Julie Dupouy has converted to Garnacha…
Shining a spotlight on Garnacha, or Grenache Noir, is not something I ever saw myself doing. Heavy-going, jammy, high in alcohol, lacking purity and freshness, are some of the ways I commonly described these wines.
A general shift in the global consumer palate has forced many wine producers, in regions across the globe, to re-consider and offer consumers lighter, fresher, juicier and more digestible styles. Rising temperatures have also played its role. Garnacha, often found thriving in the warmer regions of the Mediterranean, has its limits too, and as average temperatures ratchet up each year in these areas, practices need to be changed if wines are to remain balanced and desirable.
What started out as growing respect for the new approach to Garnacha has slowly, for me, blossomed into something much more than that. Garnacha is one of the most planted wine grapes in the world and is particularly widespread in France and Spain where it is the second most abundant red grape variety, behind Merlot and Tempranillo. There is still some uncertainty regarding its origin – Spain and Sardinia have records of the grape being mentioned as far back as the early 16th century. DNA analyses have shown that the clonal diversity of the grape is far greater in Spain than in Italy, suggesting that Garnacha is more than likely a Spaniard at heart.
In Sardinia, it is the most planted grape variety and is known locally as Cannonau. The wines produced on the island are generous, rich and high in alcohol. Irish Master of Wine, Mick O’Connell, worked on a very exciting project here up until its final vintage in 2019, called “GN Guerra” – “Grenache Not Guerra”. The wine was delicious and showed the huge potential for new exciting expressions of the local style.
Until the 1960s, Garnacha was also a major grape in Australia but most of the old vines have since been uprooted to be replaced by Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. You can still find some outstanding examples in regions such as the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale where it tends to be blended with Syrah and Mourvèdre and sold as “GSM”. Barossa claims to have the oldest Garnacha vines in the world – planted in 1850 and sold under the name “1850 Ancestor vines”. Bottled by a producer called Cirillo Estate, this is possibly the finest Australian example on the market.
What started out as growing respect for the new approach to garnacha has slowly, for me, blossomed into something much more than that.
Garnacha loves heat and sun and for this reason, it thrives in the French Southern Rhône Valley, Languedoc and Roussillon regions where it is traditionally blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault. Famous appellations, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, have carried a reputation for big, bold, and powerful wines with alcohol content regularly reaching 15 per cent ABV. Personally, they never appealed to me, apart from a few rare examples, most notably, the legendary Château Rayas.
But with each year that goes by, the number of eyebrow-raising moments I have had with Garnacha swirling in my glass is doubling. Domaine de Montirius, a biodynamic producer in Vacqueyras and Les Deux Cols, an organic, Irish venture, sold under the Côtes du Rhône AOP, are two names on the Irish market worth a particular mention. France’s Roussillon region has excelled at redefining the expression of Garnacha and despite its sun-drenched location, it manages to produce some exquisite wines, full of minerality and freshness, with a great offering in the organic, biodynamic and natural wine categories.
The most exciting region in the world for Garnacha is without doubt the Sierra de Gredos, a mountainous area in the province of Avila, in Central Spain. Located approximately 80km to the west of Madrid, the area is split between Madrid, Castilla La Mancha and Castilla y Leon. The wines can be labelled as Mentrida DO, Vinos de Madrid or Vino de la Tierra di Castilla y Leon.
Here, the vines are planted at an elevation of between 600m and 1,200m, benefiting from a great shift in temperature between day and night, allowing the grapes to preserve a crisp natural acidity. There, old bush vines of Garnacha, planted on granite soils, produce wines which are vibrant, with a pure fruit character, exuding the elegance of Burgundian Pinot Noir with the savouriness of Northern Rhône Syrah – absolutely delicious!
Once dominated by cooperative cellars, the region has welcomed a new generation of producers who are putting Gredos on the fine wines map, revolutionising Garnacha as a style and putting an emphasis on organic practices, both in the vineyards and wineries. Ask your local wine shop to steer you towards a nice, lighter expression of Garnacha. Look out for some Iberico pork, serve it slightly pink with a light, savoury garnish and enjoy a moment of gastronomic delight. @julie_dupouy
Cau d’en Genís, Garnacha Peluda, Alta Allela, €33; www.elywinebar.ie.
El Secreto de La Garnacha, Bodegas Leguas, Vinos de Madrid, €17; www.64wine.ie
El Berrakin, Vino Tinto de Gredos, €18.95; www.mitchellandson.com
La Xara Garnacha, J.A. Ponce, Manchuela DO, €19.99; www.atasteofspain.ie
Black Garnacha, Mont Rubi, Peñedes, €20; www.whelehanswines.ie
Le Naturel Garnacha, Navarra, €19.50; www.greenmanwines.ie