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Friday, March 15, 2013

Red Wine Basics: Grenache

Grenache is a widely planted red-grape variety thought to have originated in Spain. Its main producers include France, Spain, Australia and the United States, with some of the most popular Grenache wines coming from the Rhone wine region of France. The grape is slow to ripen and one of the last varieties to be harvested making it ideal for hot, dry climates such as those found in South France, Spain, Australia, and the San Joaquin Valley in California.
Grenache Vineyard of Barossa Valley, Australia
Grenache vineyard of Barossa Valley, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grenache was one of the first grape varieties to be introduced to Australia, and its high sugar content makes it perfect for sweetening up Australian fortified wines. It was also one of the first grape varieties successfully cultivated and vinified in Washington during the early development of the wine industry there. In California, it is a popular component in sweet jug wines, which are inexpensive table wines typically bottled in large glass jugs.

Grenache’s long ripening season allows sugars to reach high levels, producing sweet wines high in alcohol. A typical Grenache varietal has alcohol content around 15%. Grenache grapes have light, thin skins resulting in wines that are pale and generally low in tannins. Yield size and processing technique determine the ultimate outcome, but tannin and acid levels are typically medium to low.

Grenache Grapes in Santa Barbara, California
Grenache- Santa Barbara, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Grenache grapes grow on thick, woody vines, making them difficult to prune and harvest. The difficulty in processing has led to a decrease in popularity in some regions where wine harvesting is highly dependent on machines such as Australia and California. The grapes grow in very tight bunches, making them susceptible to rot, especially in wetter climates. Despite these difficulties, Grenache is drought resistant and produces a wine perfect for rounding out blends and creating delightful rosés, making it one of the world’s most widely planted red grape varieties.

Processing the grapes can be difficult for producers. The grape produces wines that are low in tannin, so to compensate for this lack in flavor structure, growers often use harsh pressing techniques and hot fermentation to try and extract as much tannin and color as possible. These harsh techniques can result in wines that are herbaceous, course and astringent. The best Grenache is made when fermentation is slow and cool, followed by a period of maceration. Oak barrel aging can help Grenache retain some color and prevent overly quick oxidation.

Grenache is most typically used in blends, though a few varietals are produced. It is often blended with harsher, more tannic wines to add sweetness and body. On its own, Grenache produces a varietal that is full in the mouth and exhibits the flavors of blackberry, black currants, allspice, cinnamon and orange blossom. Due to quick oxidation, the wine is not meant to be aged, though certain cultivation and vinification processes can produce bottles appropriate for some aging.

Glass of Grenache Rosé wine
Grenache Rosé wine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Pair Grenache varietals with poultry and mild cheeses. Grenache blended with harsher, more tannic wines pairs well with steaks and rich meats such as duck as well as tomato-based dishes. Sweet and delicious rosés go nicely with seafood dishes and would do well on a summer picnic!

This completes my exploration of Grenache. Join me next time for a discussion about Lagrein, an Italian red grape variety.
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