Garnatxa Blanca is one of the great, unsung heroes of Catalan wine. Whilst the locals here in Catalunya are all too familiar with the lively acidity, creamy texture and orchard fruit of ripe Garnacha Blanca, it’s a style that doesn’t seem to have made much of a splash internationally despite the obvious quality available.
Garnatxa Blanca is the same grape as Grenache Blanc though much like it’s brother Garnatxa Negre / Grenache, its birthplace was undoubtedly here in Spain. What makes it a unique proposition in Catalunya is how often it’s produced as a monovarietal wine rather than being included as an afterthought in a kitchen-sink Rhone blend. Aside from South Africa, no other country in the world is producing Garnacha Blanca in this way in any sort of volume.
The real advantage here is the average age of the vines, particularly in the southerly region of DO Terra Alta, where the gnarled bush vines have had decades to put their roots deep into the soil in search of water. Coming across vineyards over 70 years old isn’t uncommon and there are proud centenarian vines here, their thick trunks dotted across the dusty, dry landscape. The result can be phenomenal; concentrated fruit quality yet with a slow, even ripening that allows the wines to exist without overblown fruit ripeness and sugar levels. Even in this warm, Mediterranean climate, white wines over 14% ABV aren’t common.
A much overlooked aspect of Garnatxa Blanca is its acidity; when harvested early, Garnatxa Blanca behaves much like Semillon with its electric, smoky, herbal character needing several years to calm down. When harvested at full ripeness, there’s still ample freshness to support the delicious orchard fruit and chamomile flavours, allowing wine-makers to make minimal adjustments and let the fruit speak for itself.
Then of course there´s the myriad of options in the winery itself. A recent trend is to harvest Garnatxa Blanca early, ferment it in stainless steel and keep it as a refreshing, floral wine for the warm summer evenings along the Mediterranean coast. However, the truly outstanding examples tend to come from riper fruit with enough concentration to warrant barrel fermentation; Garnatxa Blanca integrates with oak much like quality Chardonnay, adding a layer of toast and sweet spice without overwhelming the fruit.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the orange and Brisat wines being produced from Garnatxa Blanca; the natural acidity of the grape keeps the wine refreshing despite the extended skin contact, whilst the orange-peel and peppery spice that’s extracted from the skins can be delicious!
The future is bright for Garnatxa Blanca. Grab a bottle and find out for yourself!