Grenache vs Garnacha: Two Country’s Perspective of the Same Grape
September 14, 2020
I was watching a video the other day of a wine shop worker describing a lineup on Spanish wines. She reached for one of the reds and described the dominant grape variety as Grenache. I’m sorry, hold my glass of Albariño. Aren’t you talking about Spain? Shouldn’t it be Garnacha? This faux pas (or paso en falso – *thanks, Google Translate*) is something I tilted my head at immediately. Isn’t the distinction between the two synonyms worth differentiating? Especially from someone who’s in the business of selling wine. Well, that’s what I’m here to do. While the grape and its primary characteristics are basically the same, today we explore Grenache vs Garnacha and some of the minor differences between the two.
And bonus – it’s Grenache Day this coming Friday, September 18th. So, the timing is perfect!
Grenache/Garnacha is medium-bodied with medium tannins and low to medium acidity. Its fruit flavours are primarily red berries such as strawberries and raspberries along with black cherry. It can often be a single varietal wine however due to its alcohol levels (13.5 – 16%), it’s an amicable variety to include in blends, adding body, fruit intensity and spice.
The grape is indigenous to the Spanish northwest. More specifically, the autonomous region of Aragon. From there, it hopped and skipped northwards – over the Pyrenees mountains and across the French border. Its initial success in France was here, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Word spread further north and west to the Southern Rhone where winemakers at the time happened to be looking for a blending grape. Thus, the now famous – and highly accoladed wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – were born.
DRILLING DOWN THE DIFFERENCES
DO Calatayud, Aragón Typically found as a single varietal expression. Deep in colour, concentrated and mineral driven.
DO Cariñena, Aragón Typically found as a single varietal expression. Intensely fruity & floral with spicy notes.
DOQ Priorat, Cataluña Often blended with Carignan. Highly concentrated, mineral driven and complex with notes of ripe berry fruit and toasty oak.
DOCa Rioja, La Rioja Garnacha is a smaller, but important, contributor here. Together with Tempranillo, it adds perfume, body and alcohol to the final profile.
Languedoc-Roussillon Here, Grenache is often blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan or Cinsault. A typical profile doesn’t really exist since the styles can vary so greatly. It often depends on the winemaker’s preference and composition of the blend plus the vineyard climate. Most blends have a spicy and herbal characteristic, reminiscent of herbs that are grown locally.
Southern Rhone As mentioned, the G(renache)-S(yrah)-M(ourvèdre) blend that you find in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region is world-renowned. GSM’s are full-bodied and richly textured with concentrated red fruit flavours.
If you love the GSM expression but don’t want to spend too much, opt for a generic Côtes du Rhône (easy to find in the $20-$25 range). Or, for something in between, look for Gigondas or Vacqueyras. Both have Cru status but are often in the shadows of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I wrote about this one earlier this year for just $23.
ONE LAST SYNONYM
We’ve focused primarily on Grenache vs Garnacha from France and Spain obviously; however, the grape grows in Italy as well. It lives under the synonym Cannonau and is found on the island of Sardinia as well as spots of the Italian toe, Sicily.