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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 Châteauneuf 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 Châteauneuf 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, Château Rayas, is in fact 100% Grenache – expect to pay over £100 for a bottle of this. All the other varieties merely provide the backdrop for Grenache's starring role; a typical Châteauneuf 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 – 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 Châteauneuf 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 Mourvèdre, are frequently crucial components in Châteauneuf 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 Côtes du Rhône, 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 – 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 – all in the south of France. These are not often seen, but worth seeking out – giving flavours of prunes, raisins and spice, going particularly well with chocolate puddings.