“Perfumed,” “transparent” and “elegant” are common descriptors for Pinot Noir, but these adjectives frequently apply to Grenache Noir as well. Thin-skinned Grenache is often compared to Pinot Noir for its ability to transmit a sense of place from wherever it grows. Yet Grenache hasn’t achieved the same acclaim in America as its lighter-bodied counterpart, largely because it was long used as a blending grape and not necessarily a stand-alone star.
In recent decades, winemakers have rediscovered the appeal of Grenache as a varietal wine, especially in countries with old vines like Spain, France and Australia. Grenache can take many forms, from light, bright and fruity to inky and savory, with rosé and fortified-style wines common, too.
Flavors range from red fruits like strawberry, cherry and plum, to earthier tastes of licorice, spice, and dried herbs and lavender, with hints of tar and leather that become more pronounced with maturity.
With widespread plantings across Spain and Southern France, experts have debated the origin of Grenache. Some trace its journey to the Italian island of Sardinia, where it’s called Cannonau, arguing it arrived in Spain via Sardinia’s 14th-century Aragonese rulers.
In Spain, Grenache, known as Garnacha, is the second most-planted red variety after Tempranillo. The grape is credited for reviving vineyards around the country after phylloxera devastated acre after acre of native vines.
Garnacha’s most famous iteration can be found in Priorat, where it produces bold, expressive wines either on its own or blended with Carignan. It’s also the most important grape in Cariñena, as well as Navarra, where it’s become the flagship red wine. In Rioja, it’s mostly blended with Tempranillo.
In France’s Southern Rhône, Grenache comprises an important component of the famous blends of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.
In Languedoc, Roussillon and Provence, Grenache may stand on its own or partner with Syrah and Mourvèdre to complete the famous trio known by its abbreviation, GSM. GSM-style wines have spread around the world and are particularly successful in California’s Central Coast, Paso Robles and South Australia.
The common thread across all these regions: a Mediterranean-like climate. Grenache ripens late and thrives in arid, hot conditions and poor, rocky soils where other vines struggle. However, it has a propensity towards high alcohol, often climbing above 15% abv, as well as jammy, baked flavors. Winemakers looking to retain freshness and delicacy must exercise care in the vineyards, especially around the picking date.