Single Vineyard wines give Grenache a Boost

In the Barossa Valley two weeks ago, it was surprising how many vineyards had fruit still hanging on now-dormant vines. The autumnal rusty-coloured leaves had mostly fallen, leaving great dark masses of shrivelled fruit exposed in the centre of each vine. A rare sight, as we’re used to seeing just woody trunks and a tousled mass of canes in winter, as the pruners slowly make their painstaking journey from one end of the paddock to the other.

Most of these grapes were probably grenache. It was a shocker year for this variety in the Barossa. Abnormally high yields on the grenache vines coincided with the wettest and most diseased vintage since 1974. The upshot was that even those who were able to harvest clean, rot-free grapes found the flavour so dilute that it was doubtful even for making rose.

That’s the bad news. Not much grenache dry red from the Barossa in 2011. The good news is that there are more great grenache dry reds being produced in South Australia than ever. More wineries are issuing special bottlings than ever. These are usually limited quantity, often single vineyard, single sub-region or old-vine selections. They’re sometimes expensive (Teusner’s new Righteous range (tastings) is $130 a bottle; Chateau Tanunda‘s The Everest tastings is $160) but not always – St Hallett‘s new ’09 Moppa Hills Old Vine Grenache is $40 (tastings).

Often they’re only available at cellar door, which is adding new excitement to visiting the wineries. I spent a most enjoyable hour in Yalumba’s tasting room, nursing, among others, a glass each of ’06 Vine Vale Single Site Grenache (tastings) and ’06 Moppa Single Site Grenache (tastings both $55 and both great wines).

The 2011 harvest notwithstanding, it seems grenache’s time has finally come. Last year, following an international grenache symposium in the Southern Rhone, which I was fortunate to attend, some initiatives kicked off to promote this sadly under-promoted grape, most notably International Grenache Day, which comes around again on Friday September 23. Last year, several wineries, notably d’Arenberg (tastings), which is perhaps Australia’s most grenache-fixated winery, had special tastings and events based around grenache. Information on world events is at www.grenachesymposium.com.

Grenache suits Australia and especially our hotter, drier regions like Barossa and McLaren Vale. It is a natural for those regions. It loves heat and gets by without irrigation better than most varieties. It’s one of the few grapes whose future looks good in a world of global warming. As long as the alcohol can be controlled (and there are still rather a lot of ‘hot’-tasting wines north of 15 per cent alcohol), grenache is a deliciously easy-drinking wine which does in hot regions what pinot noir does in cold – at a much lower average price. This is mainly because its tannins are so soft, and its glycerol is high, both contributing to its slurpy, swiggable mouth-feel.

While at Yalumba, I was also impressed at the value-for-money of their regular Bush Vine Barossa Grenache (tastings the ’09 is $22), which is delicious right now. There’s also a range of styles: yet another Yalumba bottling was the ’05 Habermann Vineyard Single Site Bethany Grenache (tastings also $55, at cellar door only). This is a lighter coloured and weighted, spicy/earthy style compared to the wines mentioned earlier. Charles Melton‘s ’06 Richelieu Grenache (tastings $56.90 cellar door) is cast in a similar mould. At the opposite end of the style spectrum is Teusner’s ’09 Righteous Grenache (tastings), which is a whopper. Surprisingly deep-coloured, it’s a riot of strawberry, raspberry, spicy fruit with a lick of oak and a heap of power – much of it coming from alcohol (the label admits to 15 per cent). I really liked the elegance and restraint of St Hallett’s Moppa Old Vine – its label declares a mere 13.5 per cent alcohol.

From McLaren Vale, Stephen Pannell’s ’09 S.C. Pannell Grenache ($60 tasting; 14.5 per cent) is a terrifically concentrated wine at the juicy, almost confectionery end of the flavour spectrum. It may be just too much of a good thing for some tasters, and I suspect a few years in the cellar will add layers of interest to it. Back in the Barossa, I’ve also liked Cirillo wines, the latest being The Vincent Grenache ’09 ($25 tastings) – very good value in a bold, spicy/herbal softly-textured style.

The Clare Valley is not as renowned for grenache but can also excel. Hard to beat from my recent tastings is Claymore Grenache Mataro Shiraz ’09 (tastings), a very expressive and full-bodied red with aromas of violets, mint, spices and berries in a powerful and rather tannic style which is almost unbelievably good value at a paltry $18 (14.5 per cent alcohol).

Then of course we have the blends, which can be grenache-dominant, shiraz-dominant or whatever, incorporating mourvedre/mataro/monastrell and sundry other varieties. The grenache-based wines, loosely termed GSMs, are lightest and fruitiest; Kaesler’s cheekily-named Avignon ’08 is a GSM (tastings) and just $30 for an excellent wine – very chocolaty and not light-on at 15 per cent alcohol.

The shiraz-led blends are the darkest and most structured, none better than John Duval‘s Plexus Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre ’09 ($39 tastings; 14.5 per cent). A beautifully balanced and flavoured red wine made by a master.

Until now, most of the world’s grenache has appeared in blends like Cotes du Rhone, which is why grenache itself is relatively little-known. I hope the new wave of single-vineyard and sub-regional bottlings will help rectify the situation.


First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Living – 28 June 2011.

 

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