Giles Cooke MW’s grenache mission

Giles Cooke (pictured), a master of wine, has the title of Thistledown’s co-founder and winemaker. (Photo: The Buyer website)

Giles Cooke MW is the man behind Thistledown, a brand which specialises in South Australian grenache. A Scotsman, living in England, he works for a company called Alliance Wine. Alliance is unusual in that it imports and distributes but also produces wines in various countries, including France, Chile and Spain. Vertical integration, if you like.

Cooke, a Master of Wine, has the title of Thistledown’s co-founder and winemaker. He travels to Australian several times a year for the vintage and for other critical operations such as blending and bottling. The wines are made at Peter Leske’s highly regarded Adelaide Hills contract winemaking company, Revenir.

Being a specialist in grenache and shiraz, Thistledown’s grapes mostly come from McLaren Vale, where Cooke is continually seeking to add to his list of supplier vineyards. He already has some of the region’s best growers selling him grapes from a range of subregions but most importantly Blewitt Springs.

The Thistledown wines have been impressing me more and more, the 2017 vintage especially hitting the heights. Among the ’17 grenaches, Sands of Time Old Vine Blewitt Springs, The Vagabond Old Vine, also from Blewitt Springs, Schuller Road Blewitt Springs, and She’s Electric Old Vine Single Vineyard are all stylish, beautifully made wines that enshrine the youthful purity of grenache fruit. They are released young, and often seem a touch straightforward at the expense of pristine, pure grapiness, but that is no bad thing and they do seem to have the potential to develop more complexity with time.

Some of them are partially whole-bunch fermented and this brings another dimension. Australian grenache is quickly becoming fashionable (for the first time ever!) and winemakers are applying various techniques such as whole-berry, whole bunch and stalk inclusion – in much the same way they do with pinot noir. This also applies to Thistledown.

The philosophy is to makes wines of ‘subtlety, texture and detail’ – wines suited to complement rather than overwhelm fine food.

Cooke also makes an array of Barossa and Langhorne Creek shirazes and a very fine Adelaide Hills chardonnay, named Suilven.

His partner and fellow founder of Thistledown is a fellow Master of Wine Fergal Tynan. Tynan, an Irishman, is the chief executive of Alliance Wine.

One of their stated aims is to bring a Celtic spin to Australian grapes, and to take great Aussie grenache to the world. Not a bad goal.

While the main thrust of Thistledown’s effort is the UK market, the wines are available in Australia, through Fesq & Co in the eastern states, Chace Agencies in SA and Claret & Co in WA.

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