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Generation Grenache International Grenache Day at JN Wine

Posted on 17th September 2021 by JN Wine


Generation Grenache International Grenache Day at JN Wine

Grenache, Garnacha, Garnatxa, Cannonau… whichever synonym you wish to refer to it by, this is a grape variety that we’re all likely to have come across frequently in one form or another throughout our wine experience. Be it as a majority component in the dependably crunchy, spicy red blends of the southern Rhône, to its utilitarian role in the rustic, caraffable tintos gracing the tables of Spanish tabernas, to providing the ‘G’ and the boozy backbone in plump, powerful New World GSMs; Grenache in its many forms is a grape that many of us are unlikely to be a stranger to. However, despite its seemingly ubiquitous usefulness, Grenache throughout history has rarely seen centre-stage, nor has it ever much been celebrated nobly as a variety in its own right, at least when compared to the Pinot Noirs, the Cabernet Sauvignons and the Syrahs of this world.

Grenache and its many mutations, permutations and synonymizations and their resulting wine styles have occupied polar regions within the psyche of consumers – at one end fronting the type of fruity, inexpensive gluggers that are of service to the midweek spaghetti bolognese but not much thought thereafter, to those on the other end of the spectrum that are hemmed behind grandiose-sounding appellations and walls of esotericism – think Chateauneuf, or Priorat – accessible only to those with a desire to climb them and the wallet to foot them up. And even then, Grenache is subordinate to the real stars of the show – the terroir, or the vigneron, or latterly the animated wine advisor or sommelier that convinced you to relent to their bookishness and whimsy before you inevitably have to ask, “what grape is this made of again?”. Grenache seemed forever to be a member of the supporting cast without the stage to explore the potential of its own true voice – that is, of course, until now; and in the timeliest fashion.

Grenache is a grape that is well-suited to our changing climate. Regardless of one’s belief on the topic or what the root of the cause may be, wine growers and makers across the world are unified in their experience of an increasingly intemperate growing season in which vines are shutting down and browning in the thralls of extreme heat and hydric stress, causing a reduction in crop viability and overall yield (not to mention the resulting wildfires that ravage vineyards, as they have done most recently in the south of France – sticking the boot into a vintage that has already been predicted as the worst for 45 years by the French agriculture ministry.) Increasingly in the most-affected regions, growers are looking to varieties that can tolerate these hostile conditions more easily and, more importantly, still be able to make quality wine despite them. Grenache is one such variety, as it needs a long, warm growing season to ripen and has excellent drought resistance. The vine’s strong, sturdy roots grow deep into subterranean water tables and don’t need to depend on rainwater or irrigation (where permitted) nearly as much as many other vines do. Additionally, its upright growth means that Grenache can be trained as a bushvine which requires relatively little maintenance and is fairly protective of fruit in the blistering heat, all while flourishing in low-fertility soils and showing admirable tolerance to wind.

Grenache isn’t just a climate combatant, however. While for many it has been treated as a workhorse grape, in the right hands it can perform with all the meticulous grace of the most lauded dressage pony. Grenache responds beautifully to the moderating influence of altitude, developing evermore ethereal, Pinot-like perfumes of rose, cool herbs and wild strawberry as sites climb high into the late-hundreds of metres and beyond, all while exhibiting a more lithe, tightrope-esque vein of acidity not so readily achieved in lower reaches where diurnal ranges are not so vast. The grape is a wonderful translator of terroir and soil, with those wines from the more free-draining soils based on granite, schist and sand exhibiting lifted, heady aromas and flavours while those from deeper, more alluvial soils appearing broader and more generous both in the nose and the mouth. Grenache also responds beautifully to different winemaking techniques, with modern trends toward whole bunch fermentation, less extraction, lower temperature fermentations and maturation in vessels ranging from old wood, to concrete, and even to clay, all producing wines of distinct personality and poise that belie their harsh upbringings. And all that just in the dry, red wines! In addition to the aforementioned, Grenache’s versatility means that winemakers have the freedom to choose whether they wish to produce wines in dry or sweet, red or rosé and even white (or orange!) styles… but more on those later.

