Golden Grenache

Medals for the world’s biggest wine competition involving Grenache were announced this weekend. For publication in the week of 13 February 2017.

France received the highest proportion of gold medals, slightly ahead of Spain, at the fifth annual Grenaches du Monde competition held this year in Sardinia, the island off Italy’s west coast.

Grenaches du Monde is the premier competition for what is believed to be the world’s most-planted red grape variety. About 200,000 hectares are grown worldwide; more than half around the Mediterranean. Spain has about 100,000 hectares while southern France has about 90,000.

The red version of the grape has at least 19 names. The French call it Grenache but in Spain its name is Garnacha or Garnatxa. In Italy the name depends on the region. For example, it is called Tai Rosso in the Veneto area, Gamay Perugino in Umbria and Alicante in Sicily, while Sardinians call it Cannonau.

Cannonau di Sardegna wines have attracted attention because of their association with longevity. Sardinia has one of the world’s highest ratios of centenarians and diet is considered a key factor. Cannonau wines contain high levels of antioxidants, which have been linked to heart health. Professor Torquato Frulio of the University of Sassari noted that 93 per cent of Sardinia’s male centenarians were moderate wine drinkers.

Grenache is a versatile grape. Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris are used to make white and pale pink wines respectively, while sparkling wine is made from all variations of the grape.

Grenaches du Monde is an initiative of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon in southern France. Almost 700 wines were submitted for competition but only 684 were considered because a handful did not adhere to the regulations. Wines cannot be barrel samples and must contain at least 60 per cent Grenache. The handful omitted from competition did not satisfy those rules.

One hundred judges in 20 panels assessed wines. Each panel judged between 30 and 35 wines. Scanners analysed judges’ tasting sheets and compiled the results, which were announced at a ceremony in the capital, Cagliari, on the evening of February 11.

France submitted 149 wines in the competition and 28 received a gold medal, a strike rate of almost one in five. Spain had 322 wines in competition and 55 of those won gold (17 per cent). Italy offered 204 wines (including 182 Cannonau from Sardinia) and 21 got gold (10 per cent).

No other countries won gold or silver. Wines from Macedonia (with two submissions), Australia (three submissions) and South Africa (one submission) each received a bronze.

One of the reasons for the high number of gold medals – 104 out of 684 wines judged – was the fact that 88 points out of 100 was the starting point for a gold. In some competitions the number of points required for gold is higher. Decanter magazine awards a gold medal for a minimum of 95 points, for example.

Grenache ripens late, which means it needs hot, dry conditions such as those found in Spain and Italy to show its best attributes. The grape probably originated in Spain though some historians suggest it travelled from Sardinia to France and Spain.

With other red grapes it is relatively easy to trace origins based on the name. Monastrell is another red variety that likes heat. It probably evolved around the Spanish Mediterranean city of Murviedro near Valencia. This explains the name the French gave the grape – Mourverdre comes from Mourvèdre in the Catalan dialect – when they introduced it in the early sixteenth century. In Australia Monastrell is called Mataro. That name is believed to have come from the Spanish town of Mataro, near Barcelona.

Grenache thrives in hot parts of the world. It can be found in Portugal, Greece, Mexico, Israel, Lebanon, California’s Chaparral region and south of Santiago in Chile.

Flavours include red fruits like cherry, raspberry and strawberry with notes of white pepper and oriental spices, through to jams and fresh and dry herbs. Wines made from Grenache tend to lack tannin, acid and colour so the grape is often blended with Shiraz, Mouverdre, Carignan or Cinsault.

Because the grape ripens late, expect relatively high alcohol levels – often 15 per cent or more. The spice in Grenache makes it a good pairing for hot Asian foods. Alcohol is a solvent for capsaicin, the chemical that makes spicy foods feel hot. A high-alcohol Grenache can help reduce the “burn” of spicy food.

Grenache wines can oxidise during the winemaking process, resulting in unpleasant rustic or barnyard aromas. But when quality Grenache ages the wines offer lingering flavours of leather, spice and tar.

Winemakers can coax a range of wine styles from Grenache. In southern France we find fortified dessert wines called “vin doux naturel” such as Maury and Banyuls. Fermentation is stopped by adding grape spirit such as brandy to the red wine. These excellent wines feature in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of southern France. They need to be better known because they are delicious dessert wines.

In Australia probably the best-known version is Charles Melton’s Nine Popes blend of Shiraz Grenache Mourverdre, which helped introduce Grenache to a new breed of wine consumers. In California the so-called Rhone Rangers led by Randal Grahm, the winemaker behind Bonny Doon, created wines from old-vine Grenache with memorable flavours and names like Cigare Volant and Clos de Gilroy.

A technical conference about Grenache was held in Alghero, the town at the northern end of Sardinia, as part of Grenaches du Monde. Mariano Murru of the Sardinian Wine Association said Sardinia was the most ancient island in the Mediterranean and offered a wide variety of terroirs for making Cannonau.

Delegate Giuliana Dalla Longa, from the Murales Winery in northern Sardinia, believes granitic soils there are ideal for making age-worthy Cannonau. “Sardinia is a great place to make wine because of the soil, the sun, the clean environment and the tradition,” she said.

Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was a judge at Grenaches du Monde and a guest of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon.

Words: 1,024

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