Let’s dive into one of the world’s most versatile and elegant wines, Grenache. Also known as Garnacha or Cannonau, Grenache is a dangerously drinkable red wine known equally for its bright red fruit notes as it is for intense aromas of spice, pepper, leather, and dried herbs. This balance of fruity flavors and earth makes it a versatile wine for pairing with everything from grilled meat to vegetarian and heavily seasoned dishes.
Grenache is a super popular red wine variety that has gained success worldwide, most notably in France, the U.S., Australia, and its birthplace of Spain, where it is known as Garnacha. It’s a wine prized equally for its contribution to blends as it is a standalone varietal.
In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into this complicated wine, its many growing regions, tasting notes, and of course, plenty of food pairings. Interested in learning more about wine? Consider reading our guides on Nebbiolo, Riesling, and Petite Sirah wine next!
Characteristics of Grenache Wine
Grenache is a dry red wine known for having a deceptively light hue, sometimes as faint as Pinot Noir. Its parents are unknown, though its origins are suspected to be in Spain. Today, most exceptional examples exist in the Rhône Valley of Southern France. That said, it can succeed in various environments, including Spain, the U.S., Australia, and Italy.
Simplifying Grenache into a few tasting notes is easier said than done. When grown in warm climates like France or Australia, it is highly alcoholic, peppery and tastes of stewed fruit. When grown in a cool climate like Italy or California, this wine is more even-keel, with summertime red fruit and a subtle spicy flavor.
You can expect a medium to full-bodied red wine with medium-low tannins, medium acidity, and high alcohol when you open your next bottle of Grenache.
Because of the wine’s intense flavor and high alcohol content (usually around 15% ABV), it’s often blended with other red wines to add robust flavor, aroma, and age-ability. Grenache is traditionally aged in oak and is best consumed young or aged 4-10 years, depending on the quality.
With medium body and mild tannins, you might think Grenache is a delicate wine. One sip, and you’ll realize she’s anything but simple. On the nose, it exudes aromas of white pepper, dried oregano, raspberries, and stewed strawberries. Flavors range from summertime red fruit to leather and cherry preserves.
As mentioned, the cooler the climate, the more bright red fruit flavor you can expect. The warmer the climate, the more earthy and spicy flavors you’ll notice. Grenache is dangerously drinkable when made well, but when made poorly, the wine can taste extremely alcoholic, almost hot.
Up until now, we’ve been talking about Grenache or Grenache Noir. But there’s also Grenache Blanc, the white grape counterpart. Grenache Blanc is a fun white wine with a flavor profile and versatility similar to Chardonnay. It’s most often found in Northern Spain (Garnacha Blanca), Rhône Valley, and California.
Often aged in oak, Grenache Blanc has a fuller body with subtle brioche flavors nicely complimented by citrus, melon, and pear. Serve it as you would Chardonnay, alongside soft creamy cheeses, citrus-based dishes, seafood, or heavily spiced dishes.
How to Serve Grenache
Grenache is best served in a standard red wine glass at room temperature (60-68F). Younger bottles do not need to be decanted, but if you find yourself with an aged Châteauneuf-du-Pape, give it a taste and consider decanting for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Notable Growing Regions for Grenache
Grenache originated in Spain, though it’s found success worldwide. Each region’s wine offers a unique taste of the complicated varietal.
As mentioned, this red wine likely originated in Spain, specifically Aragon, where it is known as Garnacha. Today, it’s widely found in Priorat and Navarra, both of which have a warm Mediterranean climate perfectly suited for Grenache.
It’s often blended with other local varietals like Carignan (Cariñena), and Tempranillo to add spicy flavor and aroma. It’s also known for producing vibrant, hot pink rosés with flavors of candied watermelon and red cherries.
If you could only pick one region known for producing world-class examples of this wine, it would have to be France. Specifically, the Southern Rhône Valley in France. Grenache is a leading grape in the blend Châteauneuf-du-Pape, belonging to the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) of the same name.
These wines command high prices and are known for being one of the best blends in the world. When Grenache is added to the blend, it makes for robust, earth-driven, rustic, and age-worthy wines. It’s also inspired other “Rhône-style blends” made of Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre, collectively called “GSMs.”
Grenache has had ever-growing success in the warm climates of California and Washington state. It’s typically made as a GSM blend, single varietal, and fruity rosé. The best examples of it can be found in the Yakima Valley of Washington or the Central Coast of California. Flavors range from stewed strawberries to cinnamon, white pepper, and leather.
In Australia, specifically, the Barossa Valley, old vines of the grape produce daunting, complex, fruit-driven wines. It is typically blended with Shiraz or in a GSM style. Flavors range from red cherry to orange rind, cinnamon, red plum, licorice and tobacco. It’s also not uncommon to see Grenache added to their fortified wines, known as tawnies.
Recent genetic testing has determined Grenache to be identical to the local grape of Sardinia, Cannonau. Skeptics even argue Sardinia is the birthplace of Grenache, not Spain. These wines are known for being more light-bodied and best enjoyed young. Flavors range from floral to raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry.
Grenache is a punchy, fruity, deceptive wine that pairs expertly with a variety of dishes. The biggest distinction is whether to opt for a lighter, more fruity Grenache from Spain or the U.S. or go all-out with a robust and earthy blend from France or Australia.
When made in a light and delicate style, this bold red wine pairs best with heavily spiced foods, paella, herbaceous proteins, or vegetarian dishes. You’ll love to serve a glass with our Lemon Ricotta Pasta, Spicy Kani Salad, Chicken Piccata and Greek Turkey Meatballs.
If you’re drinking more rustic, earthy blends, aim for roasted or grilled meats, lamb, pork tenderloin, or mushroom dishes. It’s a fantastic pairing alongside this Slow Braised Lamb Ragu, Juicy Brined Pork Chops, and our favorite Mushroom Polenta.
Whether you’re looking for the perfect dinner pairing or simply content with a glass of wine and a good book, Grenache is a versatile, delicious, and easy-drinking wine.