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19th – 20th century

Grenache is a grape with qualities and distinct traits that are not applauded enough! You will be hard-pressed to find a wine label bearing the name Grenache, as few winemakers use the grape as a sole ingredient. But those that do can attest to its sparkling brilliance and amazing taste. It is often a blending component in wines like Syrah and Mourvèdre.

In the not-so-distant past, Grenache was the most favored red grape in the world. Unfortunately, it took just 20 years for the plants to dwindle from 535,000 acres to 370,000 acres. As a result, it has gone down in the rankings, moving to 5th place after Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, and Syrah. In a quest to bring this remarkable yet underrated grape to the limelight, this article explores its glorious history and stand-out qualities.

The Origin

There’s some debate about the grape’s origin. As evidenced by botanical research, the grape originated from Aragòn. Carbon dating technology has linked the grape’s seeds and leaves to the region as far back as 153 BCE. However, Italian researchers have contested this evidence claiming that the grape originated from Sardinia.

The plants may have migrated from their original location to other lands ruled by the Crown of Aragòn like Sardinia and Roussilon in France. During the early years, the vine was called Tinto Aragones (Red of Aragòn). As it is known in Spain, Garnacha was already prevalent in the Pyrenees when the French Government commandeered the Roussillon province. Subsequently, the vine journeyed through the Languedoc and the Southern Rhone region, where it gained popularity in the 19th century.

Garnacha was one of the first grape varieties in Australia. It was the country’s most planted grape until Shiraz dethroned it. Californian winemakers grew fond of the vine in the 19th century after observing its remarkable yield and resistance to drought and harsh weather conditions. Thus, the grape was the vine of choice for virtually all vineyards in the notoriously hot San Joaquin Valley.

By the 20th century, Grenache became the premium ingredient for the famous Chateauneuf du Pape wine.

From Spain and Beyond

Spain was Grenanche’s central region until the Spanish fell in love with Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The Spanish Garnacha plantings were drastically reduced from 420,000 acres to 203,370 acres between the late 1980s and 2004. This rapid decline enabled the French to assume authority as the world’s largest planters of Grenache. The country now boasts about 236,500 acres of Grenache plantings. Grenache is also prevalent in Sardinia, Italy, where it is called Cannonau. The Cannonau variety is grown in the eastern towns of Nuoro and Capo Ferrato.

[1] In the 1980s, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard founded the Rhone Rangers movement in California. At that time, Grenache was less popular in California and was only produced in low-quality wines. The Rangers promoted the qualities of Grenache and brought them to the public. The plant also recorded some fame in Oregon, Washington, and Texas.

Australia is another country that prioritizes Grenache. After Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon dethroned the grape, it regained acclaim when Rhône grapes garnered worldwide interest. Few other countries sport sparse grape plantings, with South Africa and Chile showing promise for future Grenache endorsement.

Fun Facts

  • The grape has undergone natural mutations, birthing two more colors; Grey Grenache (Grenache Gris) and White Grenache (Grenache Blanc).
  • It has a rich taste profile with strong spicy notes of fresh herbs.
  • It occupies 370,000 acres of the world surface.
  • Grenache is predominant in Spain, France, Italy, Australia, and the USA.
  • The vine is highly resistant to drought and hot weather.
Grenache grapes bunch
Categories: This Day in Wine History | Articles, Wine VarietiesTags: By Published On: March 26, 2022

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