Grenache Wine: Getting to Know Garnacha Red Varieties

Grenache Wine: Getting to Know Garnacha Red Varieties

McKenzie Hagan |

Grenache red wine might not be as famous as other red wines — Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, we're looking at you. But it is more ubiquitous than you might realize. This widely grown and versatile wine grape is one you've probably enjoyed without even knowing it thanks to its popularity as a partner for many blended red wines.

Whether you've only heard of it in passing or are earnestly looking for a new red to swirl and sip, there's plenty to learn about Garnacha red wine. Get ready to be on a first-name basis with this multifaceted wine, including where it comes from, how it's made, and how to make the most of every glass.

Understanding Garnacha Wine: What Is Grenache Wine?

Known as Garnacha in Spain, Grenache Noir in France, and Cannonau in Italy, Grenache is a dark-skinned red wine grape variety used to produce wine of the same name. It's thought to have originated in the Aragon region of Northern Spain, which is also considered the birthplace of Carignan wine.

As Garnacha wine gains popularity, it's essential to note that it offers a unique experience to wine lovers. While it shares some qualities with other reds, it also stands out due to its unique characteristics. For instance, Grenache wines are renowned for their versatility and adaptability to a range of food pairings. This quality makes them an excellent choice for both casual dinners and special occasions.

Grenache vines are resilient and rather easy to grow in a variety of soils. However, they have a long growing season before they ripen, so they prefer warmer climates, such as Southern France, Northern Spain, and South Australia. Garnacha grapes are often used in blended wines although single varietal wines are becoming increasingly common.

While it's originally a Spanish wine, Grenache is widely grown throughout wine regions around the world, including:

  • France: Rhône Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, Maury, and Provence
  • Spain: Aragon, Priorat, and Rioja (which is also a type of wine)
  • Italy: The island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea
  • Australia: The famed Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale
  • United States: California's Central Coast

Grenache wine is known for having medium acidity, medium tannins, and high alcohol content, which hovers around 13.5-16% ABV. For reference, 12% ABV is considered the standard glass of wine in the United States. So yes, Garnacha is a little boozy. (But we're not judging.)

Try Usual Grenache

A limited-edition rich and fruity Grenache blend from Santa Barbara with notes of blackberry, black pepper, and cassis.

Tasting the Flavor of Garnacha: What Does Grenache Taste Like?

Thanks to its higher alcohol content, Grenache wine has a medium-bodied taste. Its signature profile percolates with juicy, ripe red fruit punctuated with spicy notes of cinnamon and a violet-like floral bouquet.

It's also worth noting that the grape's skin thickness, which is relatively thin, plays a significant role in the flavor profile of Grenache wine. Because of this, the wines produced are often lighter in color and tannins, which can result in a softer, more approachable drinking experience. This characteristic makes Grenache a perfect introduction to red wines for those who typically prefer white or rosé wines.

Garnacha is made in a variety of styles, including dry, semi-sweet, and sweet wine. The most common tasting notes include:

  • Fruity flavors: Raspberry, black cherry, and strawberry
  • Spices: Star anise, cinnamon, and black pepper, particularly if it's aged in oak
  • Other notes: Licorice, tobacco, dried herbs, red grapefruit, and orange rind

Grenache wine made from old vines tends to exhibit more intense flavors along with earthy and herbaceous notes — not surprising since older vines often produce less fruit, thereby concentrating flavors.

But such complexity is not exclusive to Old World regions like Côtes du Rhône and Sardinia. You can have full-flavored Grenache that comes from New World wine regions like Australia. As such, Grenache is steadily building its reputation as being worthy of single varietal wine, not just a partner for other grape varieties in blended wines.

How Is Grenache Wine Made?

Grenache wine: Usual Wines red on a glass table

Depending on the winemaker, Grenache is produced in a variety of styles from dry wine to sweet wine. The grapes require a long growing season to ripen, so they need hot, dry conditions before they can be harvested. Once the grapes are picked, they're pressed and fermented, typically in steel vats or oak barrels.

Moreover, winemakers have the option to control the color of the wine through maceration—the process of soaking the grape skins in the juice. Shorter maceration periods result in lighter colored wines, while longer periods can produce deeper, darker reds. This level of control contributes to the versatility of Grenache wines, allowing them to range from almost rosé-like hues to more traditional deep reds.

