Wine Talk

Snooth User: dmcker

Garnacha, grenache--tomato, potato...

Posted by dmcker, Nov 14, 2015.

On and off with differing frequency mention is made on these boards of garnacha as a choice for certain palates, and in certain contexts. Most of the mention here is pretty generic, and doesn't get down to any level of detail.

Would like to suggest we take up the subject of wines from this grape with better focus. Where is good, who makes the good juice, how does it best match with food--any vector, any story, any TNs, any photos--it's all good. I'm familiar with Spain and France but not up on what's currently done well in the States. Who's doing a good job in CA and WA, and just how good are they doing it? Which wines do you specifically like from the Rhone or SW France, or from Catalonia or points south and west in Spain?

I'll start with some cute little bushes up the hillsides from Madrid...

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Reply by dvogler, Nov 15, 2015.

This was a couple years ago.  I'll see if I can find more.  There are several Tempranillo and Carmeneres now.

Reply by vin0vin0, Nov 15, 2015.
Looking through my cellartracker past and present, I've found plenty of grenache, mainly in blends as you'd expect but also some single varietal bottlings and quite a few roses. Most of what I've had the pleasure of consuming has come from one of these places - the southern Rhone, Paso Robles, Priorat, which makes sense as Grenache is typically a warm climate grape. Now you have me thinking about a new theme for a future tasting event.
We just recently we popped a 2006 Clarendon Hills Grenache Old Vines Blewitt Springs:
Big, fruity, jammy and spicey Aussie grenache. Loads of dark fruit, ripe plum, prune and crushed black cherry. There's some nice spicey white pepper, a hint of vanilla, fairly resolved but still noticeable tannins, medium acidity and a long finish. There's plenty going on here but with an overall balance that has this drinking very well now and should hold for quite a while longer.
Reply by outthere, Nov 15, 2015.

I haven t had a lot of stand out California Grenache. I've tastes a lot through different events. Most of it has been an afterthought for a winery that could get some fruit. Paul Gordon grows some at 2,500' up the the Yorkville Highlands of Mendocino County at his Halcon vineyard. I've had a Rosé that he bottled. Little of a few years back and he puts 65% Grenache into his Equisto GMS blend that is delicious. Yet to taste a stand alone Grenache from him and chances are i never will. Though I would like to.

The king if Grenache in the Central Coast would be Larry Shaffer of Tercero.

Reply by Larry Schaffer, Nov 15, 2015.

Thanks for the mention Outthere! Greatly appreciated.

Grenache in the US is certainly on the rise at this time. One must remember that before the mid 1990's, our plant materials were not that good - generally bigger cluster, bigger berry clones that one was able to crop heavily in order to make simple, fruity wines from.

That changed with Tablas Creek bringing over cuttings from Beaucastel, and John Alban sneaking in other clones from other parts of the Rhone. Over these past 20 years, plantings have sprung up throughout the state in areas that the grapes really thrive in - warmer but not too warm; challenging soil types, including sand; and even venturing into cooler area.

In the Santa Barbara County area, for instance, there are wonderful Grenaches coming out of the Los Alamos area with vineyards such as Watch Hill and Thompson, out of the Ballard Canyon area (Larner, Stolpman, Tierra Alta among others), and points east including Camp 4.

The real challenge as far as I'm concerned is to simply let the grape speak for itself. We are so prone in the US to over-oak, over-extract, and blend in other components to try to make a wine 'better' that it often 'masks' the inherent beauty of the wine itself.


Reply by dmcker, Nov 15, 2015.

All sounds good, Larry, thanks for joining us!

A lot of the Spanish garnacha (like those Gobelin bushes outside Madrid in the photo above) or the Vacqueyras grenache I find I like is grown up a hill, often well above a thousand feet in elevation. Much 'mountain' growing going on these days in CA?

Reply by dmcker, Nov 15, 2015.

