Gracious Grenache

This versatile grape creates some of the world’s tastiest, most budget-friendly wines.

Most winemakers agree that the Grenache grape is one of the most versatile tools in the vintner’s toolbox.

This red wine grape, which is responsible for some of the most delicious and collectable wines in the world, is also the main ingredient in some of the best budget- friendly wines. Thus, it’s not surprising that Grenache is one of the most widely planted red grape varieties around the globe.

Originating in Spain, Grenache is widely cultivated in France, Sicily, California and Australia. More recently, China, Mexico and Israel are also harvesting this ubiquitous grape. Most Grenache wine regions also produce impressive Grenache rosé wines.

Grenache is the only world-class grape that can get away with tasting like a candied fruit roll-up. It allows blind taste testers to immediately detect its presence. Despite its light color, it has a medium-bodied taste. Factors such as regional winemaking requirements, climate and other blending grapes all go into the versatility of this iconic grape.

Garnacha, as it is referred to in Spain, was born in the region known as Aragon.

The area’s warm, dry climate allows this late-ripening grape to attain high sugar levels that translate into high alcohol levels. Calatayud, a subregion of Aragon and Priorat, produces the quintessential Spanish Garnacha. Young versions have the flavor of candied fruit, while aged wines produce a mellow, sophisticated taste with hints of spice. In Spain, Grenache is often blended with the Tempranillo grape to give Spanish Rioja its juicy fruitiness and body.

Grenache found its way over the Pyrenees through the Languedoc and to the Southern Rhone region of France. At that time, French winemakers were looking for a grape that could be blended with other famous varieties of the region. The grape they sought would add body, alcohol and fruity flavors to their wines. They found that grape in Grenache, and it was there that the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine blend was born.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Grenache had a story similar to Zinfandel.

The early California wine industry relegated Grenache to a blending element for jug wine production. Most of the plantings were in the hot central San Joaquin Valley, which is well- suited to the grape’s natural heat and drought tolerance. It was also used to produce a sweet, pale White Grenache that tastes very similar to White Zinfandel. In the late twentieth century, a group of California winemakers formed a group called the Rhone Rangers, whose mission was to cultivate French Rhone Valley grapes and create wines with a level of sophistication that would rival their French counterparts. This mission was ultimately a great success, and Island Winery enjoys the fruits of their labor.

At times, we blend California Grenache with Mouvedre — a dark, meaty Rhone varietal — to create a blend we call Joe’s Reserve. Other times, we bottle Grenache on its own as a light, fruity summertime wine. So, the next time you visit your local wine shop, browse the aisles and you will find that no matter which country or section you explore, you will always find a bottle containing Grenache.

By Georgene Mortimer, Island Winery

The perfect bottle of hand-crafted artisan wine awaits at Island Winery on Cardinal Rd. Wine by the glass, cheese platters and $5 tastings are available Monday-Saturday from 12:30-5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12-4 p.m. 843-842-3141 or www.islandwinery.com.