Great groovy grenaches
Grenache is the grape of the moment, at least in the warmer regions of South Australia. Lighter-bodied, lower-tannin, soft, fruity, early-drinking red wine is in vogue everywhere and is being promoted by a younger generation of winemakers who need to sell their wines young. In places such as the Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Eden Valley and McLaren Vale, where they can’t do much of consequence with pinot noir, astutely produced grenache can perform a similar role.
This year they will have a little more volume, so more wine-lovers can have the pleasure.People like Rob Mack at Aphelion, Janelle Zerk of Z Wine, Stephen Pannell of S.C. Pannell, Alex Head of Head Wines, Andrew Seppelt at Hayes Family Wines, Toby and Emmanuelle Bekkers, Philip Lehmann at St John’s Road, and many others are bringing excitement to grenache and grenache-led Rhône-style blends.
But many of these wines are 2016s and even 2017s, already on the market and already drinking beautifully. The several 2017 Aphelion grenaches are a case in point. Medium-bodied, softly-textured and gorgeously flavoured, they are beautifully made reds crafted to be drunk young.
Pannell, Hayes, Hugo, Thistledown, Jason Schwarz, St John’s Road (‘The Resilient’ Grenache) and Hugh Hamilton with his provocative Agent Provocateur 2017, a grenache blended with three white varieties (gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc and viognier, as well as shiraz) are hitting the bullseye.
The Artisans of Barossa Grenache Project is in many ways the culmination of this obsession. The wines sold out long ago, but the six winemakers who share the Artisans of Barossa cellar door released six 2017 grenaches which demonstrate just how strongly the winemaker’s thumbprint can trump terroir, at least while wine is very young. These six makers all took a row of grenache from the same vineyard, Quarry Hill, in the foothills of Angaston overlooking Light Pass; a 1971 planted vineyard at 300 metres altitude. Each maker brought their own approach to the vinification and maturation, with six fascinatingly different results.
Greg and Alison Hobbs air-dried some of their grapes, further concentrating them before fermentation. Jaysen Collins of Massena left his grapes as 100% whole bunches in a sealed container for five weeks before foot-stomping and pressing into barrels. Jason Schwarz did a carbonic maceration with 100% whole bunches for nine days, then foot-stomped and left them five more days before pressing. Ex-Penfolds chief winemaker John Duval was more conventional, using 20% whole bunches in an open fermenter for eight days, pressing into eight-year-old barrels. Sons of Eden’s Corey Ryan fermented his 100% whole bunches in a ceramic egg and left them there for 65 days (three times as long as his regular grenache). And Pete Schell of Spinifex put half his grapes as destemmed whole-berries into the fermenter first, then the other half on top as whole bunches, pressing the lot after 17 days.
Each treatment yielded a wine that is different from every other wine. All are interesting, several sublime. Full tasting notes are on the website.
This year they will have a little more volume, so more wine-lovers can have the pleasure. The 2018s will be released late this year.