Grenache Grape Variety

Grenache (pronounced gren-ash) (in Spanish, Garnacha, in Catalan, Garnatxa) is one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world.[1] It ripens late, so it needs hot, dry conditions such as those found in Spain, the south of France, and California's San Joaquin Valley. It is generally spicy, berry-flavored and soft on the palate with a relatively high alcohol content, but it needs careful control of yields for best results. It tends to lack acid, tannin and color, and is usually blended with other varieties such as SyrahCarignan and Cinsaut

Wine description berry fruit such as raspberries and strawberries. When yields are kept in check, Grenache based wines can develop complex and intense notes of black currants, black cherries, black olives, coffee, gingerbread, honey, leather, black pepper, tar, spices and roasted nuts. 
Food pairing braises and stews: long slow cooked roasts of pork or lamb daubes and stews with dark, winey sauces 
Origin Spain
Notable regions Priorat, Rhone, Sardinia, Spain
Notable wines Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Priorat 

Grenache is the dominant variety in most Southern Rhone wines, especially in Chateauneuf-du-Pape where it is typically over 80% of the blend. In Australia it is typically blended in "GSM" blends with Syrah and Mourvedre.Grenache is also used to make rose wines in France and Spain, notably those of the Tavel district in the Côtes du Rhone. And the high sugar levels of Grenache have led to extensive use in fortified wines, including the red vins doux naturels of Roussillon such as Banyuls, and as the basis of most Australian fortified wine.[2]


Grenache or Garnacha (as it is known in Spain) most likely originated in the region of Aragon in northern Spain, according to ampelographical evidence. [3] Plantings probably spread from the original birthplace to Catalonia and other lands under the Crown of Aragon such as Sardinia and Rousillon in southern France. An early synonym for the vine was Tinto Aragones (red of Aragon). The grape is known as Cannonau in Sardinia, where it is claimed that it originated there and spread to other Mediterranean lands under Aragon rule. [2] Grenache, under its Spanish synonym Garnacha, was already well established on both sides of the Pyrenees when the Roussillon region was annexed by France. From there the vine made its way through the Languedoc and to the Southern Rhone region where it was well established by the 19th century. Despite its prevalence in nearby Navarra and Catalonia, Garnacha was not widely planted in the Rioja till the early 20th century as vineyards were replanted following the phylloxera epidemic.[2]

Grenache was one of the first varieties to be introduced to Australia in the 18th century and eventually became the country's most widely planted red wine grape variety until it was surpassed by Shiraz in the mid 1960s.[4] Early Australian Grenache was a main component in the sweet fortified wines that was the lynchpin of the early Australian wine industry. In the 19th century, California wine growers prized the vine's ability to produce high yields and withstand heat and drought conditions. The grape was extensively planted throughout the hot San Joaquin Valley where it was mainly used as a blending component for pale, sweet jug wines. In the late 20th century, the Rhone Rangers movement brought attention to the production of premium varietal Grenache and Rhone style blends modeled after the Grenache dominate wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.[2] In the early 20th century, Grenache was one of the first Vitis vinifera grapes to be successfully vinified in during the early development of the Washington wine industry with a 1966 Yakima Valley rosé earning mention in wine historian Leon Adams treatise The Wines of America.[5]


The Grenache vine is characterized by its strong wood canopy and upright growth. It has good wind tolerance (which is useful in the Mistral influenced Rhone region) and has shown itself to be very suited for the dry, warm windy climate around the Mediterranean.[1] The vine buds early and requires a long growing season in order to fully ripen. Grenache is often one of the last grapes to be harvested, often ripening weeks after Cabernet Sauvignon. The long ripening process allows the sugars in the grape to reach high levels, making Grenache based wines capable of substantial alcohol levels, often at least 15% ABV.[2] While the vine is generally vigorous, it is susceptible to various grape diseases that can affect the yield and quality of the grape production such as coulure, bunch rot and downy mildew due to the vine's tight grape clusters. Marginal and wet climates can increase Grenache's propensity to develop these viticultural dangers. The vine's drought resistance is dependent on the type of rootstock it is planted on but on all types of rootstocks, Grenache seems to respond favorably to some degree of water stress.[4]

