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Grenache Blanc is the fourth most widely planted white grape in France, and the most widely planted white in both the Cotes du Rhone and Chateauneuf du Pape appellations. It is also growing in popularity in the Rhone Rangers world, both in blends and as a single-varietal wine, particularly in California’s Central Coast. As the name suggests, it is related to the more widely known Grenache Noir. Many grape varietals have both red and white variants; the best known is Pinot, which has Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris variations. Grenache Blanc, like Grenache Noir, is drought-resistant, vigorous, easy to graft and ripens fairly early in the cycle, after Viognier and Marsanne, but before Roussanne. The California climate of hot days and cool nights seems to be perfect for the varietal and encourages its two prime qualities: richness with crisp acids.
Grenache Blanc originated in Spain, and still plays a role in the wines of Rioja and Navarre. From Spain, it spread to France, and has thrived in the vineyards of the Rhône valley and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In the Rhone valley, Grenache Blanc is almost always blended, and it contributes rich mouthfeel and good acids to the blends in which it is present. Grenache Blanc made its first appearance in California as a part of Tablas Creek's importation of several Rhone grapevine cuttings from Beaucastel in 1992. In 2002 the BATF recognized Grenache Blanc as a varietal distinct from Grenache Noir.
Grenache Blanc in California
The planting of Grenache Blanc has increased dramatically in the last few years; about 44% of the 227 acres planted in California were planted since 2005. It is most present in San Luis Obispo county, which holds about one-third of California's acreage, but it has also been widely planted in Santa Barbara County and in small quantities in California's North Coast and Sierra Foothills, and in Washington State.
Aromas and Flavors
Grenache Blanc is straw-colored and produces wines that are high in alcohol, with crisp acids. The nose has bright green apple and mandarin orange aromas, with clean flavors of more apple, mineral and a touch of peach. It typically has a lingering finish with a hint of licorice. Although it can stand confidently on its own, its crispness and long finish make it a tremendous blending component. The crispness of Grenache Blanc shows well at low temperatures, whereas many white Rhône varietals shut down when served too cold. In Roussanne- or Marsanne-based wines, a percentage of Grenache Blanc allows the wine to show well, even highly chilled (as many restaurants often serve all white wines). As the wine warms up in the glass, the other varietals unfold, and the full richness of the wine is displayed. Anyone interested in learning more about Grenache Blanc and Grenache should watch the BrixR video of the Rhone Rangers seminar "Grenache: Red, White and Pink" which took place on March 27, 2010.
Information provided by Tablas Creek Vineyard. Grenache Blanc photo © Tablas Creek Vineyard.