Grenache vs Garnacha… the grape is a widely-planted grape celebrated for its bright berry flavours of raspberry and strawberry, its juicy deliciousness, and pinch of white pepper. To me it seems like the friendliest, flirtiest grape; all full-on flavour and come-hither fruitiness, luring you in with its promise of alcohol and body.
Grenache is usually used as part of a blend, enhanced by other supporting grapes’ colour, structure, and acidity, but there are many examples of fine (damn fine) Grenache-dominated wines. This may be the most planted black grape variety in the world, but it has different expressions depending on where it is grown and on the winemaker’s style. Here I would like to concentrate on how it tastes both north and south of the Pyrenees, in France and Spain, where it thrives in the hot dry Mediterranean climate.
King of the Southern Rhone Valley
France’s panache for Grenache is world-renowned, and the grape is often called the king of the Southern Rhone Valley, where it forms an integral part of the dark, fruity, spiced GSM blend — that Holy Trinity of Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre — and also stars in prestigious wines of depth like the revered Châteauneuf-du- Pape.
In France, Grenache always has lively sweet red berries at its approachable heart: strawberries, cherries, raspberries and plums shine on a joyous, life-affirming palate. In the Southern Rhone Valley, where Grenache takes the spotlight, it often develops herbal, earthy, and smoky complexities. Excellent, complex Grenache-centered wines come from Gigondas (a mere 10 miles north of CNDP), Rasteau, Vacqueyras, and of course Châteauneuf-du- Pape, where it is the principal grape in a cocktail of up to 13 different varieties, resulting in some of world’s most famous and expensive reds.
In the South of France the distinct herbal perfume of the garrigue permeates the landscape. These low-lying scrubby herbs are Provence’s signature; and this omnipresent scent of lavender, rosemary, oregano, and thyme creeps into the wines that come from le sud — stretching along the Languedoc to the Southern Rhone Valley, and become a distinctive feature, imbuing them with a sense of place, or terroir, and a stamp that these wines are of the earth. This garrigue perfume works in harmony with the juicy fruitiness of Grenache-based wines to create something multidimensional on the palate.
The come-atcha of Garnacha
South of the border, in Spain, Grenache is known as Garnacha, and here it is commonly a team player (such as working alongside Tempranillo in Rioja) but it can also take centre-stage in complex wine blends for a powerful full-on feeling of Garnacha comin’ atcha. In fact, this grape has its true origins in Eastern Spain, where it soon spread south and east, and on to Southern France, where it has also grown a deeply-rooted history. At the end of the day, however, Spain is the true home of Garnacha, and is arguably where it reaches the apex of its expression, namely in celebrated regions like Priorat.
Priorat’s poetic profundity
In steep and dramatic Priorat, Catalonia, old gnarled Garnacha bush vines creep out of the ground and yield deeply fruity wines of impressive intensity and nuance. Red wines from this tiny rugged region outside Barcelona will have a deep colour, a distinct licorice finish, and a certain elegance and freshness that harmonises with the intense fruit flavours and sturdy tannin backbone. This craggy, mountainous place has a unique terroir owing to a special soil called ‘llicorella’ which is made up of slate and quartz, which adds to the magic with its glitzy terrain, and gives a distinct mineral note to the wines.
Good Priorat has enticing and intriguing flavours, and has all the components for ageing well. As a result, Priorat can often be pricey, but it is one wine I have good feelings about shelling out for. I feel it showcases Grenache at its finest, with an often exceptionally seductive character and concentration — one to drink on a starry night.
Camins del Priorat, Alvaro Palacios 2015
Available at www.thecorkscrew.ie
€26.95 – 14.5% abv
A rich, ripe, complex red, bursting with black cherry, black plum, blackcurrant, and baking spices. Intense and smooth with a long black fruit and licorice finish.
Dark as sin and exploding with badass flavour.
Château de Nages Vieilles Vignes 2012
Available online at www.obrienswine.ie
€18.45 – 12% abv
This Grenache-based red from Nimes is brimming with lashings of lush, ripe cherries and raspberries. Full- bodied with well-integrated oak flavour and solid tannic structure. This rich, balanced, and flavourful Rhone wine has a lingering peppery and fruity finish.
Gigondas Mas des Flauzieres 2014
Available at The Wine Buff nationwide and online at www.thewinebuff.com
€23.50 – 13.5% abv
A Southern Rhone belle with velvety tannins, dark cherry and plum flavours, and a touch of earth, leather, and licorice.
A peppery note on a long fruity finish which seems to last until next week. An elegant, smooth, and sexy wine.
Naomi Ní Chatháin is a WSET-certified wine specialist from Co. Clare. She studied French and Philosophy in NUI Galway before pursuing a master’s degree in Wine Tourism (or ‘oenotourisme et projet culturel’) in Nimes.
Naomi loves French culture, and has lived in different parts of France over the years.
Her other passions include the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer, the music of Bob Dylan, and road trips across America. Naomi is also a professional baker, and founder of NaomiBakes.com.
She is a firm believer in eating delicious, healthy cakes every day, and has a small subscription-based healthy cake kit delivery business.