Grenache prefers hot, dry soils that are well drained but it relatively adaptable to all vineyard soil types. In southern France, Grenache thrives on schist and granite soils and has responded well to the stony soil of Chateauneuf-du-Pape with the area's galets roules heat retaining stones. In Priorat, the crumbly schist soil of the region retain enough water to allow producers to avoid irrigation in the dry wine region. Vineyards with an overabundance of irrigation tend to produce pale colored wines with diluted flavors and excessive alcohol.[4] The skin of Grenache is thin and lightly pigmented, making wines with pale color and low tannins.[2] Older vines with low yields can increase the concentration of phenolic compounds and produced darker, more tannic wines such as those found in the Priorat region of Spain where yields are often around 5-6 hectoliters/hectare (less than half a ton per acre). Yield control is intimately connected with the resulting quality of wine with yields below 35 hl/ha (2 tons/acre), such as those practiced by many Chateauneuf-du-Pape estates, producing very different wines than those with yields closer to 50 hl/ha (5 tons/acre) which is the base yield for Appellation d'origine controlle (AOC) wines labeled under the Co´tes du Rhone designation.[4] The strong wood canopy of Grenache makes the vine difficult to harvest with mechanical harvesters and pruning equipment and more labor intensive to cultivate. In highly mechanized wine regions, such as Australia and California, this has contributed to a decline in the vine's popularity.[2]

Mutants and crosses

Over centuries, the Grenache vine has produced mutation vines with berries of all range of colors. While Grenache noir or "red" Grenache is the most well known, Grenache blanc or "white" Grenache is a very important grape variety in France where it is the fourth most widely planted white variety after Ugni blanc, Chardonnay and Semillon. Like Grenache noir, it is a permitted variety in the blends of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In Southern France and Sardinia, the mutants Grenache rose and Grenache gris are also found making pale rose and lightly tinted white wines.[2] There is currently not consensus among ampelographers about whether Garnacha Peluda or "hairy Grenache" with its downy undersides of leaves[6] is mutation of Grenache or just a relative vine. The vine known as Garnacha Tintorera is a synonym for the teinturier grape Alicante which is a crossing of Grenache and Petite Bouschet.[4] In 1961, a cross between Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon produced the French wine grape Marselan.[7]


Grenache is often used as a blending component, adding body and sweet fruitiness to a wine. The grape can be troublesome for the winemaker due to tendency to oxidize easily and lose color. To compensate for the grape's naturally low tannins and phenolic compounds, some producers will use excessively harsh pressing and hot fermentation with stems to extract the maximal amount of color and phenols from the skins. This can backfire to produce green, herbaceous flavors and coarse, astringent wine lacking the grape's characteristic vibrant fruitiness. To maintain those character traits, Grenache responds best to a long, slow fermentation at cooler temperatures followed by a maceration period. To curb against oxidation, the wine should be racked as little as possible. The use of new oak barrels can help with retaining color and preventing oxidation but too much oak influence can cover up the fruitiness of Grenache.[4]

The high levels of sugars and lack of harsh tannins, makes Grenache well adapted to the production of fortified wines, such as the vin doux naturels (VDN) of the Roussillon region and the "port-style" wines of Australia. In these wines, the must ferments for 3 days before grape spirit is added to the must to halt the fermentation and the conversion of sugar into alcohol. The high alcoholic proof grape spirit brings the finish wine up to 15-16% alcohol. These wines can be made in a rancio style by leaving it outside in glass demi-johns (or car boys) or wooden barrels where the wine bakes in the sun for several years until it develops a maderized character and flavors of sour raisins, nuts and cheese. These fortified VDNs and port-style wines have longevity and can be drinkable well into their third decade.[4]

Wine regions

Grenache is one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world with France and Spain being its largest principle wine regions. In the late 20th century, total acreage of Grenache in Spain has been on the decline with the vineyards being uprooted in lieu of the more fashionable Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Between the late 1980s and 2004, Spanish plantings dropped from 420,000 acres (170,000 hectare) to 203,370 acres (82,300 ha) allowing France with its 236,500 acres (95,700 ha) to assume the mantle as the world's largest source of Grenache. As of 2000, Grenache was the third most widely planted red wine grape variety in France, behind Merlot and Carignan.[2] From French nurseries, Grenache has become the fourth most widely propagated vine with more than 23 million cuttings sold since 1998 according to French ampelographer Pierre Galet.[4]


In France, Grenache is most widely associated with the wines of the Rhone and southern France. Its history in the Rhone can be traced to the influence of Burgundian wine merchants in the 17-18th centuries who were seeking a blending variety to add body and alcohol content to their light body wines. Grenache, with its propensity for high alcohol and high yields, fit those desire nicely and was widely planted in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas and Vacqueyras regions.[4] Today Grenache is most widely planted in the Languedoc-Roussillon region where it is widely blended with Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah and Mourvedre. The vine's strong, hard wood and affinity for bush vine training allows it to thrive in the Mistral influenced southern Rhone regions of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas.[2] In Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache noir is the most common variety of the 13 permitted varieties, although some producers in recent years have been using a higher proportion of Mourvedre. Grenache produces a sweet juice that can have almost a jam-like consistency when very ripe. Syrah is typically blended to provide color and spice, while Mourvèdre can add elegance and structure to the wine.[8]