Grenache, so it seems, could be an unlikely hero of the 21st century oenosphere, offering a beacon of hope in an uncertain future for many vignerons in the winegrowing regions of the world both ‘Old’ and ‘New’, as well as offering novel and exciting tasting experiences for us fortunate consumers, whether we intend to feed our thirst or our intrigue. With all that in mind, we have compiled below some stunning examples from our portfolio that we feel represent the new generation of Grenache wines in all their diversity, leading the trail for the variety and for winemaking as a whole, with an emphasis on sustainability and a distinct connection between real people and real places. As always, the below wines have all been sourced from small family growers with whom we have carved a close personal relationship and have each been imported directly by us, JN Wine, after considerable deliberation by our Taste Team. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Happy International Grenache Day!

Red Grenache/Grenache Noir/Garnacha Tinta/Garnatxa Negre:

Hailing from the Cabardès AOC in the northwestern Languedoc, this 100% Grenache is made by Stéphanie & Olivier Ramé – the third generation of their family to farm in this promising region not far from the city of Carcassonne. ‘Le Paria’ – as the name suggests – is an outsider, and part of a unique range of wines that deliberately eschew the stringent appellation laws of their home region in favour of pursuing qualities beyond those simply expected of them. These Grenache vines are organically farmed in the foothills of the Montagne Noire before being fermented in concrete without sulphites. The result is a beautifully modern, juicy Grenache exhibiting raspberry, red cherry and blood orange fruit with a piquant, peppery finish. It’s no wonder that this wine has received such acclaim in the wine press of late (see Decanter Magazine, Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages et al.), as it is a beautifully presented and characterful example of contemporary Grenache winemaking at a pocket-friendly price.

Brigitte Chevalier is a vigneron that is very much en vogue with the wine intelligentsia of late. Her wines have been touted as the “perfect, textbook example of Faugères” by the French press as her desire to capture the delicate expression of this cooler, northerly Languedoc appellation has been deemed a resounding success by all that have tasted them. ‘Ex Arena’, meaning ‘From the Sand’ in Latin, is made from organically farmed, hand-picked Grenache grapes (with 10% Mourvèdre) grown on a 40m deep bed of sea sediment and alluvial deposits and is fermented in steel to safeguard its fine aroma and flavour. The resulting wine is concentrated yet discerning, with deep, red plum and berried fruit flavours alongside spicy leather and a warm waft of garrigue. To quote Tamlyn Currin of Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages: “Tasting this is like listening to Maria Callas sing. Instant goosebumps. It makes your heart soar. Very Very Good Value.”

Stemming from the vertiginous Sierra de Gredos mountains west of Madrid – a region that is fast becoming recognised as the home of some of the finest Grenache terroirs on the planet – this 100% Garnacha from the biodynamic Bodegas Parajes de Cadalso exhibits all the qualities that makes old-vine, high-altitude Grenache so exciting. With a vineyard planted between 60-100 years ago on granitic soils in excess of 900m in altitude, these Garnacha vines are naturally low-yielding, and the old-vine grapes are forced to develop their complex flavours slowly over the extended growing season, all the while retaining vital fresh acidity which is translated into the wine. After 12 months maturing in 500L French oak the wine is bottled and the result is hard to ignore; deceptively pale in hue, the first thing that hits is that aroma of intense, almost menthol-infused red currant and pomegranate fruit with the unmistakable sweet spice and cedar of French oak framing the picture. This wine is no shrinking violet either at 15% but will pair beautifully with hearty meat dishes.

