creamy, white-meat dishes. Killer with tortilla española hors d’oeuvres.
Coca i Fito Jaspi Blanc 2017, DO Terra Alta, Spain ($24.95)
Old-vine white Garnacha with a tiny bit of Macabeo blended in, as permitted by the DO. Straw-gold with brilliant reflections. The floral, honeyed nose has tropical notes of peach and sweet citrus. Strong mineral core with plenty of ripe lemony fruit in the finish.
Domaine Lafage Cuvée Nicolas Vieilles Vignes Grenache Noir 2016, IGP Côtes Catalanes, France ($19.95)
Made from 65-year-old vines grown on a range of soils, including granite, slate, schist and quartz near the Mediterranean coast. Bright, floral aromas of violet and dark chocolate with flavours of raspberry and liquorice. Plush texture, soft tannins and an elegant aftertaste with a clean, lovely finish. Terrific value.
Domaine Lafage Miraflors Rosé 2018, AOP Côtes du Roussillon, France ($17)
Is this the palest rosé in France? No, but it is one of the tastiest. Slight scent of strawberry and grapefruit with rich, supple texture and an elegant, clean, light finish. An all-day rosé.
San Alejandro Las Rocas Garnacha 2016, DO Calatayud, Spain ($18)
One of my favourites of the trip was from this dynamic co-op with 1,100 hectares of high-mountain vines. Simple, yet especially delicious and satisfying. Great fruit; sweet oaky, spicy complexity and supple mouthfeel. This one made me smile and sigh with glee.