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When it comes to red grape varietals, anybody who is just the tiniest familiar with wine will have heard of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. In fact, it is not unusual to hear somebody order a glass of wine by referring to any of these varietals by name: “I’ll have a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, or I’ll have a glass of Merlot, or I’ll have a glass of Pinot Noir.” Part of the reason why they are so popular is because despite being native to France, they are planted worldwide. As you would expect, they are among the top ten most-planted wine grape varietals in the world with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot taking the first and second spots, respectively, in terms of amount of acreage planted, according to International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV).

How many times have you heard someone ask for a glass of Grenache? Probably not often, if ever, yet according to OIV, Grenache is the fifth most planted red wine grape variety in the world accounting for more acreage than Pinot Noir, which, by the way, is the most-planted varietal in France.
The World of Grenache
So why aren't people asking for Grenache by the glass. Is it because there are not wines made with 100% Grenache? Certainly not, but we are on to something because Grenache enjoys a much better reputation as a blending grape. Whether it plays a minor percentage or the major percentage (which is more common) role in a blend, it has a versatility that brings out the best characteristics of its blending partner(s). As a late-ripening grape, it retains more sugar to turn into alcohol, and high ABV (alcohol by volume) contributes stability. Yet unlike most other high ABV wines, Grenache when vinified is not rich, dark and full-bodied in consistency, so that instead of overpowering its blending partners, it complements them. Also, the higher alcohol-fueled stability means that it is an ideal component for wines that age well in a cellar after bottling, which is why it features in premium cellar-worthy wines, such as Châteauneuf du Pape in France and Priorat in Spain.

Again, though, Grenache is not averse to shining on its own in a glass. In Spain, as Garnacha, it features in single-varietal wines, and in Italy you will often find it in its single-varietal form as Cannonau on the island of Sardinia. Because it is a late-ripening grape that thrives in hot, dry conditions, it is also in its natural habitat in Spain and Sardinia, and, in fact, the varietal is native to Spain. But unlike Pinot Noir, which has an entire region and appellation (i.e., Burgundy) dedicated to its single-varietal use, even in Spain and Sardinia you will find Grenache blended. But more importantly, these are also not the regions where Grenache is planted the most.
Over 60% of all Grenache planted in the world is in France. And it is in France, specifically the Rhone Valley where it headlines as the preeminent blending grape, whether it be as the backbone to the reliable, food-friendly, economically accessible Cotes du Rhone or South West wines (where it headlines in the acronym GSM – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) or as the star of the show for one of the most prized appellations in the world, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For the latter, Grenache is allowed to be blended with up to 18 authorized varietals, but it is always the headliner. That said, it is hard pressed to find Grenache in a single varietal wine in France because although it thrives in France’s cooler climate, it is not its ideal growing climate for standing on its own.

So, what are the main characteristics of Grenache? It is a thin-skinned grape, which results in a lack of color to the juice that leans towards a medium body. As for the taste, it imparts to wines, it depends on where it is cultivated. The words “cherry,” “spice,” and “licorice” are ubiquitous. In Spain, the combination of lots of sun and late ripening brings its alcohol level to a maximum, in the 15% range, so these three flavors meld on a bigger body. In France, with a cooler climate, the alcohol level is lightened to reveal smoky herbal notes. And in the New World, the fruit is the most prominent part of the profile in the form of cherry notes, and then the licorice is more on the nose and complements the ample acidity.


In almost all our wine club themes we’ve noted that the Romans, as an essential aspect of their empire-building via military conquest, spread and institutionalized viticulture throughout Europe, making it the wine cradle of the world to this day. Southwest France, including the Rhone Valley, epitomizes this story; when Roman armies moved beyond the Italian peninsula in the north across the Alps, they planted Vitis vinifera in what is now southern France, thus the seed was planted (pun fully intended) for the French feudal states, monarchies and later French nation state to take viticulture to another level of institutionalization to make France arguably the modern wine capital of the world. Hence, although Burgundy and Bordeaux are more widely known in France, the Rhone Valley was the gateway to this development, and our friend Grenache, a transplant from Spain (another imperial conquest of the Romans), played an integral part. Although southern France has a plethora of native and other transplant varietals that are blended for achieving consistent products, Grenache always headlines.
Roman ruins in the Rhone Valley
Three generations of the Coulon family
Featured September Amaro Wine Club Grenache blend wine: Famille Coulon, Le Petit Renard, Red (2020)
VARIETALS: 60% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 5% Viognier

In 1344, the Pope, who had transferred his headquarters from Rome to the French town of Avignon, declared the principal vineyards of the surrounding region to be “Bois Renard, Blacquieres, Bois de Senechaux, Cabrieres, Carbonnieres, Colombis, and Mont Redon." The Coulon family has farmed vineyards in Bois Renard vineyards since purchasing them in 1695: through seven generations they have developed their holdings to 74 acres of Chateauneuf du Pape parcels, and over 60 acres of Côtes du Rhône parcels located primarily in Rasteau. The Coulons have estate-bottled their wines since the early 1900s, and in fact the father and grandfather of the current owner Paul Coulon created the regulations of the Appellation Contrôlée system (Chateauneuf du Pape was France's first appellation contrôlée), in 1929.