The ‘New World’, not to be outdone, has a fine Grenache representative in this, the ‘Prodigal’ release from the esteemed Kilikanoon winery in the Clare Valley, South Australia. This wine too is the product of old vines – up to 70 years old – and is dry-farmed and hand-picked before traditional fermentation and ageing for 15 months in seasoned, small French oak casks before being bottled without fining or filtration. The resulting wine is a deeper, brick red expression of Grenache with intense aromas and flavours of ripe, stewed strawberry, Morello cherry, eucalyptus and sweet cinnamon and marzipan influence from the oak maturation. This is a crowd-pleasing style that does not demand too much of the drinker, only that they relax and enjoy it with good food.

White Grenache/Grenache Blanc/Garnacha Blanca/Garnatxa Blanca:

Grenache Blanc, or Garnatxa Blanca as it’s known in Catalonia from which this example derives, is a white mutation of the grape little-found outside of Spain and France where it is often used as a blending varietal. Edetària however, from the rural Terra Alta denomination in the south of Catalonia, pride themselves on putting Garnatxa Blanca at the forefront of their white wine offerings. From old vines grown organically on fossilised dune soils, yields are kept low to intensify the unique flavours of the grape variety. After fermentation in stainless steel to magnify fruit, the wine is aged for an extended time on its own lees to enhance texture and freshness. The result is a wine of beautiful, satiny mouthfeel with up-front flavours of white pear, melon and freshly shelled almond, finishing slightly saline in reflection of its unique terroir. An impressive wine for the money with one foot firmly rooted in tradition and the other striding forward into the region’s bright future.

N.b. – Keep an eye out for the excellent Edetària reds which feature mostly old-vine red Grenache, as well as its rarer cousin-variety ‘Garnatxa Peluda’ or ‘Hairy Grenache’, named so because of its hairy buds and leaves!

Grey Grenache/Grenache Gris:

Continuing the theme of Grenache mutations and lesser-spotted cousins, we have this special offering from Languedoc’s pioneering Domaine Gayda. Grenache Gris is so named because of the greyish, almost pink hue to the grape skins which lends a greater weight, texture, and colour to the resulting wine. This particular cuvée started its life as three separate parcels of organically grown grapes which were handpicked and vinified in a combination of concrete eggs and demi-muids before final blending took place. The product is an idiosyncratic wine of golden straw colour and rich honeyed aromas, with a broad palate combining yellow apple, blossom, and ginger spice at this developed stage. A curious wine and a real treat at this offer price – just over 3,000 bottles made!

Rosé:

With its generous red fruit and occasionally herbal character, Grenache is an ideal grape from which to produce modish rosé wines. Domaine Roc des Anges, run by the indefatigable Marjorie Gallet, is nestled in the northern reaches of the Roussillon in the shadow of the Pyrenees mountains. From this unforgiving environment of stifling heat, poor soils and dry winds, Marjorie somehow manages to create incredibly abundant wines of great aromatic complexity, bursting with fresh fruit and minerality. Effet Papillon Rosé exhibits just this – made from 100% Grenache farmed using biodynamic practices and picked by hand, the grapes undergo a gentle pressing and limited maceration on the skins (giving the pale colour) before the juice is fermented and aged for a short time in steel to preserve its delicate aromas and flavours. Expect peach, lemon zest and pink grapefruit with a tense mineral streak making this an ideal apéritif and food wine.

Sweet:

The final feather in the cap of Grenache is its ample suitability for making sweet wines. The grapes accumulate sugar very quickly at the end of the growing season which can be a problem for dry wines in warmer climates but makes them very suitable for making Vin Doux Naturel – a fortified sweet wine common across the south of France. This wine from the Maury appellation in Roussillon is made by Marjorie Gallet’s husband, Stéphane, from an old domaine they acquired in 2007. Conceived simply by stopping the fermentation prematurely through the addition of grape spirit (i.e. fortification), the result is a high alcohol, naturally-sweet wine with bright, fleshy red and black fruit flavours and soft tannins. This wine is the ideal match for almost any cheese and perhaps most consummately – chocolate!


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