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19 June 2011

Australia: Grenache

In keeping with my self-confessed ‘Mediterranean’ theme, and confronted with an enormous amount of Australian wines up for tasting at the London International Wine Fair last month, I decided to seek out that seductive favourite, Grenache. I tend to disagree, by the way, with those who insist on calling Grenache and associated grapes “Rhone varieties.” Okay, Syrah, yes; and there is a lot of Grenache planted in the southern Rhone Valley. But let’s not forget it’s a Spanish variety, Garnacha, and very Med in origin. Ditto Mourvèdre / Monastrell / Mataro, which definitely isn’t a Rhone variety although did, of course, also migrate further north in Europe and overseas.
Back to Australia and Grenache, there’s some history here with a handful of producers who can boast plantings of some really old vines. As you’ll see from the first wine below, Barossa-based Yalumba uses a labelling charter to classify that rather vague term ‘old-vine,’ which is being adopted by other wineries in the region. So, “Old Vine” = 35+ years of age, “Survivor Vine” = 70+ years, “Centurion Vine” = 100+ and “Ancestor Vine” = over 125 years old! All of the Grenache and Grenache blends I found on show come from Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia, which is probably part history and part climate/soils.
It’s believed the first vines were planted in or near Barossa in 1842 and, fittingly for my theme here, the word comes from the Barrosa Ridge in Andalusia, Spain; although these winegrowing settlers weren’t Spanish but German (from Silesia) and English. This area is still phylloxera-free hence how plots have survived as knotted old bush vines on their own roots. However, there’s only about 700 hectares (1750 acres) of Grenache in Barossa vs almost 6000 Shiraz, which has accelerated dramatically in the last 20 years. And there's about 400 ha of Grenache in McLaren, which was established around the same time and is a smaller region than Barossa. Grenache champions such as Chester Osborn (pictured top) of the d’Arenberg family winery have been restoring abandoned vineyards and have some 100+ year-old Grenache.
I say blends as, in general, the best/most successful wines (and the majority) I tried were in fact Grenache with Syrah/Shiraz and/or Mourvèdre or sometimes other combos such as Tempranillo, Carignan, Cinsault. Which reflects the French, Spanish or Californian experience, except for the occasional sensational 100% Grenache you discover here and there; but that’s not usually the norm. It’s a tidy balancing act to create something that’s rich, full of sunshine, rounded yet chunky without being too big, heady or ‘jammy’. Either way, straight or blended, in the right spot and the right hands, Grenache certainly can be transformed into exciting red wines. Here’s a couple of dozen from Australia… and there’s one rosé too...