Was hoping we could get to the point where we'd break down the good (and bad) grenache we've had from:

  • Gigondas
  • Vacqueryras
  • Languedoc-Rousillon
  • Priorat
  • Other parts of Spain
  • Oz (various regions)
  • CA central coast
  • CA north of the Bay
  • WA
  • Others


And also talk about why we thought some worked well and others didn't...

Reply by Larry Schaffer, Nov 16, 2015.

Grenache is grown everywhere in CA, and is beginning to be grown in more 'mountain' settings. It's all about climate and soil, no necessarily about hillside or non-hillside plantings as far as I'm concerned . . .

And that cluster posted was from the Larner Vineyard in the Ballard Canyon AVA here in the Santa Ynez Valley. The vineyard is planted on 100% sand, and the vines struggle to find and retain water. Therefore, the clusters are smaller and the grapes tend to have naturally lower pH's and higher acid levels than those of the vineyard's neighbors.


Reply by Larry Schaffer, Nov 16, 2015.

And 'good' and 'bad' are so relative. Do we want to discuss Chris Ringland and his style of Garnacha? Or perhaps Rayas? Styles are so varied with this variety that 'good and bad' is tough for me :-)


Reply by dmcker, Nov 16, 2015.

Definitely a 'relative' term. Would be interested to hear what you see as such styles, and who you care to praise in specific styles.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 16, 2015.

So Peter Mathis, who has worked at Ravenswood for eons, has his own grenache plantings and wines.  Very good and not at all expensive.  I usually get them for around $20.  There's more grenache popping up around Sonoma County--OT travels more of the Zin/PN trails, I guess--but there's just not a ton.  Will Bucklin makes grenache--he's got just about everything, after all--and his is probably some of the oldest vines anywhere.  They almost certainly came from France way back in the day, so they weren't necessarily high cropping clones.  It's really great and age-worthy.  I'd bring it to a tasting and see if anyone could guess where it came from.  I'm betting it would fool a lot of CdP lovers.  A few years ago I stumbled across some Beaulieu grenache that came from old vines in San Benito County--a little off the beaten path.  It was a candidate for wine of the year for me that year because it was very inexpensive.  Apparently it was a market failure, but I liked it. Unti makes grenache, and it's a good candidate for their area, which I find a little hot for Syrah; but they charge close to $30 for it, and I generally like my grenache as a cook out wine at a lower price.  If you opt for the Petit Frere blend for about $18, it kills a fair bit of CdR at similar prices.  (But, alas, there's lots more good CdR at lower prices, making the market tough for upstart California wines.)  In a blend, Domaine Terre Rouge, my favorite non-Sonoma/Mendo Syrah maker (domestic, not counting the N. Rhones I can no longer afford) makes a CdP killer blend, and at a lower price, Ventana makes a very creditable GSM as well, but I've never seen a straight grenache from them.

I think my first eye opener as a straight grenache was actually a garnacha from Navarro, and their rosados of garnacha are go-to wines for summer parties. 


Reply by JonDerry, Nov 17, 2015.

I can recall Jaffurs making a decent Grenache, and certainly Manfred Krankl has really done a number with the grape in the central coast as well. It hasn't been a love or even like for me in CA, though..

Reply by GregT, Nov 18, 2015.

DM - as you know, it's originally from Spain in Aragon. It was the most widely planted red variety in the world just a few years ago and may still be. It was also the most planted red grape in Spain, which still has like twice as much as anywhere else in the world. Relatively speaking they have even more Monastrell, but that's a different story.

But remember why it was planted where it was. It's only recently that people came up with the idea of matching a particular grape to a spot and I believe that came from 20th century America, post Prohibition. Before that people just planted what would grow from the choices they had. Vines made their way here and there as part of conquests, sometimes as part of trade. So Garnacha found its way around what we call today southern Spain and France because that region was under their rule. There's some in Sardinia and a few Sardinians claim that's the rightful home of it, but they're the only ones who believe that. And it's pretty bad too.

