NOW is the time to drink Spain’s Garnacha (Grenache)!

march 11, 2020

A Grape Called Garnacha

We take a closer look at one of the world’s most widespread grape varieties, garnacha, growing in almost every major wine region across the globe. We discussed this “super spreader” grape with our favorite wine tipster, Raúl Orantes, and he intoxicated us with the insider garnacha intel, helpful to understand the wine we will be trying at our upcoming session.

Garnacha, or grenache, is often associated with France and French wines, as it is the second most planted grape in the country, behind Merlot. The origins of the grape are a bit murky. It was previously thought to have originated in Spain’s northeastern region of Aragon but, due to DNA testing over the last few years, it is now believed to have come from Sardinia (once a territory of the Aragon Kingdom.) Confusion has also arisen around the designation of the grape, as garnacha is often referred to as something else, historically taking the name of whichever region it was planted in. For example, it was commonly referred to as Aragones when it came from Aragon and Roussillon when deriving from the French region of the same name.

Garnacha is characterized by its affinity for warm temperature and its capacity to retain water for a long period of time. These qualities allow the grape to thrive in warm climates with little rainfall. It is a variety that prefers bush vines over stakes or trellis. Garnacha is not a very colorful variety but has high sugar and alcohol content, as well as high levels of acidity. 

Garnacha was the most planted grape variety in Spain until the beginning of the last century, at which time demands shifted and tempranillo became the top choice amongst Spaniards.  Tempranillo generates a more full bodied and structured wine, and garnacha quickly fell out of favor in Spain, causing many winegrowers to pull out their garnacha vines.  To put it bluntly, Raúl told us that, particularly in the 1980s and 90s, most people in Spain simply considered garnacha a bad grape that made poor wines. 

This grape shows us, however, how quickly opinions change and how trends can flip-flop in a flash. By the year 2000, garnacha was back in style, largely thanks to the wine region of Priorat reviving the variety by using it to craft superior, high priced wines. Visionaries in Priorat set out to prove that, if you put the necessary work in, you can generate a product with garnacha that has all of the prized qualities of its competitors.

Possibly the most surprising element of the evolution of the garnacha grape has been how it has placed Madrid, Spain´s dazzling capital city, on the world’s wine making radar.  Garnacha from Madrid is the trendiest garnacha on the Spanish market at the moment, according to Raúl. It grows extremely well in the Sierra mountains, as they have ideal growing conditions, with high altitude and mild temperatures, allowing for a slow ripening and perfect maturation of the grape. 

Right now it seems that everyone is talking about garnacha and it has become all the rage among wine enthusiasts. This “little engine that could” grape variety is now garnering 100 points from Parker** for wines produced in both Madrid and La Rioja, demonstrating that palettes have changed and people, in general, are preferring more aromatic rather than full bodied wines. Preservation of the original character of the grape is being championed over structure, according to Raúl. The market is now demanding the fresh, floral flavors that not only garnacha, but also mencía and pinot noir give.

** 100 Parker Points went to “Rumbo al Norte, 2016” by Comando G

Raul stresses that NOW IS GARNACHA’S MOMENT and nowhere is this more evident than right here in Spain. The country is creating superior wines with garnacha and doing so in almost every corner of the peninsula, from Madrid, Aragon, and eastern Rioja, to Priorat and Montsant in Catalonia. There are 5 types of garnachas being grown: garnacha tinta, garnacha gris, garnacha blanca, garnacha peluda, and garnacha tintorera. Garnacha tintorera is the only variety in the world where the pulp of the grape is the color red.  This grape, referred to as Alicante Bouchet because it grows in the Spanish region of Alicante, is distinct because it produces a much more colorful wine with more tannins and a meaty aroma, quite different from the floral or vegetal flavors and aromas typically associated with garnacha. Garnacha blanca, according to Raul, is one of the most aromatic wines in all of Spain. Despite the notoriety of red wine made from garnacha, Raúl urges us to try a Rosado (or Spanish Rosé) made from the grape, because, as we’ve already mentioned, garnacha produces wines with floral and vegetal notes, high in acidity and incredibly refreshing, with very little color, all of the elements necessary to create the perfect Rosado.

by Meg Emmitt

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