2009 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache, Barossa “certified old vine” (14.5% alc.) – not much nose, lightly peppery and sweet fruit, almost a bit ‘dusty’ (?); punchy mouth-feel vs soft tannins; lacks a bit of depth though vs alcohol. 1
2006 Yalumba Single Site Grenache; Moppa, Barossa (14%) – touch of vanilla oak vs maturing spicy liquorice notes, more savoury on the finish; powerful vs soft and mature texture, a tad more elegant although stills lacks a bit of concentration. 1
2006 Yalumba Single Site Grenache; Vine Vale, Barossa (14%) – a touch richer and chunkier with firmer structure vs nice ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit, again it’s maturing and soft with better integrated alcohol. 2
2009 Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache, McLaren Vale (15%) – perfumed and spicy, soft-ish with meaty edges and liquorice / coffee notes, touch of firm structure and punch to finish. 1
2009 Chapel Hill Mourvèdre, McLaren Vale (15%) – aromatic dark cherry and black olive, spicy and punchy with grippier palate; still quite tight and fresh/firm on the finish vs attractive sweet blackberry fruit. 2
2008 Paxton AAA Shiraz/Grenache, McLaren (14.5%) – 70% of the former: herbal minty dark cherry with sweeter lusher liquorice side, powerful yet has nice soft texture vs a touch of grip. 1-2 (£14)
2009 McGuigan The Shortlist Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre (GSM); Lyndoch, Barossa (14%) – rich and spicy black-fruit cocktail with liquorice and dark olive tones, nice grip vs ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit; well-made blend. 2 (£15 Majestic)
2009 Willunga 100 The Tithing Grenache, McLaren (14.5%) – has more Grenache character with sweet and juicy fruit vs chunkier firmer side, liquorice vs peppery with subtle oak backdrop, rich soft finish vs dry coating. 2 (Liberty Wines)
2010 Willunga 100 Grenache, McLaren (14.5%) – shows more oak adding chocolate and blackberry, nice fruit vs grip with lively finish. 1-2 (Liberty Wines)
2009 Peter Lehmann Shiraz/Grenache, Barossa (14.5%) – rich dark berry and pepper, savoury side too vs minty and wilder tones, attractive tannins vs sweet black fruit. 2
2009 Peter Lehmann Layers (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Tempranillo), Barossa (14.5%) – more herbal berry on the nose, firmer mouth-feel vs enticing ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit and peppery punchy side; maturing vs spicy finish, quite long and powerful. 2
2008 Peter Lehmann Barossa Brunette (75% Grenache, 25 Shiraz; 14.5% alc.) – attractive sweet fruit with savoury edges, punchy and fairly firm vs lush fruit and tannins; showing a nice touch of age and interesting style. 2-3
2009 d’Arenberg The Stump Jump (GSM), McLaren (14%) – nice sweet berry and spice on the nose, quite soft vs a hint of grip, lacks a bit of depth though. 1 (slurp.com)
2008 d’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache, McLaren (14.5%) – fuller style, nice savoury edges and sweet maturing berry with liquorice and raisin notes, oomph to finish. 1-2 (Majestic)
2008 d’Arenberg The Cadenzia (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, Cinsault), McLaren (14.5%) – livelier berry fruit, peppery too and quite subtle actually with appealing grip vs sweet tannins, enticing savoury coffee notes on the finish that wears the 14.5 well. 2 (slurp.com)
2007 d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings (GSM), McLaren (15%) – more obvious oak to start but it’s set on a sweet black fruit and ‘tar’ background; concentrated and peppery, still youthful actually with tight vs tasty maturing finish, again that 15% is well-integrated. 2-3 (Waitrose)
2009 Rosemount Grenache/Shiraz, SE Australia (13.5%) – nice juicy fruity blackberry style with touches of olive and savoury meaty too, soft vs dry finish; attractive easy going wine. 1
2009 Jacob’s Creek Grenache/Shiraz, SE Australia (14%) – appealing sweet liquorice fruit style, soft tannins, attractive and tasty now. £7.59
2009 S.C. Pannell Grenache, McLaren (14.5%) – rich spicy nose with meaty leather tones, concentrated and ‘oxidative’ style, still firm vs developing ‘sweet/savoury’ fruit. 2-3 (Liberty Wines)
2010 Charles Melton Rose of Virginia, Barossa (50% Grenache + Cab Sauv and others, 13% alc.) – deep colour and chunky fruit, vibrant and juicy vs creamy cherry; crisper finish, nice Med style rosé. 1+ (Liberty Wines)
2008 John Duval Wines Plexus (SGM), Barossa (14.5%) – hint of sweet oak vs vibrant black cherry, wilder spicier side too with liquorice and ‘tar’ vs savoury maturing fruit, punchy structured finish still. 2-3 (Liberty Wines)
2009 Torbreck Cuvée Juveniles GSM, Barossa (14.5%) – lovely maturing and pure sweet berry nose with hints of ‘tar’ and meaty edges, spicy berries vs ‘sweet/savoury’ profile then a touch of grip and bite to finish. 2
2008 Torbreck The Steading GSM, Barossa (15%) – again has that attractive ripe sweet side vs more structured palate, the alcohol’s a bit punchy vs maturing fruit finish. 1

Lots more Australia in the archive (top Chardy, Riesling & Shiraz etc.) and click here to view several hot Oz winemaker profiles: Yabby, Wakefield, St Hallett, Pirie, Mitchelton, Knappstein, Greenstone, Clonakilla, Paxton, Petaluma, Lehmann and more...

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.