Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Grenache, the Go-To Grape

By Amanda Schuster

Grenache is a true classic. Think of it as the little black dress of red grapes. It is not only extremely versatile and adaptable, but looks good dressed up or down.

There is a lot of evidence that indicates that Grenache originated in the Aragon region of north-east Spain. Not least among that evidence is the fact that some of the many synonyms for Grenache are "Uva di Spagna" and "Aragones". As the kingdom of Aragon grew, so did the range of where Grenache began to grow. It also has a long history in farther-reaching regions such as Roussillon and Sardinia (where it is known as "Cannonau").

Grenache has a thin skin, though the wines tend to be lightly colored, more of a medium red. It's also low in acidity, which can cause what color there is to fade unusually quickly for a red wine. Which is not to say that as a single varietal release it lacks any lustre, just that it's somewhat light and meant to be consumed young. This can be a great thing, especially if you enjoy reds with a slight chill on more casual occasions or in warmer weather. Cannonau, in particular, is fabulous with a weekday pasta or summer barbecue.

However, the key to Grenache's global success is the fact that in the right places - hot, dry, and with a long growing season - the grapes ripen easily, and keep a fair amount of residual sugar and higher levels of alcohol. These traits make Grenache the perfect blending grape, letting the other more rustic grapes do the work of the tannins, color and additional flavors. In these circumstances there is immense staying power as a flavor component. GSM - Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre - is one of the great grape trifectas of all time, found and known all over the world.

Grenache traces its roots back to Spain, where it continues to be a vitally important grape to this day. Over the past several years, many plantings of Grenache in Spain have been replaced by other varieties, but it still is the third most prolific producer of Spanish wine after Tempranillo and Bobal. Grenache can be found complementing Tempranillo in Rioja and Navarra, as well as in up-and-coming regions such as Campo de Borja and Montsant, among others. The real jewel in Spain's Grenache crown is the wine of Priorat, where ancient bush-trained vines produce tiny quantities of amazingly rich, dark fruits.

While Grenache may be Spanish, its greatest success story is probably in France, where it is also the third most planted red grape variety, after Merlot and Carignan. But here it has more prestige. Grenache is a key component in some of France's greatest and most famous wines, including: Côtes du Rhône (major GSM territory that includes Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas); the rosés of Lirac and Tavel; and the dessert wines of Banyuls, Roussillon, and Rivesaltes. Many of these appellations and styles using Grenache are known for their elegance and endurance in the cellar, particularly the Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the dessert wines, the latter of which have been known to last several decades.

It is now also very popular in the New World, finding its way in GSM's and single varietal releases or with other grapes in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and the US. The Côtes du Rhône style of producing Grenache is particularly prevalent in Australia, and in parts of California, where it figures heavily into the Rhone Ranger wine movement.

The great thing about Grenache is that it's almost impossible for it to be actively bad. And when it's good, it's fabulous. Take some out tonight and see what we mean!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Amanda Schuster is a native New Yorker, but without much of the accent. The mobile landscape of the city has taken her on a whirlwind journey from Medieval historian, photo archivist, jewelry designer and invitation specialist to earning her sommelier certification in late 2005. After working as a retail wine and spirits buyer and freelance brand promoter, she turned to the one thing that has stayed a constant all these years – her love of writing. She has published dozens of articles on cocktails, spirits, wine and other culinary interests, and is currently working on her first novel. Her favorite cocktail is a Manhattan.

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