If the vintner wants to produce a dry wine, they'll let the fermentation process run its course so that there's little residual sugar left. On the other hand, if the goal is to make a sweeter wine, fermentation will be interrupted to leave higher sugar levels.

If all this talk of fermentation has you fascinated (or even flustered), be sure to check out our essential guide to viniculture where you'll learn the ins and outs of the journey from grape to glass.

From Tempranillo and Carignan to Cinsaut and Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache wine grapes are a popular choice for blended wines. Among the most popular combinations is the GSM blend. An acronym for Grenache, Syrah (Shiraz in Australia), and Mourvèdre, this trio of wine grapes comprises the quintessential Southern Rhone blend. Grenache is also the primary grape variety in the renowned French wine Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

However, as mentioned, some wine producers are allowing Grenache to stand on its own, ushering in a new era of appreciation for this somewhat underrated varietal.

How To Best Enjoy Grenache Wine

A glass of red wine with cherries and chocolate

straight out of the bottle — the Usual Wines bottle, that is.) But there are some general guidelines that can help you make the most of your vino. With that in mind, use these simple tips before sipping your bottle of Garnacha at home or serving it at your next wine-tasting party. It’s a great wine for any occasion.

Ideal Temperature

The optimal red wine temperature for a bottle of Garnacha falls around 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. Contrary to the often-repeated advice of serving red wine at room temperature, that is in fact, too warm for achieving the perfect red wine temperature.

Instead, fuller-bodied wine should be kept a tad cooler to prevent it from being too soupy and alcoholish, which can lead to a burning sensation when swallowed.

Before you pop open your bottle of Grenache wine, put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Then, let it sit on your countertop or table for 10 minutes before serving. Doing so will allow it to breathe and release its bouquet, both of which make for a better drinking experience. (More on this in a sec.)

Additionally, it's worth noting that Grenache red wine is highly versatile in its pairing capabilities, making it an easy choice for those who enjoy exploring various food and wine combinations. This is partly due to the wine's balanced flavor profile, which is neither too fruity nor too spicy, allowing it to complement a wide range of dishes without overwhelming their flavors.

Delightful Food Pairings

Dry and semi-sweet Grenache is a great partner for plenty of hearty dishes, including slow-cooked meats such as beef, pork, lamb, game, and even chicken. You can pick up on the spices and peppery notes of the wine with flavorful stews, chili, and meatloaf.

For meatless options, consider mushroom risotto, cheese-based pasta dishes, or grilled eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers. For cheese pairings, consider smoked Gouda, Manchego, Pepper Jack, Brie, mild cheddar, and Camembert.

You can enjoy sweet Grenache as dessert all its own. But if you want to pair it, you can't go wrong with the classic combo of red wine and chocolate. Try truffles, brownies, or lava cake. Ganache and Grenache, anyone?

Perfect Stemware

Along with serving your wine at the ideal temperature, choosing the right type of wine glass can step up your drinking experience. For example, if you were going to enjoy some sparkling white wine, you'd want to serve it in a long-stem flute. The long, slender glass shape keeps the delicate fizz from going flat while the long stem keeps your warm fingers far away.

On the other hand, a red wine like Grenache is best when sipped from a slightly shorter wine glass with a wider bowl. For instance, a Burgundy glass is perfect for medium- to full-bodied reds as it gives the wine plenty of space to breathe.

When you let a wine breathe, you allow its aromas to express themselves, which enhances the overall flavor. If you think this is all a bit pretentious, don't just take our word for it — science itself proves it's true.

Savor the Unique Flavors of Grenache Wine

Although it's grown around the world and blended in some of your favorite wines, there's a good chance you didn't know much about Grenache wine before now. While this versatile red wine grape has been a silent partner for many other more celebrated varietals, it seems to be finally getting its moment in the spotlight.

With its fruity flavors, medium body, and high alcohol content, this boozy number is worth checking out whether you're opting for a GSM blend or hunting for a single varietal version. That's the beauty of wine — there's always something new to learn and enjoy. (Sort of like our Usual Wines blog.) So grab yourself a glass of Grenache and raise a toast to this resilient little grape. It's been a long time coming.