Spanish Wine Academy

The essential guide to Spanish Garnacha

In partnership with Spanish Wine Academy

Contemporary wine from old vines and thin-skinned grapes that are hardy in the heat – get to know the many faces of Spanish Garnacha

Garnacha in the glass

Garnacha, aka Grenache, is renowned for its prominent red fruit flavour profile, think strawberries and raspberries, sometimes including richer cherry notes and white pepper spice.

Relatively high alcohol levels – up to 16% abv in warmer regions – give the impression of a weightier body on the palate, although its full impact is countered by juicy fruit flavours and moderate acidity.

It is a thin-skinned grape, dubbed ‘the Pinot Noir of the south’ in France, which doesn’t bring a lot of tannins or deep colour to the final wine – unlike its inky cousin, Garnacha Tintorera.

More tannic influence and toasty notes are sometimes supplied by oak ageing, although Garnacha can tend towards oxidation and requires careful handling in the winery.

Ideal growing conditions

It might be said Spanish Garnacha vines have a taste for punishment, benefiting from hot, windy, arid conditions with well-drained, low nutrient soils, and even a degree of water stress.

If unchecked by these factors, Garnacha vines can grow too vigorously and produce high yields, which make for poor flavour concentration. Plus its tight grape clusters with thin skins are vulnerable to fungal diseases in wetter, less-aerated conditions.

Often one of the last to be harvested from the vineyards, Garnacha is a late-ripening grape and needs a continental climate with a long, hot summer to reach full phenolic ripeness.

Its gnarly bush vines are resistant to northwest Spain’s sea winds and blustery high altitude sites. These cooling influences can temper alcohol levels and preserve acidity in the resultant wines.

Top regions and styles to know

Garnacha is Spain’s third most widely-planted red variety, but its main regions are concentrated in the northwest, running parallel to the Ebro river from Rioja to Catalonia, via Navarra and Aragón.

Sierra de Gredos is a notable exception, located in the mountains west of Madrid in central Spain and covering the appellations of Vinos de Madrid, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Léon and Méntrida. Some winemakers are reviving Gredos’ old Garnacha vineyards on slate-granite slopes and creating a more fine-boned and aromatic style.

In its birthplace, Aragón, Garnacha’s old vines are highly prized in DOs Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Calatayud, Somontano and VdT Valdejalón for their ability to produce complex, concentrated wines.

Over the border, it is one of the most popular red varieties in Catalonia, where it goes by the name Garnatxa Negra and can be found across the region in blends and single-varietal wines – from Empordà in the north to Terra Alta in the south.

Priorat DOCa arguably brought Spanish Garnacha back to the global stage as a premium, potentially ageworthy wine. The variety thrives in its vertiginous vineyards and red slate and mica soils, called llicorella. It features in blends with Priorat’s other top grape, Cariñena (Samsó), plus French varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot.

Garnacha was once one of Rioja DOCa’s dominant grapes, but it has ceded the throne to earlier-ripening, more predictable Tempranillo. Today it plays a supporting role in Tempranillo-led red blends, creating juicer and fuller-bodied wines that are more approachable when young.

In Rioja and neighbouring Navarra, Garnacha is favoured for rosado, or rosé wines, due to its low tannins, moderate acidity and refreshing red fruit notes.

Spanish Wine Academy

A note from our sponsor, Spanish Wine Academy from Ramon Bilbao

Ramon Bilbao will be releasing an 100% Garnacha wine, coming from the slopes of Monte Yerga, xxxx later in 2020.

Grown in gravel soils at 550-650 meters altitude, Garnacha is perfectly acclimated to this area.

There is a Mediterranean climate, but with good ventilation and freshness thanks to the altitude, and this vineyard was planted in 1977.

Fermented in concrete at 26 ºC to keep the maintain the aromas, then aged 12 months in 225l second use French oak barriques and further 4 months final aged in 500l barriques.

This wine is floral, fresh, juicy and a classic example of what Garnacha has to offer.

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