The Garnacha is one of the varieties whose wines have been increasingly valued in the past few years. Consumers and critics are starting to value the fresh, fruity and easy-drinking wines that are produced with this variety. However, the Garnacha variety has not always enjoyed this recognition. For years, it has been relegated to the background and associated with low-quality wines.

The Garnacha used to be the top red variety in hectares planted in Spain for years. Up to the late 20th century, the Garnacha variety covered between 100,000 and 120,000 hectares – there currently cover around 70,000 hectares. The amount of hectares of this variety has also dropped worldwide; the 400,000 hectares registered just a few years ago have dropped to the current 300,000.

With regard to its origin, the first reference we have – from Alonso de Herrera in 1513 – is a variety they called Aragones and which seems to be the Garnacha variety, “it is therefore that the entire world recognises its Spanish origin”, as the winegrowing professor Fernando Martinez de Toda from the University of La Rioja states.

The Garnacha boom took place in the mid 19th century – around 1850 – when Oidium arrived, a disease which the Garnacha proved to endure much better than other varieties; as a result, it was grown more so.
Châtauneuf du Pape and Rioja were the areas growing the best quality Garnacha in the 20th century and producing highly renowned wines. “Rioja produced more Garnacha than Tempranillo in the 20th century”, assures Martinez de Toda, who also maintains, “in fact, Rioja’s prestige accumulated during the 20th century was mainly thanks to the Garnacha variety, even if it was not acknowledged at the time.”

Following this boom, in the late 20th century, there was a decline which associated the Garnacha with low quality wines for years. Martinez de Toda explains that the Garnacha variety has some characteristics that account for this fact: “Garnacha is a variety extremely susceptible to coulure, and when the material was not adequately selected, there was sometimes excessive coulure. There was not much in terms of its transformation from flower to fruit, therefore it looked like a flawed variety”, he states. “On the other hand, it is not a flexible variety in the sense that it loses its positive qualities fairly easily when the vines produce a significant amount of kilograms”.

This coulure issue was so substantial that “30 or 40 years ago the yields in La Rioja relied on the extent of the Garnacha’s coulure, as they depended upon if it set better or worse”.

This was too high a risk and clones of this variety were attempted to produce higher yields. This measure effectively did result in higher yields, but it is precisely in these conditions that the Garnacha offers its worst results. Therefore, it began to be associated with light coloured wines, it became rosé wine oriented, and it started to carry along a very bad image.

In the past few years, the Garnacha variety has slowly started to recover its prestige as a result of wines made in old vineyards producing low yields. “When yield is controlled, balanced wines with good longevity and great finesse are produced”, says oenologist Raul Acha, who convinced by this statement started to make the collection ‘Garnachas of Spain’ with the aim of showing the different characteristics of this variety in different winemaking areas.