“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” ~ William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet
You are likely familiar with the grape varietal Grenache. Probably even Garnacha. What about Cannonau? This grape of many names is the second most widely planted grape yet its origin is somewhat controversial. When Googling “Cannonau,” Grenache is the result. Yet, the Sardinians claim the grape was taken from their island by the Aragonese in the 14th century, where it was spread to Catalonia and southern France. Of course the Spanish and French dispute this claim; thus a definitive birth place of Grenache may never be known. However, that does not prevent us from enjoying this wonderful grape and its global expressions.
Grenache is most commonly a blending grape. It is one of the components of the high dollar and most delicious Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In Spain Garnacha is grown in some regions as a blend and other regions as a single varietal. In the US it is both blended and bottle by itself. The grape is particularly versatile, explaining why it is so widely planted and used in a variety of ways. This versatility allows Provence wine makers to craft Grenache into a variety of rosé expressions. In Spain, Garnacha holds second place to Tempranillo, but number one in the wines of Priorat. Its popularity dwindled in the 80’s and 90’s but saw a resurgence in the 21st century. Today it is planted in Mexico, China, South Africa, Australia and Israel in addition to Spain, France, the US and Italy.
Characteristics of Grenache: It is a hearty grape with thin skin that ripens later than most, it prefers hot, dry conditions; traditional flavor profiles include berry flavors of black cherry, raspberry, strawberry and black raspberry, spice notes of cinnamon and anise, pepper, at times citrus zest, and old world Grenache such as Italy (Sardinia) and Southern France (Côtes du Rhône) have added flavors of herbal notes such as oregano, sage, and thyme as well as tobacco; the wine has medium weight and typically low to medium acidity and tannins depending on where it is grown, thus leading to it often being used as a blending grape; however Grenache from Priorat and Châteauneuf-du-Pape are grown in schist or rocky soils have tremendous aging potential.
Food Pairings: Because Grenache is a spicy grape do not be afraid to pair it with spicy food such as Masala chicken, Greek Lamb Kebabs, Ethiopian Chicken and Black Lentil Stew, roasted lamb, beef stew, Beef Bourguignon, braised beef short ribs, Pad Gra Prow (Thai Basil Beef) and summer spicy barbeque.
Now let’s take a journey across the globe to taste six different Grenaches. Each wine I selected is 100% Grenache because I am looking for a true expression of the grape rather than a blend. I chose only red Grenache but white Grenache is also available. I particularly like white Grenache from Côtes du Rhône and California (particularly Donkey & Goat and Tablas Creek). I’d like to thank Stolpman Winery and Wine.com for providing the wines for this article. In alphabetical order by country:
Yangarra Estate Vineyard 2012 McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache Australia: medium ruby; ripe berry marmalade of black berries, boysenberries, raspberries and red and black cherries, dried plums, lots of Chinese Five Spice, milk chocolate, vanilla, and a touch of earthy tobacco; smooth on the palate with lots of tart fruit and spice, very concentrated with a foundation of sandy minerality, grippy tannins that coat the mouth yet balance with round acidity, very earthy wine that is really pleasing with a long, spicy finish. $26.99.
Stolpman Vineyards 2013 Grenache Ballard Canyon California: light ruby; vibrant aromas of fresh berries including red cherries, strawberries, raspberries and black berries, with soft baking spice notes, delicate red floral notes blend with earthy minerality; this is a Grenache I have enjoyed several times; lighter than some in weight yet full of flavor, penetrating the palate with layers and textures as it slides down the throat, deceptively full body with round acidity and dusty tannins leaving a long, pleasing finish; whole cluster stainless steel fermentation, you would swear this wine was fermented in oak! $34.00
Domaine Lafage 2011 Nicholas 100% Grenache Noir IGT Villes Vignes France: it is very hard to locate a 100% Grenache from France, this one comes from Languedoc-Rousillon; ruby; bright red fruit notes of red raspberries, cherries, plums, and cranberries, with a touch of Garam Masala spice notes, toasted cedar, cassis, red licorice, and a touch of tobacco; silky smooth with lots of concentrated flavors on the palate; bright and also deceptively full body, dusty tannins are well-structured with round acidity that lingers in a full mouth-feel; very nice. $16.99.
Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva 2010 Italy: light scarlet; soft nose of red cherries, raspberries, and cranberries, spice notes of anise, cinnamon, cloves and ginger are met with dried herbal notes of oregano, dried violets, dark chocolate and vanilla round out the nose; softer on the palate than the previous Grenaches, round and well balanced but not as concentrated or complex, a bit lighter than other Sardinian Cannonaus I have had in the past yet still very pleasant, less acidity and tannins yet still present and structured; easy drinking wine. $18.99.
Spice Route 2012 Grenache Swartland South Africa: deep scarlet; first vintage for Spice Route’s 100% Grenache, lots of fresh picked red cherries on the nose with red and black raspberries and black berries, the touch of marzipan, cinnamon and vanilla bring to mind the smell of a summer berry pie or cobbler; on the palate those flavors follow through along with initial notes of rose petals and a hint of dusty earth, this is a well-made wine that can continue to evolve in complexity for years, well-structured with round acidity and tannins that are not over powering, medium weight, long spicy finish, again deceptively complex with layers of texture and flavors. $24.99.
Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2013: as the back label explains the grapes for this wine are harvest by hand from old vines that cling to rugged terrain on the slopes of the famous Moncayo mountains with incredibly low yields; beautiful garnet; red cherries, plums, red raspberries and boysenberries are met with floral notes, white pepper, a touch of oak and baking spices; really nice on the palate, smooth and silky yet grips in a medium body with lively tannins and round acidity, lots of spice on the back of the palate that leaves a long, pleasant finish that is fruit cake in nature but not in a bad way. $17.99.
I hope you learned something more about Grenache. If you are already a fan of GSM’s try Grenache as a single varietal. If you are already a fan of single varietal Grenaches try more from other parts of the world to compare.
My Takeaways: The Australian Grenache was the “biggest” of the six, though that is not too surprising. I did expect the Spanish Garnacha and the Sardinian Cannonau to be a bit bigger. Though they were not big they were well crafted and pleasing. I love how South Africa so beautifully crafts wines in an “old world” style. Winemakers there seem to be quite talented. I still love the Stolpman; in fact I really enjoyed each of these wines which is unusual because often at least one falls behind. Some were more complex and concentrated than others but everyone was very well balanced and super food friendly. I’d drink one each night of the week and add a Grenache Blanc for Sunday! I look forward to sharing the rest of these wines with my husband and friends!
You are still here? It’s over. Go buy some Grenache! Go!