Monday, September 22, 2014

Grenache is for Autumn

Happy First Day of Fall!

As the seasons change, what we eat changes, and so the wine we drink will change too. Grenache is a perfect autumn wine – its a nice transition from lighter wines drunk on the patio during the summer to fuller bodied wines best enjoyed sitting by a fireplace during winter.

Grenache (Greh-nosh) is thought to have originated in northern Spain, and from there transplanted to southern France and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. There is also a school of thought that Grenache is indigenous to the islands and was brought to Spain after the Spaniards invaded in the 13th Century.

In more recent history, Grenache has been transplanted in Australia, California, and Washington. 

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Grenache goes by many names.

In France, Grenache is primarily grown in the south, but Grenache is also grown on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. Corsica is French, so the grape is called Grenache, but Sardinia is Italian, so there the grape is called Cannonau (KAH-nohn-now).

So the same grape is called Grenache, Garnacha, Canonau, and it used to be called Alicante. You think that's confusing? Wait until we talk about Italian grapes!

Grenache is often blended.

While you can find wine that is 100% Grenache, the grape is most commonly a major component of well known blends.

In Spain, where Grenache is called Garnacha (Gar-nah-char), this grape is a component of wines from Rioja and Priorat.
In the Languedoc area of southern France, it is often blended with Carrignan.

In the southern Rhone region of France, Grenache is a major component in Côtes du Rhône wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras. In fact, the Côtes du Rhône blend is often called a GSM blend. GSM stands for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. What's the first grape mentioned? Grenache.

Grenache's drought tolerance made it a popular grape to grow in California in the first half of the 1900s, and before Shiraz boom of the 1960s, Grenache was the most planted grape in Australia.

But what does it taste like?

Grenache makes a wine with low tannins and low acid, but a fair amount of body and alcohol. The texture is plush and velvety and there are flavors of strawberries, raspberries, and plums. Not fresh fruit flavors, but more like dehydrated fruit or a fruit roll. You may get a hint of cinnamon too. Grenache from southern France may have an herbal quality (think oregano), and wine from the volcanic islands of Corsica or Sardinia will have a mineral quality.

Grenache is also used to make awesome rosés in France (particularly Tavel and Lirac), and its used to make fortified dessert wine in both France (Banyuls, Maury, and Rasteau) and Sardinia (Cannonau liquoroso). I'll describe those in detail in a future post.

Here's a Garnacha that's super inexpensive ($9) and easy to find.
Its got flames on the label, so its got that going for it, which is nice.

Its got some black cherry going on, with some raspberry darker fruit flavors and some definite smoke, earth, pepper, and cinnamon. There's also a little tickle in the back of your throat from the 14.5% alcohol.


Tres Picos is a classic Spanish Garnacha at a great value (about $17). You'll taste blackberries, strawberries, and plums with hints of licorice and herbs. Its got a plush texture that feels like wearing your favorite sweater on a fall day.

I love anything coming from Domain Lafage. This GSM blend (Remember, that's Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre) that has cooked raspberry & strawberry flavors with blackberry and black cherry too. You'll notice some herbal notes like oregano, which is typical of Grenache grown in the south of France. ($15)

Grenache grown on the island of Sardinia makes wine that tends to be a litte lighter bodied and lower in alcohol than Grenache grown in warmer areas. The volcanic soil also contributes to the slightly iron finish. This is Italy, and the wine goes by the name Cannonau.

If you want something rustic and informal with a tinge of minerality, try Cannonau. I like to pair it with a BLT and sweet potato fries.

Syncline is a Washington State winery that makes two different Grenache blends. Subduction Red is a fruit forward GSM blend. The Grenache/Carignan is a little more rustic than the Subduction Red. Its Syncline's version of a popular blend from the Languedoc region of France. Both of these wines will be more fruit forward and less earthy than their French inspirations.

Food Pairing

Roasts and stews pair well with the fuller body of Grenache, particularly dishes roasted with tomato or eggplant. If you are breaking out the crockpot, break out a bottle of Grenache.

For cheeses, Grenache's low tannins and full body help it pair with fuller bodied cheese like Cheddar, Gouda, Edam, or Mimolette (if you can get your hands on Mimolette). Try Grenache with Mahon, a Spanish cow's milk cheese made on the island of Minorca.

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