The peasants back in the day, and remember there was a feudal system, planted what grew in their hot, dry climate. Garnacha worked out well They planted grapes that produced a lot of fruit and if they had a choice, that had some kind of resistance to disease. What they didn't do was plant grapes to develop wine for pairing with food or for storing away and aging - they produced it to drink and sometimes to trade, although in Spain and even France, most of that Garnacha found its way into rosado.

 Garnacha produces well and when quantity was prized, that made it a popular grape. It ripens rather late, so the sunny desert regions of Spain and France, that didn't get early frosts, were good locations. It is rather thin-skinned and can produce a lot of sugar, which translates into lots of alcohol, which is exactly what people were shooting for. For all those reasons it was once widely planted in California and in Australia as well.

Right now it's a grape in flux. Many of what we consider "indigenous" grapes date back only to the late 1800s, to phylloxera. Much of what we consider "traditional" in terms of wine dates back only to just prior to WW2.

As far as Priorat, it's a little different. It was known as a wine region only since the 1100s when they built the Carthusian monastery. Elsewhere, the Phonecians and Greeks and Romans introduced wine. Nobody is completely sure what grapes were planted in Priorat prior to phylloxera, but afterwards, they planted Garnacha and Cariñena, another grape that produces well and was also planted in the south of France and the US for that reason. The problem is that after phylloxera, a lot of the vineyards in Priorat were transformed into orchards and other farms, and people gradually left the area, abandoning the vineyards and farms. It was hilly and isolated and better pickings were found elsewhere.

Starting at the same time, you had the depression of the late 1890s, WW1, and the Great Depression. France, Italy, and Spain were kind of like the Mid East today - on the verge of collapse. Wine was being brought in from north Africa and sold as something French, so they passed laws regulating labeling and created the first DO in France in CdP. The golden age of wine was probably the late Victorian era, when it became somewhat like it is today - a fashionable and desirable good for the middle classes and upper middle classes. The depressions pretty much killed that, and then you had WW2 and Spain was isolated from the rest of the world for many years. People were drinking badly made wine all over Europe.

Comes Jackie Kennedy and her love of all things French, and then Mondavi and the Paris tasting, and suddenly Americans are increasingly interested in wine. The Europeans, still rebuilding in the 1960s, looked to the US market. Parker arrives, lauds CdP and it transforms from peasant wine to something collectible. They cleaned up their wineries and winemaking and raised their prices. Their neighbors saw what was happening and started on the same path. Gigondas is probably next, then Vacqueyras and so on.

Franco dies and Spain rejoins the rest of the world. Perez goes to teach at a university and meets Barbier, who thinks the region could produce great wine but most importantly, was very cheap. They convince two others to join them and decide to make wine. So did they use the old Garnacha? Nope. They planted Cab, Merlot, and Syrah because those were "serious" grapes and the Cariñena and Garnacha were for peasant wines.

But this was in the early 1990s and later in the decade Parker was handing out high scores to CdP and a few producers in Priorat started incorporating more Garnacha into their wine, blending the Cab and Merlot with Cariñena and Garnacha. Today some producers there make mostly Cariñena, some mostly Garnacha, and some blends. So it's hard to say what the characteristics of Garnacha from Priorat are, other than to say that it tends to retain a lot more acidity than elsewhere.

Ironically, there was so little respect for Garnacha that the Australians were grubbing it up, as were the Spanish and French until very recently.

For me personally, Garnacha is not the chameleon that a grape like Syrah is, or Zin. Both of those can be completely different when grown in different circumstances. Nor is Garnacha quite like Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, or Pinot Noir, which are dominant personalities and always identifiable no matter where they're grown. It's kind of in the middle, with broad characteristics that I'm sure people will disagree with.

From some warm places, like the Barossa Valley, which incidentally has the oldest Garnacha grapevines in the world, it has a strawberry/raspberry fruitiness that's just delicious. Not particularly tannic, good on its own or in a blend, usually GSM but not always. Not necessarily something to lay down although for pedagogical purposes I have some from the 1990s that I will try in the near future.