This wine is essentially the same blend they use for their Chateauneuf du Pape appellation wine, which is also grown close to but not in its Chateauneuf du Pape parcels, and without the same type of deep aging in oak. Think of it as an entry-level, fresh version of the varietals and vinification that go into a Chateauneuf du Pape, yet the full-bodied heft is already evident.

FOOD PAIRINGS: beef tartare, herb-crusted steak, slow-cooked pork, charcuterie platter, Emmenthal, Gruyère and Comté cheeses, paté, fatty fish (e.g., salmon), wild mushrooms, rillettes, braised lamb, spicy dishes


Grenache, or Garnacha, is native to northern Spain, specifically the Aragon region, which would explain how it ended up being a major varietal in neighboring southern France and its prevalence in Sardinia, under the name Cannonau, in Sardinia where the native dialect is closer to Catalan than Italian because the island was once part of the Crown of Aragon. Tempranillo and Bobal boast more red wine grape vineyard acreage in Spain, but in the regions where Garnacha is concentrated, it is king: Aragon, Catalunya (Catalonia), and Navarra. But of course, being the blender it is, it is also a useful companion to wines in other regions, such as with Tempranillo in Rioja.
Grenache is integral to prestigious Priorat, but still shares the spotlight with Cariñena, Merlot and Cab Sauvignon
Featured September Amaro Wine Club Grenache blend wine: Bodega Verde Cariñena Tinto (2019)
VARIETALS: 85% Grenache (Garnacha), 15% Syrah

Bodega San Valero is the oldest winery in the Cariñena appellation in Aragon, and in 2010 it decided to expand and grow certified organic wines in the high desert of Aragon where it bought several hectares of vineyards and created Bodega Verde in partnership with a small family vineyard operator. The vineyards are at an elevation of 850 meters (2,788 feet) and are planted in arid soils in a severe desert climate of dry hot days and cold nights. All the work and harvest are done by hand with no chemicals involved. In fact, the farmers rely heavily on the seasonal ladybugs to protect the vines from plant-eating insects, hence the ladybug on the label. On that note, in an extended effort towards sustainability, the bottle labels are printed on rice-based recycled paper affixed to the bottles with vegetable glue, and the corks are made from biodegradable material. Although this wine is an entry-level version from these vineyards, it is still aged for a year in the bottle.

FOOD PAIRINGS: Manchego cheese, grilled sausages, smoked beef brisket, cured ham, olives and bread, spicy dishes, roasted lamb with herbs, rabbit, slow-cooked stews


When talking about new world plantings of Grenache, the first place that pops into American minds is California where it proliferates in Monterey, Paso Robles, and San Joaquin Valley. But Grenache was also one of the first Vitis vinifera varietals to be planted in Australia in the 18th century and was the most widely planted red wine grape on that continent for a couple of centuries. In fact, probably the reason why we do not associate it with Australia is because of Shiraz, which surpassed Grenache as the most widely planted red varietal in the mid-1960s. But that does not mean Grenache disappeared on the continent as it is still a staple varietal in a country that has a much richer and ingrained wine culture than the United States.
Barossa Valley has the oldest producing Grenache vineyardsin the world.
Suzi Hilder and Wayne Ahrens
Featured September Amaro Wine Club Grenache blend wine: Smallfry Eclektik Violet (2021)
VARIETALS: 60% Grenache, 40% Cinsault

The Smallfry winery is the result of a partnership in business and life between Suzi Hilder and Wayne Ahrens, viticulturists took over two vineyards, one in Eden Valley and the other in Barossa’s Vine Vale subregion in the valley floor. The Eden Valley vineyard was established in 1994 and the Vine Vale block was part of a family enterprise (Schlieb) for generations; some of the vines date back to the 1850s. The couple decided that they wanted to also make wine from the grapes they cultivated. They humbly adopted their name because they consider their enterprise to be a “small fry” in the vast Australian wine industry. The couple are also foodies, as they like to stray from overly processing; they farm biodynamically (and are certified), use native yeast ferments and old oak, and make minimal adjustments in the cellar, “allowing the vineyard to speak.”

FOOD PAIRINGS: grilled vegetables, Peking duck, chicken curry, turkey roast, roast beef with parsley, venison, cured meats, pot au feu, lamb, zucchini mushrooms