Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Grenache

grenacheThe Soundbyte:  Grenache (technically, in this case, Grenache Noir) is the world’s second most-planted red grape variety and most what I like to call the most popular “wing man” in the world.  What I mean is that while Grenache is capable of starring in varietal wines, it just might be the world’s most popular partner in a red grape blend.

Grenache is one of the most widely planted red grapes in Spain, where it often gets blended with Tempranillo, Cinsault and a host of other grapes.  Grenache is one of the three amigos (Grenache-Syrah- Mourvèdre) of the “Southern Rhône Blend” and plays a part in some of the more complex blends to be found in the Rhône as well.   Grenache is also made into dessert and fortified wines, and makes a world-class rosé. 

Typical Attributes of a Grenache Based Wine:

  • A typical Grenache varietal could be described as soft on the palate, relatively high in alcohol and with aromas of spice and berries. These types of wines should be consumed young.
  • The texture of Grenache has been described as “rustic” or “fleshy”.
  • The grape tends to be thin-skinned and low in both color and tannin, however, these factors can vary depending on vineyard conditions and winemaking; some Grenache packs a powerful tannic punch.
  • In addition to varietals, Grenache is used in fortified wines, dessert wines, and delightful rosés; but its most common incarnation is as the backbone of hearty red blends.  

Typical Aromas of a Grenache Based Wine:

grenache grapesFruity:  Blackberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Currant, Cherry, Raisin, Plum

Spicy:  Black Pepper, Menthol, Licorice

Earthy:  Wet Earth, Leather, Forest Floor, Bramble, Tobacco, Smoke, Leather

Floral:  Roses, Dried Rose Petals, Violet

Oak-Derived:  Chocolate, Mocha, Cocoa, Vanilla, Sweet Wood

Where The Best Grenache is Grown:

  • In France’s Rhône Valley, especially the Southern Rhône, where it is the super star grape of Châteauneuf-du-Pape , Gigondas, and Rasteau; and the “G” in the “G-S-M” blends of the Côtes-du-Rhône.
  • The grape is made into delightful rosés throughout the Southern Rhône, including Lirac and, most famously, in the 100% rosé AOC of Tavel.
  • Also in France, Grenache is grown in Provence, Rouissillon, Languedoc, Minervois, Fitou, and Corbières; and is made into fortified wines in Banyuls and Maury.
  • In Spain, where it is among the most widely planted red grapes in the country, the grape is called “Garnacha”.  Garnacha is main variety in Pirorat and Campo de Borja; and plays a major role in the wines of Rioja, Navarra,  Somontano, Catalonia, Cariñena, and La Mancha.
  • Australia, where it makes some awesome varietals, including my favorite, d’Arenberg’s McLaren Vale “The Custodian” Grenache. (Australia also produces “Bitch Grenache” which probably outsells all the rest in terms of volume, but oh well.)  
  • California, where it has historically been grown in San Joaquin Valley and other warm areas, but is now produced other regions such as Santa Barbera and Paso Robles. Washington State is also getting into Grenache.
  • Several regions throughout the south of Italy, particularly Sardinia, where it stars in the wine known as Cannonau di Sardegna.

grenache foodFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses 

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Simple, rustic dishes, Grilled Foods
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tomato Sauces
  • Onions, Garlic, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Fennel, Roasted Bell Peppers
  • Green Olives, Black Olives, Capers, Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…


Perfect Pairings: Paella and Rioja

My last Cheat Sheet on Tempranillo  had me thinking about the last time I made Paella. My anh (adorable new husband) and I had just returned from Spain and I was all-inspired to continue drinking the delicious (and inexpensive, and accessible) wines we had tasted while touring Rioja, and of course I wanted to re-create the amazing food we had experienced all throughout our trip.

I revised this paella recipe quite a bit to make it a more-perfect pairing partner to Tempranillo by leaving out most of the seafood and going heavy on the braised chicken and sausage.  This recipe is originally based on one I hand-copied from a “Foods of the World” book about 30 years ago.  This series of books, from what I recall, was published in the 70’s by National Geographic or maybe Life Magazine.  I’ve carried my hand-written copy around and revised it for almost 30 years.  I am confident that this version is far-far removed from the original recipe, but if anyone knows what book series I am talking about, I’d love to be reminded of just what book that original recipe came from.  

