February 2 2022
Grenache: A Grape Variety or a Varietal Family?
With the vindication of the Grenache grape, a very widespread grape in Spanish vineyards that until recently was reviled (it was considered only suitable for producing wines that were cheap, alcoholic and rather short-lived), Grenache enthusiasts have sprung up all over the world, who are keen to uncork a wine made from this variety before any other alternative.
There aren’t however, many wine lovers who are familiar with the multiple possibilities offered by the Grenache grape. Or, rather, Grenache grapes This is because it is not a single variety, but rather an entire varietal family. It is a set of grapes that share the same genetic root, but display different traits, colors and organoleptic characteristics, as a result of natural mutations, adaptation of clones to different territories or winemaking practices and even due to the intervention of man, who manipulates the nature of the vitis vinifera to obtain hybrid varieties that suit his needs.
The Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc, Lledoner Pelut, Grenache Gris, and Alicante Bouschet comprise a varietal group that originates wines of different types and profiles.
Grenache, from red to white
The proud "mother" of this diverse varietal family, as confirmed by expert ampelographers, is the red Grenache (or Grenache Noir), a noble grape capable of withstanding the rigors of the driest and hottest climates and surviving in arid and stony soils. From its probable birthplace in Aragon, it has spread throughout the Iberian Peninsula, giving rise to wines of contrasting character in different regions: sweet and succulent reds in Aragon, fresh and delicate in the Sierra de Gredos, distinguished in Rioja, full-bodied and deep in Montsant, singular in Conca de Barberà, elegant and complex in Priorat.
In some of the regions where red Grenache has developed with the greatest potential, white Grenache (Grenache Blanc) has also found its ideal habitat. A natural mutation of its red "mother", it is widespread throughout the area of influence of the Ebro River, from Aragon and Rioja to Catalonia, even reaching the south of France. Very well adapted to hot and dry climates, it has traditionally been the main component of straw-colored whites, which are not very aromatic and well structured.
New generations of winemakers have extracted its magnificent potential to withstand fermentation and barrel aging without losing its freshness and minerality. Currently, there are excellent examples of great Grenache whites in Rioja, Montsant, Priorat and in the pre-Pyrenean vineyards of Lleida under the Catalunya D.O., as well as Terra Alta D.O. in Tarragona.
The Grenache varietal family was born from the different mutations and adaptations of the red Grenache and the hybridization of grapes in the laboratory.
Other Grenache: Hairy, Gris and Alicante Bouschet
Another rare mutation of the red Grenache may also be found in Terra Alta, the Hairy Grenache, whose name refers to the velvety texture of its leaves (the fruit itself has no hair; no one should expect to find fuzzy grapes). This variety is a minority, of which there are only about 50 hectares in the world; it is also present in other areas of Catalonia, Aragon and the south of France: Banyuls, Rivesaltes and various wine-growing areas of Languedoc-Roussillon (where it is known as Liedoner Pelut). The hairy Grenache gives rise to red wines of remarkable freshness and a pleasant journey, although not without some complexity and a certain wild character. Occasionally, this grape is used to make mouth-watering wine chocolate and candy.
Also unique is the third natural mutation that modifies the profile and color of the red Grenache to give rise to the Grenache Gris, rare examples of which may also be found in the vineyards of Tarragona. As in the case of other "gray" varieties (Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Gris, etc.), the grapes have a strange coloration, somewhere between orange and grayish, while the organoleptic profile of the wines made from this grape is on the borderline, halfway between whites, rosés and reds. In Montsant, Terra Alta, Aragon and the mountains of Madrid, there are a few examples of wines made from Grenache Gris in the Iberian Peninsula.
Finally, the fifth and last member of this varietal family is the colorful Alicante Bouschet, whose nature is quite different from the rest of the family: it is a hybrid grape born in a laboratory. Its name honors its creator, the Frenchman Henri Bouschet, an expert in the hybridization of grape varieties, who in 1855 crossed one of his own creations, the Petit Bouschet, with the red Grenache. The new varietal, with reddish flesh and dry extract, was very well received by winegrowers thanks to its enormous pigmentation potential. Monsieur Bouschet's creation was a timely resource for all those who wished to boost the color of their reds. For this reason, the variety spread throughout the world, especially when the vineyards were replanted after the phylloxera epidemic at the beginning of the 20th century.
In Spain, known as Grenache Tintorera, it is grown in different regions; the territory where it is most concentrated is the Almansa D.O. It is this small region in the province of Albacete, halfway between the Mediterranean and the Castilian plateau, where the climate and altitude conditions come together (between 700 and 1,000 meters above sea level) for this grape to acquire prominence in quality single varietals. There are however, also some remarkable reds of Grenache Tintorera in some vineyards of the Valencian Community.
Are you the Grenache type? Here at 15 Bodegas, you have several wines of the Grenache variety, of different styles and Denominations of Origin.