Like many of my generation (BB, that is) I’m transfixed by the recent fashion for retro wines. This is my term for wines made in old-fashioned ways, and I’m not talking of Whitehill beater crushers, hand-cranked basket presses, old oak and forked stalks, à la Rockford winery. I’m talking seriously old: clay amphorae and ceramic eggs for fermenters, white grapes fermented on their skins, reds fermented on their stalks, minimal or zero additions (such as yeast, bacteria, acid, tannin, yeast nutrients, sulfites, etc.), and sustainable viticulture – especially organic or biodynamic.
Grenache is arguably the greatest unknown grape variety of all. It’s France’s most-planted grape variety, but I say ‘unknown’ because until recent times, little or no wine was labeled with the name grenache: in France it all went into blended wines such as Cotes-du-Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In Australia, it was often labeled Burgundy until the laws changed, prohibiting use of French geographic names. These days, it’s still mostly blended, sometimes labeled GSM or grenache shiraz mourvedre; sometimes with a simple brand-name such as Spinifex Papillon (the gorgeous 2014 is mostly grenache with some cinsault). There are a few Australian wines labeled as generic grenache, but the name has little traction with the wine-buying public.
I admit to having something of a love-hate relationship with Torbreck wines. They are expensive, and often taste overripe, over-oaked, over-developed, clumsy and lacking charm. But they’re like the little girl in the children’s rhyme who “When she was good she was very very good, and
The Fairfax debate “That the Barossa is Australia’s greatest wine and food region” was a highly entertaining evening, with speakers ‘for’ the motion being Barossa food legend Maggie Beer and wine writer Nick Stock, and ‘against’, the Herald’s own Joanna Savill and Hunter winemaker Mike
The recent news reports about the drastic effects of global warming on the world’s vineyards had a ring of Armageddon to them. But winegrowers in Australia’s warmer wine regions aren’t planning to sell up and move to Tasmania just yet.
If you think the Barossa Valley is behind the times, is dominated by big factory wineries and makes nothing but overripe, over-oaked, over-alcoholic monster reds, you’d be mistaken. But this is the stereotype some overseas critics seem to harbour. You’d also be wrong to think that global warming was turning the place into an oven – the kind of place that only makes jam. This summer has been a model growing season, with no heat spikes since November, and the best wine quality for many years. The November heatwave resulted in lower yields of chardonnay (not very important in the Barossa) and grenache, but quality is exciting across the board.