Grenache-tastic: Australia Day Tasting highlights 2018
This year I’m presenting Margaret River 50th Anniversary masterclasses at the annual Australia Day Tastings in London, Edinburgh and Dublin, the latter next Monday. In between presenting the London masterclass and attending another focused on rotundone and Shiraz/Syrah (as to which watch this space), I made a beeline for a variety which has been totally tickling by palate for a few years now – Grenache.
You’ll find some top finds below, including new vintages of old friends, others new, new – often thrillingly so! It’s tremendously exciting to see so many different, fine, provocative even, expressions of the grape – how far removed is that from the oft confected and boozy examples of old.
I’ve snuck in notes on a few non-Grenache stablemates which were also hot to trot. My reports on the Margaret River wines, Shiraz/Syrah rotundone masterclass and other top finds to follow.
McLaren Vale Grenache
Aphelion Pressings Grenache 2016 (McLaren Vale)
Husband and wife team Rob & Louise Mack fashioned four different Grenaches from just 1.2t of grapes hand picked from 80 year old single vineyard bush vines in Blewitt Springs. Pressings is fresh and crunchy, with a tongue-twisting swirl of juicy red fruits, more tactile pomegranate and tart rhubarb. Undertones of catering chocolate and forest floor, with a fine mesh of tannins. Lovely energy. 14.5% Incidentally, Aphelion Sagrantino 2015 is also worth seeking out. Like the Grenache, it has a spring in its step – a certainly levity and pronounced freshness. Not one to let its (iron filing tannins) hold it back. Sappy with anise/coltsfoot to its blackberry fruit. 14.5% apiece.
Aphelion Berry Grenache 2016 (McLaren Vale)
The grapes were de-stemmed and fermented to dryness as whole berries. Free run juice from this ferment was then matured for 9 months in neutral French barriques prior to bottling in December 2016. Unfined & unfiltered. Lovely delicate spice and florals to its red cherry fruit, with good, crunchy acidity and ripe but present, fine tannins. Tasted in September 2017 and, like Pressings, imported by The Knotted Vine.
Aphelion Bunch Grenache 2016 (McLaren Vale)
Made from 100% whole bunches of foot trodden Grenache fermented together on skins, seeds and stems. The free run juice was run off into neutral oak. As you would expect, more savoury than Berry with pronounced Imperial Leather spice, a herbaceous rasp and turkish delight/rose petal florals. Tasted in September 2017. (In case you are wondering, the fourth cuvee was a blend of Bunch, Berry and Pressings).
Thistledown The Vagabond Grenache 2016 (McLaren Vale)
I reviewed this wine last April (here) and my notes are super-consistent. All Blewitt Springs, from an aged bush vine vineyard on sandy soils at 300m. Wild fermented, unfined and unfiltered, the grapes underwent a “passive, layered, 35% whole bunch maceration” in concrete egg, spending a total of 4 weeks on skins. Winemaking which accentuates this sub-region’s firm but lifted style. Lovely purity, freshness and focus of crunchy redcurrant and pomegranate fruit, with fine florals. Pared back and pretty with a pithy backbone of (skin contact) fine tannins. Comes in at a lightly worn 14.5%
Thistledown ‘She’s Electric’ Grenache 2016 (McLaren Vale)
The story behind this wine reminded me of a rather more tragic, improbable incident – a case I studied at law school about causation. Man takes fireworks on train, drops them, fireworks ignite, hitting and felling a clock over the platform, which fells and kills a man. In this case, a bird which caught fire on a power cable fell to earth, igniting an old vineyard below, half of which was lost in the ensuing conflagration. This wine comes from the surviving 60-70 year old vines on Jackal Hill Road in the Seaview sub-region on sandy loams, ironstone and quartz. Also located at 300m this, together with early picked fruit and 50% whole bunch, makes for a good freshness to its scented red berry and sour red cherry fruit. Compared with Vagabond, Electric Chair has greater texture and layer – a little more crackle and bandwidth. Savouriness too, with tang and toasty resonance (a bit of v.a., said Thistledown’s co-founder/winemaker Giles Cooke MW). A really intriguing (in a good way) Grenache, with a dynamic mouthfeel and savoury anise/five spice intensity. It was naturally open-fermented, with some foot treading then twice daily punch downs, spending three weeks on skins in total. This unfined/unfiltered Grenache was aged in 300l hogsheads, 25% new. No fining or filtration. 13.5%