Bubbly Professor’s Paella, Perfect for Rioja

Serves 6 as an entrée, and makes for great leftovers!


  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil (plus more if necessary for sautéing)
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined, and with the tail left on
  • 6 chicken thighs (skin on)
  • 1 lb. Italian Sausage (in the casings)
  • 1 medium Spanish Onion, medium dice
  • 1 large tomato, small dice (1/2 cup diced tomato)
  • 1 t. salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Saffron threads (this is the only real expensive part)
  • 1 T. Smoked Paprika (substitute regular Paprika if preferred)
  • 2 quarts Chicken Stock
  • 2 cups Bomba or other short-grain rice
  • 1 Roasted Red Bell Pepper, julienne
  • 1 cup Green Peas (fresh or frozen)

A note on equipment:  The ideal pan for this dish is a 14-inch paella pan.  However, I don’t have a paella pan, so have always just used my 14-inch slope-sided sauté pan.  Use whatever you have; a sauté pan, a dutch oven, or even a stock pot.  It’s more about the technique than the pan.

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in your chosen cooking vessel.  Salt and pepper the chicken thighs, and place them, skin side down, in the pan.  Cook about 6 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  Remove to a plate and set aside.  If you are making this recipe is steps, which is easy to do, cover them and refrigerate them as soon as they have cooled.
  2. Using the same pan, sauté the sausage links.  Remove to the side and left cool slightly, then slice into rounds.  Leave off to the side or refrigerate as needed.
  3. Add more olive oil if necessary, and using the same pan, saute the shrimp over medium-high heat for about five minutes.  Set aside and refrigerate and necessary.
  4. Add more olive oil in necessary, and add the chopped onion to the pan.  Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes.  The onions should be soft but not golden brown.
  5. Immediately add the diced tomatoes, raise the heat, and stir continuously for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the salt, saffron, paprika and stir.  Add 1 cup of stock and deglaze the pan thoroughly – you want all the browned-bit-flavor-rich goodness from the bottom of the pan.
  7. Add the rest of the stock, bring to a simmer, and cook 5 minutes.
  8. Add the rice and stir well, and allow the mixture to come to a simmer.  From this point on, you must resist the temptation to stir the pot!
  9. Simmer – without stirring!! – for 10 minutes.
  10. Add the sausage and chicken.  Place them strategically around the pot so that the dish will look nice when you serve it because you will NOT be stirring the pot!
  11. Cook again for 10 minutes, then add the shrimp to the pot.  I like to kind of push them down into the now-thickening mixture.
  12. Cook again, without stirring for 10 – 15 minutes.  Scatter the red bell peppers and peas over the top.  The “trick” to paella is to cook until the liquid is almost completely absorbed and then….
  13. Listen for the “crackle”. This “crackle” sound means the most-delicious, crunchy-crusty part of the rice (called “Soccarat” and considered the “best part of the dish”) is forming.  That’s right…put your ear to the pan and wait for the crackle.  Once you hear it, you’ll never forget it!
  14. Remove from the heat, let it rest for a few minutes, and then serve.  It’s traditional to just eat the paella right from the pot.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Tempranillo

The Soundbyte:  Tempranillo is a primary red grape for much of Northern and Central Spain, including the famous wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero.  It is also a key blending varietal in Port and known by the name Tinta Roriz in Portugal’s Douro River Valley.  The name “Tempranillo” is derived from the Spanish word “temprano”, meaning early, and refers to the fact that the grape buds, flowers, and ripens a full two weeks before Spain’s other leading red grape and frequent blending partner of Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache).

There is a fantastic old legend that Tempranillo ended up in Northern Spain via the Camino de Santiago.  Cistercian Monks, so the legend goes, making the religious pilgrimage from Burgundy to Santiago de Compostela, left Pinot Noir cuttings behind at the Monasteries around Haro, Burgros, and Logroño.  From these vines, the Pinot Noir grape morphed itself into its new surroundings and ended up as the Tempranillo we know now and love.  Alas, this tale must remain with us as “just a good story” seeing as recent ampelographic studies have shown no genetic connection between the two cultivars.  Tempranillo, is however, thought to be a native son of Northern Spain.