The grape's thin skin and pale coloring makes its well suited for the production of full bodied, fruit rose wines. Grenache is the principle grape behind the roses of Tavel and Lirac and its plays an important role in the Provence region as well. In the Roussillon region, Grenache noir and its gris and blanc mutations are used in the production of the fortified vin doux naturels of Banyuls and Maury.[2] The characteristic of French Grenache based wines depend largely on what other grape varieties it is blended with and can range from the spicy, richness associated with Chateauneuf-du-Pape to the chewy, fruitiness associated with basic Cotes du Rhone Villages. Other regions with sizable plantings of Grenache include the Appellation d'origine controlle (AOC) regions of Minervois, Fitou and Corbieres.[4]


In Spain, Grenache is known as Garnacha and given the likely history of the grape this is most likely the grape's original name. There are several clonal varieties of Garnacha with the thin-skinned, dark colored Garnacha Tinta(sometimes spelled Tinto) being the most common. Another variety, known as Garnacha Peluda or "Hairy Grenache" due to the soft downy texture on the underside of the vine's leaves is also found in Spain, mostly in Priorat. Widely planted in northeastern and central Spain, Garnacha was long considered a "workhorse" grape of low quality suitable for blending. In the late 20th century, the success of the Garnacha based wines from Priorat in Catalonia (as well as the emerging international attention given to the New World Rhone Rangers) sparked a re-evaluation of this "workhorse" variety. Today it is the third most widely planted red grape variety in Spain (behind Tempranillo and Bobal) with more than 203,300 acres (82,300 hectares) and is seen in both varietal wines and blends.[2]

Garnacha plays a major role in the Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOC/DOQ) wines of Rioja and Priorat and the Denominacion de Origen (DO) wines of Navarra and all southern Aragonese and southern Catalonian appellations, plus the mountainous areas just southwest of Madrid: Mantrida and Cebreros. In Rioja the grape is planted mostly in the warmer Rioja Baja region located in the eastern expanse of the wine region. Usually blended with Tempranillo, Garnacha provides juicy fruitiness and added body. In recent years, modern Rioja producers have been increasing the amount of Garnacha used in the blend in order to produce earlier maturing and more approachable Riojas in their youth. Garnacha is also used in the pale colored rosados of Rioja.[2] The vine has a long history in the Navarra region where it has been the dominant red grape variety with nearly 54% of the region's vineyard planted with Garnacha. Compared to neighboring Rioja, the Garnacha-based blends of Navarra are lighter and fruitier, meant for earlier consumption.[4]

Other Spanish wine regions with sizable Garnacha plantings include-Campo de Borja, Costers del Segre, Emporda , La Mancha, Madrid, Mantrida, Penedes, Somontano, Tarragona and Terra Alta.[2]


Ampelographers believe Garnacha has had a presence in the Priorat region of Catalonia for several hundred years (possibly nearly 800 years) but since the 1990s the region's old Garnacha have garnered much attention. A wave of ambitious young winemakers rediscovered the low-yield, bush-vine trained Garnacha planted throughout the llicorella (brown schist) based soils of Priorat. This unique combination of extremely old vines (the average age in most vineyards is between 35–60 years) planted on steep terraces and soil produces very low yields (around 5-6 hectoliters per hectare) which makes Priorat a dense, rich concentrated and dark colored wine with noticeable tannins. The traditional Priorat wine would be almost black in color and require years of aging before it would be approachable to drink. Nearly 40% of all the vineyard land in the Priorat region is planted to Garnacha, and most of the rest is Carignan but the acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot increased before 2000 as modernist producers sought to blend those varieties to add complexity. Some of these new modern style Priorats tend to show softer, blackberry fruit in their youth and over time develop notes of figs and tar.[4]

Other Old World regions

In Italy, Grenache is most commonly found as Cannonau in Sardinia where it is one of the principal grapes in the island's deeply colored, full bodied red wines that routinely maintain alcohol levels around 15%. Outside of Sardinia, Grenache is also found in Sicily, Umbria (in Trasimeno lake area) and Calabria. Grenache has been grown in Israel since the 19th century and was once an important grape in the Algerian wine industry. Today there are still some producers in Morocco producing Grenache roses.[2] Sizable plantings of Grenache are also found in Cyprus and scattered among the Greek islands.[4]


