European Garnacha/Grenache, paradigm of resistance and evolution

Only a handful of vines survived the terrible phylloxera plague at the end of the 19th century. But that was enough for us to be talking today about this unique variety, the European Garnacha/Grenache, which is increasingly on the rise, and its wines, of incredible finesse, concentration and complexity.

©Chris Martínez

Its proven resistance over time – to pests, drought conditions, poor and dry soils, etc. – has resulted in a great Garnacha/Grenache heritage and wines with a strong sense of place. Known as Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France, this peculiar and versatile variety -which grows on old vines with deep and stable roots- is nowadays very popular in its place of origin. One of the reasons for its boom is the great work done by the new generation of European winegrowers -based precisely in the north of Spain and the south of France- which make innovative wines with Grenache as the protagonist.

The winegrowers in these areas are reclaiming their heritage and producing wines with great personality because they are more familiar with the growing conditions at an altitude from 0 to over 700  meters, and they take care of every detail of the process, from cultivation to harvesting; they incorporate different fermentation vessels and raise the quality of the barrels / wooden tanks. Moreover, the old vines, once despised for their low yields (each old vine produces no more than one kilo of grapes), are now celebrated for their rich, concentrated expression.


Quality techniques and great evolution

Producing a good single-varietal Garnacha/Grenache wine is no small challenge and requires care and some specific rules to be followed. The winegrowers of these geographical indications manage to produce excellent single-varietal wines with highly developed techniques that result in magnificent wines. These Geographical Indications bring together the five Protected Designations of Origin of northeastern Spain: Calatayud, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano, Terra Alta, the 14 PDOs of southern France which for their part are made with this single variety or in blend: Banyuls, Banyuls Grand Cru, Collioure, Côtes du Roussillon, Côtes Du Roussillon Villages, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel, Côtes du Roussillon Villages les Aspres, Maury Sec & Doux, Rivesaltes, and the 2 Protected Geographical Indications also from the South of France: Côtes Catalanes and de la Côte Vermeille.

These guidelines are as follows:

Low yields. It is essential to keep yields low to respect the durability of the vine, to improve concentration with little or no irrigation. There is even evidence that Garnacha/Grenache reacts intelligently to a slight degree of water stress.

Old vines. Reduce yield and increase concentration.

Poor soils. Garnacha/Grenache can produce excellent wines on a wide variety of soils. There are very good wines made with Garnacha/Grenache on all schists, granite and limestone; the poorest soils giving one of the best results. But whatever the mineral composition, it is essential that the soils are warm and with excellent drainage for the roots to go deep.

– Low / controlled temperature alcoholic fermentation. This is essential to preserve freshness. In several red wines, a cold pre-fermenting maceration is done. Thanks to that, the refining of the maceration takes place during the early stages of the alcoholic fermentation, to add color and tannin, but is stopped before the wines can become too tannic, and all the process is under quite low temperature to keep a maximum of fruits’ pleasure.

For the vinification of white or rosé, especially to retain freshness and minerality, even for Sparklings or Vins Doux Naturels, the control of temperature is compulsory.

Thanks to the evolving of the technology, the wine maker can take advantage of the coolling machines or even doing its work in an air conditionned cellar. This is helpful for a use of barrels.

All of this results in better European Garnacha/Grenache wines that are world-renowned.

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