From parts of central and south Spain, it can also have some of that raspberry quality, but it also picks up an earthiness, sometimes even a pepper note and those are the ones I love. That is also true in parts of south France. In other regions of Spain and France, it loses the peppery spice and doesn't have quite the exuberant raspberry/strawberry flavors of Australia, although it has them to some degree. A lot of it has to do with how clean the wine making is. Sometimes it's more like red cherry, clean, good, not necessarily distinctive, but not bad. I like it when it has more earthiness.

From the US, Herman Story makes a pretty good one. I'm not sure where the fruit is from. I would love to try Paul Gordon's, because I think anything he does is worth trying. And Larry, who I only know online from another forum, makes several if I'm not mistaken. All good but not like anything from Spain or France that I've had.

There will be more. It's been grown in Rioja for example for a long time. But Rioja is actually several distinct regions. It's usually considered an Atlantic region, but Rioja Baja, which is where there's a lot of Garnacha instead of Tempranillo, is pretty warm. Today, people are bottling monovarietal Garnacha there and it should be different from anywhere else. I would dearly love to taste some from BC because I can't believe it would thrive there.

Reply by dvogler, Nov 18, 2015.

an interesting article about that Stag's Hollow Grenache (from a year ago):

Greg, if I can find one, I'll bring it to Seattle and send it on to you, or just bring it when I come down to drink some REALLY good wine ;)


Reply by GregT, Nov 18, 2015.

Looking forward to it.

I forgot a few domestics  - Drew makes a pretty good one. Beckmen has been doing it well for years. A few years ago I had one from Baker and Bain - don't know if they're still around or not but it was on the lighter side and quite interesting. Carlisle managed to keep the earthiness and some smoke in theirs; so did Landmark, which is hard to find..

In WA there's Cayuse, and they do a good job, as does Maison Bleu.  Both are on the bigger side but keep a savory and earthy quality. There's also Horsepower, which I haven't had but I'm dying to try, and Betz, ditto.And MacRea up in WA has been doing really interesting Rhone type grapes for years. There's actually quite a bit in WA that never makes its way out east so maybe I can pick some up out west now.

There are some that I wanted to like more than I did and I'm not sure if it's because they haven't gotten it yet or maybe it's just not a good match for where they're making it. Bokisch, for example, or Quivera, and Ridge are a few that come to mind. Qupe, much as I like their Syrah, never quite hit it with Grenache. But others may feel differently.

But it's a far more interesting grape as far as I'm concerned, than many others. It's not another PN, Cab or Merlot and that alone makes me want to try them.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 18, 2015.

Just bought a bottle of this at the discount grocery, since we were on the subject anyway:

I have a little trouble getting behind unproven California Grenache at prices that compare to better Gigondas and low end CdP.  (I know, GregT, CdP is inflated and all that, but I scavenge and find basic and tasty CdP for $30 and less, and nailed down some kind of fancy stuff from Clos St. Jean (the VV bottling) for under $40.) This was waaay below list.  I'll report back when I've tasted.

Reply by EMark, Nov 18, 2015.

I have very little experience with Grenache/Granacha.  (I don't think I have ever had a domestic varietal bottling.  I have little experience with any Rhone blend.  I do have a very memorable and enjoyable experience with a Priorat blend--2005 Melis--last winter.)  So, I have been unable to make any contribution to this conversation. That aside, I would like to thank DM for starting the topic and a thank you to all the contributors for teaching me quite a bit.

I would also like to welcome Larry Shaffer. I have enjoyed your contributions on WB, and am thrilled to see you comment, here.  I promise that I will drive up to visit your facility soon.  I am eager to try your wine, and I am pretty sure that Mrs. EMark is interested in the bread.

Greg, another fascinating piece of history.  Thank you, very much.  I do have a question.  Your statememnt

It was also the most planted red grape in Spain, which still has like twice as much as anywhere else in the world. Relatively speaking they have even more Monastrell, but that's a different story.

