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A late-ripening variety that thrives in hot and dry climates, grenache isn’t as widely known as cabernet sauvignon, merlot or pinot noir. It doesn’t enjoy wide-scale recognition as those superstar varieties because it often is used to produce regional red blends that don’t advertise the name of the grape on their labels.
Grenache contributes concentration and character to some of the richest and ripest red wines made in southern France and Spain. (The versatile grape is also terrific for producing fruity and expressive rosés as well as concentrated and powerful fortified wines.)
It plays a leading role in the affordable red wines labelled as Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages as well as more premium selections from the southern Rhône, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. Further south in France, it contributes to the dramatic wines made in the Languedoc, which are often celebrated for offering solid value for the price.
Depending on the production methods and the region where the grapes are grown, grenache can produce a wide range of wine styles from medium-bodied and fruity to full-bodied and richly flavourful.
In Spain, where the grape is known as garnacha, it’s one of the most widely planted red wine varieties, contributing to popular wines made in Rioja and Navarra, where it adds fruit and texture to the tempranillo grape. However, it is the rich and spicy reds made in lesser-known regions, such as Carinena, Campo de Borja and Calatayud, which turn up in specialty shops, await as exciting discoveries for wine lovers. (Priorat provides intense and interesting premium examples made with grenache.)
Producers in Sardinia (Italy), recognize the grape as cannonau, where it used to produce blended red wines as well as varietal wines labelled as Cannonau di Sardegna.
Outside of Europe, Australia winemakers have long been champions of the variety, while vintners in South Africa, California and Chile are enjoying success with it in their vineyards and wineries.
Grenache was one of the original varieties planted in Australia, especially in McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley, where some vineyards lay claim to vines that date back to the late 1800s. Those old vineyards naturally produce lower yields of grapes that help to produce classically structured and concentrated red wines, while younger vines are prime sources for affordable, fruity wines from Australia. The commercial success of so-called GSM wines, short for grenache, shiraz and mourvedre (a.k.a. mataro), has seen a resurgence in interest in the variety.
If any of this captures your imagination, it’s worth your while to look for grenache-based reds the next time you shop for wine. Here are some top producers to watch for:
- Australia: Grant Burge, Torbreck, Yalumba;
- France: Chapoutier, Château Saint-Roch, Domaine Lafage, Gérard Bertrand, Perrin Famille;
- Spain: Bodegas Borsao, Monasterio de las Vinas, Montsant.