Thistledown Advance Release Schuller Road Vineyard Grenache 2016 (McLaren Vale)
The Advance Release wines (new in 2017) were inspired by Californian producer Ridge’s Advanced Tasting Programme wines. For Cook, they “provide the opportunity to bring to the market small quantities of wines made from vineyards that we are trialling….each year we trial at least a couple of new sites with a view to either making a single vineyard wine or for them to become a component of another existing wine. The idea being that each year we will have a small number of Advance Release wines, but they are unlikely to be repeated.” From Blewitt Springs, this 400 bottle release comes from an 80 year old dry grown vineyard on classic sandy soils at a lower elevation than Vagabond – 200m. It’s quite different, as was the winemaking. The grapes were de-stemmed, wild fermented in open stainless steel vats where they spent 15 days on skins; it was bottled unfined and unfiltered. Schuller Road sports juicy black cherry and berry fruit with anise and clove spices. Fresh and sappy going through. 14.5%
Thistledown Advance Release Smart Vineyard Grenache 2016 (McLaren Vale)
This Grenache underwent pretty much the same winemaking as Schuller Road, but spent 16 days on skins. But it’s from another sub-region – Clarendon on clay loam, quartz and ironstone. It’s a denser fruited wine, with deep seated black and red fruits. Cooke told me the vineyard “looks a big smug”, with a big canopy and dense fruit. Elevation of 260m brings succulence to its supple palate. 14%
Bekkers Grenache 2015 (McLaren Vale)
I’ve been mighty impressed by viticulturist and winemaking couple Toby & Emmanuelle Bekkers’ wines since I first tasted them during a visit in 2015. So I’m very happy to be showing their Grenache (2014 vintage) at a Prowein masterclass for the McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association in March. The 2015 is similarly a blend of dry grown Grenache from 1930s’ plantings, both at around 100m, in Blewitt Springs (sandy soils) and close to McLaren Vale township (clay, sand & gravel). Wild fermented with 20% whole bunches, the wine was aged in 500l seasoned French oak barrels. The first vintage I tasted – the 2013 – came solely from the latter vineyard and was possessed of plusher fruit and tannins. The Blewitt Springs’ component really alters the tannin structure, lending a tactile feel and, though it still comes in at 15%, a heightened sense of freshness to the palate, especially on day one. It’s pale – a bright ruby hue, youthfully pink at the edges, with a subtle catering chocolate edge (a character I often find in Pinot Noirs) and pronounced florals (violets/lavender) to the nose. I tasted this sample at home and, on day one, it had a firmness, even a tartness, to its raspberry fruit and fine but textural underlay of sandpapery tannins. On day two, it had unfurled to reveal more opulent fruit – kirsch, plum and blackberry, the acidity now more integrated, insinuating even. A lovely cherry lips note to the finish lends a gentle medicinal/dried herbs note. Lots of complexity; still youthful. Takes you on a journey. 15%
Wirra Wirra ‘The Absconder’ Grenache 2016 (McLaren Vale)
I’ll be showing this very Grenache at the Prowein masterclass. It’s a favourite. Really classy, long in the mouth, with nice energy and tension to its crunchy red currant and suppler, sweeter red cherry fruit and complexing Imperial Leather spices. Fine, sandpapery tannins underpin a long finish. 14.5%
