International Expressions of Grenache Blanc (Garnacha Blanca)

Garnacha Blanca

Grenache Blanc (Garnacha Blanca) has long been a popular grape for blending and for producing fortified wines in France and Spain. More recently, distinguished vintners have begun showcasing Grenache Blanc, either as a single varietal wine or as the lead variety in white blends. Furthermore, thanks to Tablas Creek, Grenache Blanc has made its way to America where it is producing distinguished wines in California’s Central Coast. Grenache Blanc takes on many names, depending where it’s grown, including Alicante Blanca, Sillina Lanc, Belán, Rool Grenache, Garnatxa Blanca, and Feher Grenache.

Grenache Blanc (Garnacha Blanca), a mutation of Grenache Noir, originated in Spain but made its way to France where it complements the soft, honeyed richness of Roussanne and other varieties in white Rhone blends. With 21 thousand acres of vines, it’s the fourth most widely planted white variety in France, with extensive plantings in Roussillon. It’s used almost exclusively as a blending grape in France.

Spain, where Garnacha Blanca originated, has just 5200 acres of vines today, with about three-quarters of that located in the Terra Alta DO in Catalonia Significant plantings can also be found in Navarra and Campo de Borja. Terra Alta’s mix of soils—sand, clay and limestone—is especially well-suited to Garnacha Blanca, producing prominent earth and mineral notes in the wines. However, as with Garnacha Tinto, plantings of Garnacha Blanca have declined dramatically over the past quarter century. Today’s plantings of Garnacha Blanca are just 13 percent of the 40 thousand acres that existed prior to 1985

As with other Rhone varieties in the US, Tablas Creek has played a key role in bringing virus-free cuttings into the US, getting it certified by the BATF, and then disseminating it widely along the west coast. It imported cuttings from Château de Beaucastel in 1992 and harvested the first fruit in 1996. The clone (TCVS A) it imported is today sold by Novavine, located in Santa Rosa CA. Today, while California’s total plantings are still small—just 278 acres—they’re on the increase. Based on our tastings, the quality of California’s Grenache Blanc is on a par with the best of France and Spain, although the style is different.

Washington State also grows small amounts of Grenache Blanc, mostly at Dick Boushey’s highly regarded vineyard in the Yakima Valley. Thanks to Dick, we were able to taste some of the Grenache Blanc wines at the vineyard.

Grenache Blanc produces medium sized, compact bunches of small grapes. Grenache Blanc is well suited to warm, dry climates where the grape’s notable characteristics are its low fruit expression generous body, long finish, and high alcohol, reaching as high as 15% in some wines. Like Grenache Noir, or Garnacha Tinta, it is also oxidative. Its high alcohol and proclivity to oxidation have contributed to its popularity in fortified wines, some of which we review here. Grenache Blanc is usually fermented in stainless steel and may see some light oak aging.

Styles of Grenache Blanc

Old Vine Grapes Old Vine Garnacha Blanca

Grenache Blanc is often yellow gold in color, taking on the color of its ripe stems. Aromas and flavors in single varietal Grenache Blanc tend to dried herbs, white stonefruit, lychee, tangerine zest, and notes of saline minerals, underbrush and anise. Maturation in neutral or used oak contributes to texture and complexity without noticeable oak flavors. While it can make a very flavorful, full and lush varietal wine of moderate acidity, Grenache Blanc is also superb blended with a number of grape varieties—Clairette, Grenache Gris, Roussanne, and Viognier. In France Grenache Blanc is typically blended, while single varietal Grenache Blanc is often found in Spain and the US.

Styles of single varietal Grenache Blanc vary widely from lightly flavored, mineral infused wines to lush and richly flavored. The former are somewhat more common to Spain, while the latter are more common to California. The Washington State Grenache Blanc we tasted falls somewhere in the middle and shows more citrus notes.

Grenache Blanc is also used to make fortified, sweet wines, although they are not commonly exported. We tasted two for this article—the Josefina Piñol Blanco from Celler Piñol in Terra Alta and the Dolç D’Orto Blanc from Orto Vins in Montsant.

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