A clone from Perpignan arrived in Australia with James Busby in his 1832 collection. More significant was the introduction into South Australia of new cuttings from the South of France, by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold in 1844. Plantings in South Australia boomed, particularly in McLaren Vale, the Barossa Valley and Clare Valley.[3]Until the mid 20th century, Grenache was Australia's most widely planted red wine grape variety with significant plantings in the vast Riverland region where it was vital component in the fortified "port-style" wines of the early Australian industry. As Australian winemakers started to focus more of premium still wines, Grenache gradually fell out of favor being supplanted by Shiraz and later Cabernet Sauvignon in Australian vineyards. The late 20th and early 21st centuries saw a revival of interest in Grenache with old vine plantings in South Australia being used to produce varietal Grenache as well as a "GSM"-Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre-blends becoming popular.[2]Varietal Grenache from the McLaren Vale is characterized by luscious richness and spicy notes while Barossa Valley Grenache is characterized by jammy, intense fruitiness.[4]

United States

In the early California wine industry, Grenache's high yields and alcohol level made it an ideal blending component for jug wine production. Early plantings centered in the hot central San Joaquin Valley where it was used to produce sweet, pale colored "white Grenache" wines similar in quality and substance to White Zinfandel. The late 20th century, saw a revival of interest in the variety spearheaded by the Rhone Rangers movement. These producers imported new cuttings from the Rhone valley for planting in the cooler Central Coast region for use in the production of premium varietal Grenache and Rhone style blends. Some historic old vine plantings of Grenache in Mendocino County has also garnered interest in recent years.[2] In the early 20th century, Grenache was one of the first Vitis vinifera grapes to be successfully vinified in during the early development of the Washington wine industry with a 1966 Yakima Valley rose earning mention in wine historian Leon Adams treatise The Wines of America. Despite its long history, Grenache has been a minor grape variety in Washington but has seen an increase in plantings in recent years due to the Rhone Ranger movement in the state. Older plantings in the Horse Heaven Hills and Columbia Gorge American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) has also begun attracted interest.[5]

Other New World wine regions

Despite being one of the world's most widely planted red grape varieties, Grenache's colonization of the New World has been limited apart from strongholds in Australia and California. The rising popularity and success of the Rhone Ranger's movement has brought greater attention to the variety and more plantings of Grenache are popping up every year in places like Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and South Africa.[4]


While Grenache is most often encountered in blended wines (such as the Rhone wines or GSM blends), varietal examples of Grenache do exist. As a blending component, Grenache is valued for the added body and fruitiness that it brings without added tannins. As a varietal, the grapes naturally low concentration of phenolics contribute to its pale color and lack of extract but viticultural practices and low yields can increase the concentrations of phenolic compounds. Grenache based wines tend to be made for early consumption with its propensity for oxidation make it a poor candidate for long term aging. However, producers (such as some examples from Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat) who use low yields grown on poor soils can produce dense, concentrated wines that can benefit from cellaring.[2] The fortified vin doux naturels of France and Australian "port-style" wines are protected from Grenache's propensity for oxidation by the fortification process and can usually be drinkable for two or three decades.[4]

The characteristic notes of Grenache are berry fruit such as raspberries and strawberries. When yields are kept in check, Grenache based wines can develop complex and intense notes of black currants, black cherries, black olives, coffee, gingerbread, honey, leather, black pepper, tar, spices and roasted nuts. When yields are increased, more overtly earthy and herbal notes emerge that tend to quickly fade on the palate. The very low yielding old vines of Priorat can impart dark black fruits and notes of figs and tar with many traits similar to the Italian wine Amarone. Rosado or rose Grenaches are often characterized by their strawberry and cream notes while fortified vin doux nautrels and Australian "port style" wines exhibits coffee and nutty tawny-like notes.[4]


  1. Niels Lillelund: Rhone-Vinene JP Berger - JP/Politikens Forlagshus A/S, 2004. pp. 25 
  2. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 297-298, 333-334 Oxford University Press 2006 
  3. Radden, Rosemary. "Grapes and Wines of the World". The State Library of South Australia, GPO Box 419, Adelaide SA 5001.
  4. Oz Clarke Encyclopedia of Grapes pg 91-100 Harcourt Books 2001 
  5. P. Gregutt "Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide" pg 67-68 University of California Press 2007 
  6. Gran Clos Priorat: Garnacha, accessed on December 26, 2009 
  7. L. Alley "New French Wine Grape Arrives in US Market" The Wine Spectator pg 17 Sept. 30, 2007 
  8. K. MacNeil The Wine Bible pg 250 Workman Publishing 2001 
  9. Maul, E.; Eibach, R. (1999-06-00). "Vitis International Variety Catalogue". Information and Coordination Centre for Biological Diversity (IBV) of the Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food (BLE), Deichmanns Aue 29, 53179 Bonn, Germany.
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