Meet the grape: Garnacha

Spain may be famed for its Tempranillo, but there is another, more widely-planted variety that often slips under the radar despite it being one of the most famous grapes in the world. Garnacha, or, as it is more commonly known worldwide, Grenache.

This is an old fogey of a grape, being possibly the oldest variety in the country yet its fame has been overshadowed by the elegant Rhône name-changing stylings of Grenache. However this grape is Spanish to its core, so it’s about time we shine a light on it.

Glasses at the ready!

The Grape:

  • These gorgeous dark purple orbs likely originated in the region of Aragon in Spain. There is written accounts of it as far back as the 1500s.
  • The key regions for Garnacha in Spain are Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Calatayud (all three of which are in historic Aragon), Navarra and Priorat.
  • The grape travelled north over the Pyrenees first touching down in Languedoc-Roussillon before finally making its way to the Southern Rhône where it became a superstar.
  • Garnacha is a famously brilliant blending wine. In Rioja it adds juiciness and fruitiness to Tempranillo, in France can tone down a Syrah and in Australia is part of the Holy Trinity GSM – Grenache-Syrah-Mouvèdre.
  • The grape has its own day. International Grenache Day on the 3rd Friday in September.
  • Garnacha buds quite early and needs a long growing season to fully ripen. Often the last to be harvested. This long process is what gives Garnacha wines a high booze content. More ripening = more sugar in the grapes. We see this as a good thing.
  • Apparently it’s quite a big deal in China. There are rumours of 12,000 acres of planted vine over there! Maybe we will start to see bottles of Chinese Garnacha sometime in the future.
  • In the 17th century Burgundy winemakers used to secretly add Rhône Grenache to their Pinot Noirs to make them taste better! Garnacha really is the friend of the blender.
  • In Spain and France it is a very popular grape to make rosé wines and in France is used to make fortified Port-like wines.
  • It has a couple of other cousins in Spain. The Garnacha Tintorera (internationally known by the bizarre name of Alicante Bouschet), with its dark pink flesh, and the odd nomenclature of the Garnacha Peluda – the Hairy Garnacha (named for the soft hairy texture on the bottom of the leaves.
  • Grows best on ‘old vines’ (minimum 35 years of age), which can be found in Aragon, and really wants a hot climate to ripen. We shan’t be seeing any British Grenache wines any time soon.
  • In the Old World the grape can also been found sneaking about in Italy, where it is called Cannonau, Israel, Algeria and even Morocco and Tunisia.

The Wine:

  • Being so widely-planted, the styles of Garnacha wines are incredibly varied. Generally though you get high alcohol content, full-body and a fruit-forward character.
  • Strawberries and raspberries – red fruit – are the calling cards of the Garnacha. The wines are often quite light, and are usually drunk young.
  • As well as the fruit, a touch of spice or sweet spice is quite common to find as well.
  • The wines have a propensity for oxidation so are not the greatest candidates for ageing.
  • Having said that there are some instances, when yields are kept in check, where it can produce dark and intense wines that have ageing potential.
  • Some of the Priorat wines are like this. They can be dense and dark and very rich. This is in comparison to the lighter and more jovial Aragonese wine styles.
  • Young, even slightly chilled, Garnachas from Aragon and Navarra can actually pair quite well with spicy and herby foods. The high alcohol content can help reduce the burn of spice as alcohol is a natural solvent to capsacin.
  • It is become an increasingly fashionable wine in Spain, though without the price tag. A bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape can leap into the hundreds of dollars a bottle and some cult makers in Priorat have pushed the hundreds too, but normally in Spain nice and delicious bottles of youthful Garnachas are a bargain.
  • It is so important and indicative of some regions of Spain – like Tempranillo for Rioja – that the tourism boards are getting creative to give the wines the respect they deserve. Campo de Borja has a new marketing moniker: El Imperio de la Garnacha – the Empire of Garnacha.

So next time you fancy a bottle of red and happen upon the section of the wine aisle that says ‘Spain’, try ignoring the Tempranillos for a moment. Pass up the Rioja and the Ribera del Duero reds that have become so famous. Try a Garnacha. They are affordable, juicy, crowd-pleasing and vary from place to place.

From the light and uncomplicated wines of Navarra, to the fun and delicate juice bomb fruit roll ups of the ancient Aragonese regions, to the obsessive plummy depths of Priorat, there’s a lot to try with Spanish Garnacha.

Next time someone snooty is banging on about French wines and next time that haughty nose sniffs snobbily about Grenache from the Rhône, politely inform them that you’d rather take a fun little sexy number from Spain. And that, by the way, it’s Garnacha…not Grenache.

Salud!

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