Technically neither (or partly both)

In 2011 I worked with a writer called Elif Batuman on her book The Possessed. (Perhaps my proudest moment as a publicist was having a cameo role in a Guardian article she wrote at the time which has oddly been taken down from their website so here’s a link to something else.) Most of the time we were together she was being plagued by fact checkers from the New Yorker magazine asking her how many pins Russian plugs have or some such. The constant questions were driving her mad but I just thought how cool would it be to have the New Yorker bothering you about things. British papers famously aren’t such sticklers for accuracy, except it would seem at the Lady. Every week I file a column of the usual conjecture, half-truths and gossip, and they call me up and ask whether champagne was really invented by Alexander de Tocqueville or port a traditional East African cure for Bilharzia. More often than not, I am wrong so I’m glad that they do check or I’d lose my hard won credibility in the wine world.

Last week I filed a column rhapsodizing about a wine called Domaine L’ Aigueliere Grenat that I’d drunk 15 years ago and never forgotten. In it I blithely stated that Grenat was Occitan for Grenache. The Lady fact checkers pounced. They couldn’t find any mention of it. I was sure that someone had told me Grenat was a local dialect word for Grenache and as it comes from a formerly Occitan speaking area I made a leap of logic/ imagination. Turns out there is absolutely nothing to back this up. Grenat in French means Garnet – a red gem stone (of course you knew that but I didn’t, I’d heard people calling wine garnet-hewed in the past and had not a clue about what they were talking about.) I spoke to two authorities on French wine, Louise Hurren , a wine PR person and writer, and Julia Harding MW from Jancis Robinson’s site. They both said that Grenat was a term used in the Roussillon to describe a non-oxidised style of fortified wine. They both sent me a link to the Appellation rules which I pretended to understand; my French never really progressed beyond the ‘you are writing to a penfriend in La Rochelle’ stage. The thing that I did pick up is that to qualify as Grenat it has to be made from at least 75% Grenache.

I then went on to ask about what the word Grenat meant in this case, did it refer to the colour perhaps? I was told that it was a term used in Rivesaltes etc etc. It turned into quite a circular discussion. I then asked ‘so when a Rivesaltes is called Grenat – is the word referring to the fact that its made from Grenache or the colour’, the reply from Louise was ‘technically neither (or partly both.)” I had flash backs to wrestling with Foucault and Derrida as part of my English degree. I retired defeated. The funny thing is that there are other wines not fortified described as Grenat such as my Domaine d’Aiguliere and this unusual Vacqueyras which is made from noble rot-affected grapes.

So what does the word Grenat actually mean when it comes to wine? Nobody seems to know but one thing I’ve learnt if it says Grenat, the wine will be mainly Grenache. I hope one day to get to the bottom of this but for the time being, I just want to thank the poor over-worked fact-checkers at the Lady for stopping me making another mistake and opening my eyes to another layer of mystery in the mysterious world of wine.

About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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2 Responses to Technically neither (or partly both)

  1. Louise Hurren says:

    Hi Henry, I’m truly sorry if I confused you more (or less). I should say right off the bat that I don’t “look after PR for Languedoc-Roussillon” but I do rub shoulders with those who do, including the CIVR whose collective brains I picked before I answered you. The French word “grenat” when used as an adjective means “garnet”, it’s used to describe the robe (colour) of a wine. But you will also find the word used as part of the designation Rivesaltes Grenat, which refers to a specific, offically-recognised style of wine. Your question was “so when a Rivesaltes is called Grenat – is the word referring to the fact it’s made from Grenache or the colour?” My answer was “Technically, neither (or partly, both): the word Grenat in this instance is part of the official designation (AOP Rivesaltes Grenat) and it refers to the way the wine is made:

    1. from a minimum of 75% Grenache Noir
    2. without exposure to air (ie. reductively)
    3. minimum 3 months in bottle

    In this specific instance, we’re talking about Rivesaltes Grenat, which is one of the four official styles of Rivesaltes wine. So you will find wines that follow certain rules and regulations (see above) which are labelled AOP Rivesaltes Grenat (and similarly, from 2012, there is a designation known as Maury Grenat – along with Maury Ambré and Maury Tuilé.

    But as you know, winemakers also give their wines names (like “Petite Sibérie” or “cuvée Maria” or “Grenat Noble”) and in that last example, if I’ve understood your Vacqueyras example correctly, they are using the word “grenat” as part of the name of the wine (imagine they’d called it Noble Garnet, or Royal Purple, or King’s Blush). I hope that’s made things clearer. A bit. All the best, Louise

  2. So now we know why we’ve never caught bilharzia!

    The Sediment Blog

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