When you say "they have even more Monstrell," are you saying there is more Monastrell grown in Spain than Garnacha, or are you saying that Spain grows more Monstrell than any other place in the world?  (And I am aware that Monastrell is synonomous with Mourvedre.)  I guess the I would find the first interpretation to be a bit more surprising than the second.

Oh, and Greg, my latest Halcon order arrived yesterday.  I really should have ordered more of the Esquistos, but I was blinded by their first offerings of Petite Sirah and Pinot Noir.  I'm hoping that I get another chance when the Alturas is released this winter.

Reply by dmcker, Nov 18, 2015.

"It was the most widely planted red variety in the world just a few years ago and may still be."


I believe it may be no. 2 these days globally. I know it's second greatest by acreage in France. Merlot is first.

Reply by JonDerry, Nov 18, 2015.

2nd to Chardonnay?

Reply by GregT, Nov 19, 2015.

Red grape.

I think Arien is still the most widely planted wine grape of any color. That's because it's all over central Spain. Franco cut a deal with France where they turned it into brandy. They've been pulling up a lot of it and just like Cariñena, which is getting grubbed up all over Europe, belatedly people are finding out that if they treat a  grape right and it's grown in the right place, it can make good, even profound wine. The mania for Cab has blinded people to so many other grapes. Of course, I have yet to have a great, even good, Arien, so maybe that's an exception. But I don't think so. It was planted for yield just like corn in Kansas. I've seen some vines in Argentina and they're playing around with it, and there are a few bottles from Spain that are imported to the US these days, so who knows.

EMark - the second. There's more Garnacha in Spain than Monastrell. But Spain has probably twice as much Monastrell as the entire rest of the world. Garnacha on the other hand, is widely planted in France and was widely planted in Australia until they ripped out a lot of it.

Reply by dmcker, Nov 19, 2015.

"As of 2010, Airén was estimated to be the world's 3rd most grown grape variety in terms of planted surface, at 252,000 hectares (620,000 acres), down from 306,000 hectares (760,000 acres) in 2004, where it held 1st place, although it is almost exclusively found in Spain." (from Wikipedia)

Think the ranking would be lower if it was by number of vines, since have often seen commentary about how everyone spaces the plants far apart.


Yeah, Greg, of course I knew about Aragon. First Spanish garnacha I ever had was from Priorat, but the second was from Calatayud. Seems most all the plants there are grown up hillsides above 1700 feet. Later had plenty from Campo de Borja, too.


Just for completeness' sake, here are some other names for garnacha/grenache I've run across:

Abundante, Aleante, Aleantedi Rivalto, Aleante Poggiarelli, Alicant Blau, Alicante, Alicante Grenache, Aragones, Bois Jaune, Cannonaddu, Cannonadu Nieddu, Cannonau, Cannonau Selvaggio, Canonazo, Carignane rosso, Elegante, Francese, Gamay del Trasimeno, Gamay Perugino, Garnaccho negro, Garnacha Comun, Garnacha negra, Garnacha Roja, Garnacha tinta, Garnatxa negra, Garnatxa Pais, Gironet, Granaccia, Granaxa, Grenache noir, Grenache rouge, Kek Grenache, Lladoner, Mencida, Navaro, Navarra, Navarre de la Dordogne, Navarro, Negru Calvese, Ranconnat, Red Grenache, Redondal, Retagliadu Nieddu, Rivesaltes, Roussillon Tinto, Roussillon, Rouvaillard, Sans Pareil, Santa Maria de Alcantara, Tentillo, Tintella, Tintilla, Tinto Menudo, Tinto Navalcarnero, Tai rosso, Toledana, Uva di Spagna, and Vernatxa.


Another question: how many good dessert wines are made with grenache? Certainly Banyuls, but what else? Seems like more might try since it's easy to jack sugar levels high when growing it...

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