Typical Attributes of a Tempranillo Based Wine:

  • Medium to Deep, ruby-red  color in appearance (while young). Tempranillo-based wines can sometimes show a deep hue but lighter color intensity such as is often seen in Sangiovese or Pinot Noir.
  • These are long-lasting wines, and can often improve with significant aging and maturation.  This is in part due to      the fact that Tempranillo has a low amount of oxidizing enzyme, making it particularly resistant to oxidation.
  • These wines, made from heat-loving, thick-skinned black grapes, tend to be medium to high in alcohol.
  • Tempranillo’s low to medium levels of natural acidity mean that it is often part of a blend, although in many prestigious wines Tempranillo can be up to 90% of the blend.  It is less often than most made into a 100% varietal wine.
  • Medium to High levels of tannin, often described as “firm yet round.”
  • Intense fruit flavors mingled with spice and earth tones, often improved by oak contact.
  • Tempranillo can be made into a fun, fruity, easy drinking wine via Carbonic Maceration.
  • Tempranillo makes some wonderful, dry rosés.

Typical Aromas of a Tempranillo Based Wine:

Fruity: Strawberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Black Currant, Red Stone Fruit, Cherry, Plum, Raisin, Prune

Spicy: Vanilla, Dried Herbs, Clove, Cinnamon

Herbal: Green Herb, Mint, Eucalyptus

Earthy: Wet Earth, Leather, Mineral, Tobacco, Graphite

Oak-Derived:  Cedar, Vanilla, Oak, Soft Spice

Where The Best Tempranillo is Grown:

  • Spain, where it is one of the leading grapes and grown throughout the country.  The grape is the star of the wine      regions of the North of Spain, including Rioja, Nararra, and Penedès.  Here and elsewhere, it is frequently blended      with Grenache, Cariñena (called Mazuelo in Rioja), and Graziano.
  • Spain’s (arguably) most famous wine and winery, Vega Sicilia, makes a  Tempranillo-based blend and is leading the way for a resurgence of the vines and wines of the Ribera del Duero region of Spain.
  • Tempranillo is also the leading grape variety of the Spanish regions of Valdepeñas and La Mancha, where it sometimes goes by the name of Cencibel, Ojo de Libre, Tinto Fino, Tinto del Pais, Tinto del Toro or Ull de Liebre.
  • Portugal’s Douro Valley, where it is both a varietal wine and key blending partner in the fortified wines of Port.  Tempranillo is also used as a varietal wine in the Portuguese region of the Alentejo. In Portugal it is usually referred to as “Tinta Roriz” or “Tinta Aragonez”.
  • California, Washington State, and Oregon. The TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates and Producers) people do a lot to      promote Tempranillo in the New World – check them out!
  • Texas – Alamosa Wine Cellars in Bend, Texas makes a 100% Estate-grown Tempranillo Blend called “El Guapo” – it      was the first Texas wine I fell in love with! Read more about that story here:
  • It is possible that the grape known as “Valdepeñas,” grown in California’s Central Valley for use in jug wine, is actually Tempranillo.
  • Australia, particularly McLaren Vale.  Australian producer D’Arenberg has a Tempranillo/Grenache/Souzao blend called “Sticks and Stones”.
  • Chile, Argentina (where it is called “Tempranilla”), and Mexico all have some plantings.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Pork, Grilled Foods

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Spanish Ham, Smoked Paprika, Tapas
  • Paella, especially when made with lots of Chicken and Sausage (a richer verision, as opposed to those heavy on the seafood.)
  • Garlic, Onions, Roasted Garlic
  • Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes, Dried Tomatoes
  • Currants, Prunes, Almonds (go easy on the sweetness)
  • Mushrooms, Bell Peppers, Roasted Bell Peppers, Stuffed Peppers, Green Olives
  • Black Pepper, Chili Spices, Barbeque Flavors, Hearty, highly seasoned foods

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas