\u201cPerfumed,\u201d \u201ctransparent\u201d and \u201celegant\u201d are common descriptors for Pinot Noir, but these adjectives frequently apply to Grenache Noir as well. Thin-skinned Grenache is often compared to Pinot Noir for its ability to transmit a sense of place from wherever it grows. Yet Grenache hasn\u2019t achieved the same acclaim in America as its lighter-bodied counterpart, largely because it was long used as a blending grape and not necessarily a stand-alone star. \n\n\n\nIn recent decades, winemakers have rediscovered the appeal of Grenache as a varietal wine, especially in countries with old vines like Spain, France and Australia. Grenache can take many forms, from light, bright and fruity to inky and savory, with ros\u00e9 and fortified-style wines common, too. \n\n\n\nFlavors range from red fruits like strawberry, cherry and plum, to earthier tastes of licorice, spice, and dried herbs and lavender, with hints of tar and leather that become more pronounced with maturity. \n\n\n\nWith widespread plantings across Spain and Southern France, experts have debated the origin of Grenache. Some trace its journey to the Italian island of Sardinia, where it\u2019s called Cannonau, arguing it arrived in Spain via Sardinia\u2019s 14th-century Aragonese rulers. \n\n\n\nIn Spain, Grenache, known as Garnacha, is the second most-planted red variety after Tempranillo. The grape is credited for reviving vineyards around the country after phylloxera devastated acre after acre of native vines. \u00a0\n\n\n\nGarnacha\u2019s most famous iteration can be found in Priorat, where it produces bold, expressive wines either on its own or blended with Carignan. It\u2019s also the most important grape in Cari\u00f1ena, as well as Navarra, where it\u2019s become the flagship red wine. In Rioja, it\u2019s mostly blended with Tempranillo. \n\n\n\nIn France\u2019s Southern Rh\u00f4ne, Grenache comprises an important component of the famous blends of Ch\u00e2teauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras. \n\n\n\nIn Languedoc, Roussillon and Provence, Grenache may stand on its own or partner with Syrah and Mourv\u00e8dre to complete the famous trio known by its abbreviation, GSM. GSM-style wines have spread around the world and are particularly successful in California\u2019s Central Coast, Paso Robles and South Australia. \n\n\n\nThe common thread across all these regions: a Mediterranean-like climate. Grenache ripens late and thrives in arid, hot conditions and poor, rocky soils where other vines struggle. However, it has a propensity towards high alcohol, often climbing above 15% abv, as well as jammy, baked flavors. Winemakers looking to retain freshness and delicacy must exercise care in the vineyards, especially around the picking date. \n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nGrenache also oxidizes easily, its ruby hue turning rusty\u2014called bricking\u2014with age or oxygen exposure. This trait may factor into a winemaker\u2019s decisions on fermentation methods and aging vessels which affect the final wine style. \n\n\n\nIf you\u2019re curious to understand the grape\u2019s range of expressions, explore these matchups: unoaked versus oaked Grenache; Old World versus New World Grenache; and Grenache from stony versus sandy soils. \n\n\n\nDon\u2019t worry if you can\u2019t find the exact bottles we suggest. Your local wine retailer should be able to direct you to something similar. \n\n\n\nUnoaked vs. Oak-Aged Grenache Noir \n\n\n\nBy now, you\u2019ve probably seen the terms \u201coaked\u201d or \u201coak-aged\u201d and \u201cunoaked\u201d to describe white wines like Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. These adjectives cue consumers to the wine\u2019s style based on the winemaker\u2019s choice of fermentation and aging vessel. Unoaked whites are typically bright and crisp; oaked usually indicates a fuller-bodied, textured wine. \n\n\n\nHowever, these adjectives don\u2019t appear with the same frequency to describe red wines simply because most red wines touch some type of oak. Only a few red grapes, like Grenache Noir, have the versatility to taste delicious either way. \n\n\n\nBefore the 1950s, almost all wines spent time in oak since temperature-controlled stainless steel was not yet widely adopted. Traditional oak vessels that weren\u2019t meant to impart flavor were reused and crafted in larger sizes than the popular Burgundy barrel (228 liters) or Bordeaux barrique (225 liters). A French foudre or Italian botti could range from 1,000 to 20,000 liters. These are still in use today. \n\n\n\nA Grenache vineyard at Zaca Mesa Winery near Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County, California. / Photo by George Rose/Getty Images\n\n\n\nModern winemakers have more options than their predecessors with stainless steel, concrete eggs, clay and different types of wood barrels to choose from, including French, American and Hungarian oak. \n\n\n\nFor Grenache, the decision comes down to style and budget. Stainless steel is durable and easy to maintain. Oak is expensive to purchase and maintain, especially new toasted barrels. \n\n\n\nWhen a wine is labeled as unoaked, the wine has spent no time in oak. The default vessel used for production in unoaked wines is stainless steel, but it could also be concrete, whether the traditional square tank or trendy egg. \n\n\n\nWithout oxygen ingress, Grenache fermented and aged in stainless steel retains its vivid red hue, fruity aromas and flavors, and youthful character. These wines have a clean, pure profile. In concrete, winemakers retain that purity but add subtle textural qualities. \n\n\n\nAlternatively, barrel fermentation imparts flavors like baking spice and vanilla. The newer, smaller barrels with high toast levels have the most impact. Barrels also change the structure of a red wine. They may leach wood tannin into the wine, while softening astringent tannins through slow exposure to oxygen. \n\n\n\nUnoaked vs. Oak Aged Grenache Noir Wine 1: Look for a wine labeled unoaked or amphora aged or concrete aged. Wine 2: Ideally from the same region or country as the first, seek out a Grenache that lists its oak regimen on the back label. \n\n\n\nNew World vs. Old World Grenache \n\n\n\nDistinctions between New and Old World wines have diminished due to climate change and overlapping global styles. However, soils, climate and traditional versus modern techniques still present endless opportunities for comparison. \n\n\n\nThe Old World encompasses Europe and the Caucasus, the origin of classic wine-grape varieties where winemaking tradition and culture extends thousands of years. \n\n\n\nNotable regions for Old World Grenache are Priorat in Spain, Sardinia in Italy, and Ch\u00e2teauneuf-du-Pape in France. \n\n\n\nThe New World entails pretty much everywhere else. These regions typically feature modern winemaking styles and climatic differences like hotter weather and drier summers. Classic New World regions for Grenache are California, Washington, and Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia. \n\n\n\nOld World Grenache typically has more freshness and restraint, with lighter, earthier flavors. The grape\u2019s ability to transmit place is acute in Priorat, where wines show structure and a stony minerality some attribute to the region\u2019s unique slate-based soils, called llicorella. \n\n\n\nIn contrast, New World Grenache tends to be richer, riper and fruit-forward, tasting of sun-kissed fruits and boasting higher alcohol levels. \n\n\n\nNew World vs. Old World Grenache Wine 1: For a bold New World Grenache, look to options from Australia\u2019s Barossa Valley. Wine 2: Try a Garnacha from Priorat for an Old World style. \n\n\n\nGrenache from Stony vs. Sandy or Chalky Soils \n\n\n\nSome of the world\u2019s most famous and expensive Grenache comes from Ch\u00e2teauneuf-du-Pape in France\u2019s Southern Rh\u00f4ne. Ch\u00e2teau Rayas produces a limited lot of 100% Grenache Ch\u00e2teaneuf-du-Pape that is considered by many as the pinnacle expression of the grape and generally fetches a small fortune per bottle. \n\n\n\nRows of vines planted in the famous stony soils of Ch\u00e2teauneuf-du-Pape, Rh\u00f4ne Valley, France / Getty\n\n\n\nThough Ch\u00e2teauneuf-du-Pape lies in the Old World, intense sunshine and heat trigger rapid sugar accumulation by late summer. Grenache-based wines can climb the alcohol ladder quickly, hitting 15\u201316% alcohol-by-volume if producers aren\u2019t careful. \n\n\n\nThe area\u2019s most famous soils are based on galets roul\u00e9s, or large round pebbles contoured and smoothed by the Rh\u00f4ne River. These stones accumulate heat during the day and keep the vineyard warm at night. This lends Grenache a round, full-bodied character with ripe fruit and spice flavors. Wines from galet tend to trade acidity for richness. \n\n\n\nOther lesser-known soils like safres, or sand, and eclats calcaires, a chalky limestone, contribute different qualities to Grenache. Sandy soils enhance the grape\u2019s red berry fruitiness, lending it a floral lift that\u2019s balanced by freshness, transparency and tannins that are softer than wines from stones. Limestone soils stay cooler in the heat, which translates to higher acidity and brighter flavors. These traits may convey a sense of minerality in the wine, with an elegant framework of firm tannins. \n\n\n\nTasting single-site wines is a fun exercise to better understand soil impact. \n\n\n\nGrenache from Stony vs. Sandy Soils Wine 1: The stony galet roul\u00e9s soils are widespread in Ch\u00e2teauneuf-du-Pape, so unless noted the Grenache is likely from these soils. Wine 2: Seek out Domaine de la Janasse\u2019s Chaupin, Domaine le Clos du Caillou\u2019s Les Safres or any other wine from \u201csafres\u201d listed for Grenache from sandy soils.