20. GRAPE VARIETIES - Number 8: Grenache (Garnacha)
The Grenache grape started life in Spain as Garnacha, but has spread all over southern France, reaching its apogee in the vineyards of ChÃ¢teauneuf du Pape, whose finest products are some of the greatest wines on earth, with a capacity to age gracefully and beautifully over decades. Although the books emphasise that ChÃ¢teauneuf du Pape is a blend of up to 13 different varieties, the wine is all about Grenache: one of the greatest wines of the region, ChÃ¢teau Rayas, is in fact 100% Grenache â€“ expect to pay over Â£100 for a bottle of this. All the other varieties merely provide the backdrop for Grenache's starring role; a typical ChÃ¢teauneuf du Pape will contain between 60 and 75 per cent Grenache.
Grenache needs a long growing season, budding early and ripening late, and requiring plenty of Mediterranean sun all summer to bring it to full ripeness. It is comparatively low in acidity, and thin-skinned, but produces grapes with very high sugar content. The resulting wines thus have a tendency to be high in alcohol, with only medium depth of colour. The wine is also prone to oxidation â€“ evidence of this can be seen in Grenache wines with some bottle age: they go brown at the rim much more quickly than, say Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon. Having said that, the finest ChÃ¢teauneuf du Papes start life with tremendously deep, dense colour and lots of tannin, and then mature slowly over decades. This is where the importance of blending comes in: Syrah in particular, and also MourvÃ¨dre, are frequently crucial components in ChÃ¢teauneuf du Pape precisely because they do not oxidise easily and also provide good colour and backbone for the softer Grenache.
Grenache is the main ingredient in CÃ´tes du RhÃ´ne, and all the red wine appellations of the region, such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, etc. It is also grown in Rioja, though is less important qualitatively than Tempranillo; and is widely planted throughout Spain, reaching its finest expression in the Priorat region south of Barcelona, around the town of Gratallops. It is also a component of Spain's grandest wine, Vega Sicilia. You will meet it in California, and Australia â€“ look out for examples from the Barossa Valley, such as Charlie Melton's Nine Popes.
Finally, you will come across it as a rich sweet wine (made in the same way as Port) in Banyuls, Maury and Rasteau â€“ all in the south of France. These are not often seen, but worth seeking out â€“ giving flavours of prunes, raisins and spice, going particularly well with chocolate puddings.