Ashton Hills Piccadilly Valley Pinot Noir 2016 (Adelaide Hills)
If the aforementioned Grenaches fall into the ‘warm climate/blue collar’ Pinot Noir camp, Wirra Wirra’s 2015 acquisition of Ashtons Hills enables it to indulge lovers of cool climate Pinot Noir too. I’ve rarely tasted it – only in Australia, but it’s good to see this impressive example of Adelaide Hills Pinot over here. Founded in 1982 by Stephen George, the three hectare dry farmed vineyard at 570m produces Pinots with substance and elegance. Sourced from the estate and two other Piccadilly vineyards, this multi-clonal Pinot was wild fermented with some whole bunch, pressed and filled to seasoned French oak with full solids/lees, where it aged for 10 months. It’s pale, with a deliciously textural, slinky palate with ripe red berry and cherry fruits and pronounced savoury layers of forest floor, mushroom, chinato/pine needle and catering chocolate. Savoury and intense. 14.5%
Ashton Hills Estate Pinot Noir 2016 (Adelaide Hills)
Pale with greater intensity and definition to its red cherry and berry fruits; more structured tannins too (this wine sees c. 20% new oak and is a selection of best clones from the estate). Going through it reveals chinato dried herb lift, mushroom and wet earth notes. Substantial, but very broachable. Very good. 14.5%
Thistledown Thorny Devil Grenache 2016 (Barossa Valley)
Vivid, juicy, intense fruit, with a creamy palate and immersive tannins which gently build on the finish, lending nice structure. Not the edginess of the Vagabond Grenache from McLaren Vale. More generous. 14.5%
Cirillo Estate 1850 Grenache 2012 (Barossa Valley)
From a very aged (1850) vineyard on very sandy soils (more details here about Cirillo Estate and this wine), this has some of the granular tannin mouthfeel – sandpaperiness – of Blewitt Springs Grenache from sandy soils. But the palate is tauter, articulating the Barossa’s continental climate. Firm red fruited, very focused and tight with a lick dried herbs around the edges. Needs time, which is Marco Cirillo’s game plan – he keeps back a proportion each year for release at 10 years old. 14%
David Franz Grenache Noir 2015 (Barossa Valley)
Grenache Noir because, says Franz, this is about “a quest to capture ‘Burgophile’ sensibilities.” Thirty per cent of the fruit from the 1923-planted Stonewell Hill vineyard on light sandy loam was whole bunch fermented, hand plunged and, after an extended time on skins, aged in seasoned oak for 12 months. It’s a pale, bright hue with a certain crunchiness to the fruit but the overwhelming impression is of savouriness, with medicinal/chinato dried herbs and a markedly different tannin structure from the other Grenaches which put me in mind of Steven Pannell comparing Nebbiolo tannins to wet cement. Cool/wet and gently textural. Intriguing stuff. 13.5%
Turkey Flat Grenache 2014 (Barossa Valley)
Predominantly sourced from 98 year old Grenache vines grown on the Turkey Flat Vineyard. Importers Mentzendorff showed this vintage at ADT and the first four words of my notes replicate what I said about the Jimmy Watson Trophy winning 2016 vintage which I tasted in September, that is to say: very chinato, dried herbs. The ’14 shows juicy red currant and cherry fruit with an almost aromatised, exotic orange peel and liquorice character. Great appeal for the Negroni lover. 14.5%
Turkey Flat Grenache 2016 (Barossa Valley)
As for the 2016, so you know how that starts – very chinato, dried herbs. Notes which follow through on a bouncy palate with carbonic peony lift/buoyancy, sour cherry, a wild, gamy hint and savoury finish with a kick of spiritous alcohol. The wine was fermented with 15% whole bunch with half the remaining stems also included in the ferment. Maturation took place in a combination of neutral oak foudre and 20% second-use Burgundian barrels for 12 months. 15%
Bethany Old Vine Grenache 2016 (Barossa Valley)
