It is high time that Grenache/Garnacha enjoyed some time wallowing in the spotlight of international attention. The southern Rhône, best known for Châteauneuf-du-Pape and dominated by the historic Grenache grape, is one of the wine world’s brightest stars at the moment, offering reliably satisfying and complex, ageworthy wines at a decent price year in and year out. Roussillon to the west is making better and better wines from its vast area of Grenache Noir, Blanc and Gris vines, both red and white table wines and a wide range of stronger liquids with real character.
But of course the variety’s origins are almost certainly Spanish, or rather Aragonese, and it is in Spain where, as Garnacha, it arguably offers an even wider range of flavours and styles than it does in France. Ever since I started visiting Spanish wine regions, I have wondered why it is that Tempranillo always seems to attract more reverence than Garnacha. I suspect that it was simply that Garnacha was so widely planted and was therefore regarded almost as a weed, whereas Tempranillo seemed more exotic and therefore noble. It seems a great shame to me that the proportion of Garnacha planted in Spain’s premier fine wine region Rioja has fallen well below 10%.
In my view some of the best-value wines in the world today are made from old-vine Garnacha grown in Spain’s less famous regions such as Calatayud and Campo de Borja. Like most well-grown Grenache/Garnacha, when yields are limited, these wines have wonderfully attractive juicy, spicy fruit, and can be charming even in extreme youth.
This is not to say that Garnacha is unable to make wines for long ageing. The extraordinarily concentrated wines of Priorat have eloquently proved the reverse, just as the best wines of the southern Rhône can continue to develop in bottle for decades.
Not all Grenache/Garnacha is marvellous of course. There are Grenache vines in California’s Central Valley that seem unable to produce anything more exciting than bland, medium sweet pink wine. But several of that state’s so-called Rhône Rangers have shown that the variety can make truly fine wine in the Golden State, just as it can in Australia – again, often from particularly old vines.
Dark-skinned Grenache/Garnacha is a particularly amiable blending ingredient, willingly moulding itself to the particular, different and complementary qualities of varieties such as Syrah/Shiraz and Mourvèdre/Monastrell. And this admirable characteristic is arguably even more marked for the lighter-skinned Grenache Blanc which seems to combine so well with the likes of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul and Clairette.
And then we must not forget the particular qualities of the related Lladoner Pelut, and Cannonau as the variety is known on the Italian, once Aragonese, island of Sardinia. How fascinating it is to trace social history through the distribution of vine varieties.
Due to a prior commitment, I, unfortunately, cannot attend the Grenache Symposium this year. So I am left offering my support only from a distance and anticipating with interest the outcome of the symposium and its plans for the future of all things Grenache. I’m sure that all participants will learn an enormous amount at the Symposium and am only sorry that I will not be there.