Tasted last September, this scooped the Barossa Wine of Show trophy highlighting a growing appreciation down under for lighter, aromatic reds. It is a blend of three vineyards, ranging from around 60-100 years old on sandy soils. Again, it’s in a more savoury aromatic mold – not the fruit purity that you see in McLaren Vale, with a touch of creamy milk chocolate and gentle chinato to the finish. The fruit was crushed and destemmed immediately after the morning harvest. Fermentation on skins using a selected yeast type occurred for 8-9 days at 20-25 degrees to maximise colour and flavour extraction. It was aged in seasoned oak, 4% new French oak and stainless steel. 14.7%
Gorgeous Old Vine Small Batch Grenache 2017 (Riverland)
Heading north of the Barossa, this Grenache comes from 50 year old Riverland vines. Cooke and his winemaker partner, Fergal Tynan MW, are hunting down old vine material in the Riverland with Ashley Ratcliffe of Ricca Terra farm, who is consulting for Thistledown, mapping out the old vine plots and helping manage the growers and harvest. Cooke told me “[O]ur intention is to try and provide an incentive for the oldest plots in the Riverland to be kept in the ground whilst providing the growers with a more sustainable income from that fruit. In return we get genuinely old vine fruit (35 years or older) that we process in the Adelaide Hills using many of the same techniques as we use for the premium fruit of McLaren Vale and Barossa. This allows us to produce wines made in the same, delicious Pinot like style but at a more affordable price which hopefully brings more people in to the Grenache category, some of whom will also want to try our more premium offerings.” Gorgeous Grenache comes from a 50 year old vineyard in Berri. Though pale, it’s fruitier than its colour suggests, with buoyant but not sweet berry and cherry fruit thanks to 30% whole bunch ferment, wild ferment and ageing in seasoned oak. This smart buy (bottled unfined and unfiltered) is destined for Marks & Spencer (expected to arrive in April), where I’m told it will cost around a tenner – super-reasonable. Incidentally, in 2018 Thistledown are extending this Riverland programme to include old vine Shiraz and Mataro.
La Violetta Bilingüe GSM & Bekkers Syrah 2015 (Great Southern)
Intense hue, with a bright, urgent even, burst of bacon-edged juicy red and black berry fruit on the attack. In a hurry to make an impression so it seems, or maybe it’s just fluid and relatively skinny/lacking flesh for a GSM? But then spice and savoury layers take hold, together with sinewy tannins, anchoring and amplifying the flavours, taking up space, on a lingering finish with a lick of medicinal herbs, saddle soap and deep-seated pepper and anise spice. If it sounds disjointed it’s not. Andrew Hoadley is a dab hand at pulling off such sleights of winemaking hand. His latest, typically playful release of La Violetta Ü (rock dots) Geuwrtztraminer Riesling Grauburgunder 2017 toyed deliciously with the palate too with fleshy but easy-going, succulent fruit, bacon fat, pepper and crème caramel nuances. 13.5% & 12.5% respectively.
Hentley Farm The Stray Mongrel Grenache Shiraz Zinfandel 2016 (Barossa Valley)
This wine has just a splash of Zinfandel, but it certainly differentiates it from the more ubiquitous GSM. Where Mourvedre brings a sinew, savouriness and spice, the Zin ratchets up the fruit and flesh. A plush palate reveals velvety black berry and cherry fruit with raspberry, juicy plum and chocolate. Nice persistence, with some savoury oak on the finish. 14%
Bekkers Syrah Grenache 2015 (McLaren Vale)
A deeper hue than the straight Grenache with Shiraz earthy, pepperiness, blackberry and sweet plum. Like the Grenache, it really opens up on day two, revealing liquorice-edged swathes of blackberry fruit, with a hint of mocha oak. Striated tannins (30% whole bunch) are interwoven with fruit and acid, making for an animated, textural, bright, fresh palate. Uber drinkable.