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McLaren Vale Grenache: a deep dive on International Grenache Day

It’s International Grenache Day today.  As readers well know, I’m a huge fan of new wave Australian Grenache, of which McLaren Vale is the mothership.  I’m not sure if ‘moderated’ is the right word, given me and my panel’s immoderate passion for the genre, but check out the video below of a McLaren Vale Grenache webinar, which I moderated yesterday.  Being producers (Willunga 100 & Thistledown), Brit-based importers & Masters of Wine, David Gleave’s and Giles Cooke’s 360 degree take on McLaren Vale Grenache is a truly deep dive!

A diversity of style

Wine Australia arranged for tasting samples of the 12 wines under discussion to be despatched to invitees.  This was a high calibre selection, reflecting the premium positioning of McLaren Grenache, many of which were from a single district, vineyard, block even, allowing this grape’s terroir translucency to shine.  Different picking and winemaking philosophies added to the great diversity of the selection – all points of detailed discussion –  as was Grenache’s vintage expressiveness.

Diversity of expression – McLaren Vale producers, vignerons and growers

Joyous, lifted, intrinsically characterful reds

I reflected on this diversity last year, judging at McLaren Vale Wine Show, which incorporates the (pan-Australian) James Halliday Grenache Challenge.  It strikes me that McLaren Vale Grenache is out-growing its ‘warm climate Pinot Noir’ and, most definitely, its ‘blue collar/poor man’s Pinot” epithets.  They have been useful shorthand to flag the quantum leap from jammy, oaky wines to rather more joyous, lifted, intrinsically characterful reds –  simultaneously smashable and serious.   In future, I’m sure we shall hear more talk of specific vineyards, districts and the range of styles.

Giles Cooke MW – “a perfect vine” – Sue Trott’s vineyard; photo credit Giles Cooke MW

If you would like to taste the wines yourself, below is the list of wines, with UK importers, stockists & recommended retail prices.

Picking up on the reference to Australian Wine Discovered, Wine Australia’s free-to-use education programme, the training and presentation resources on Grenache and blends have just been updated.  Click here to find them.

Sue Trott in her vineyard; photo credit Giles Cooke

James Halliday Grenache Challenge results reinforced

The audience poll at the end of the webinar reflected the diversity of the wines, with a range of favourites.  Reinforcing the results from the James Halliday Grenache Challenge 2019, most votes went to Thistledown Sands of Time Single Vineyard Grenache 2018, from Sue Trott’s acclaimed vineyard on the Blewitt Springs’ district’s deep sandy soils.  Three of the wines shown (4,5,11) featured Trott’s fruit – different blocks, different styles, two varietal, one a blend, which made for an interesting discussion.

Bernard Smart, Clarendon Smart vineyard; phhoto credit Giles Cooke

Teasing apart Blewitt Springs & Clarendon

Another acclaimed vineyard, owned by Bernard Smart, on Clarendon district’s clay soils, similarly featured in three wines (9,10 & 11) – two varietal, one a blend.  Gleave elected to show the 2017, not the 2018 vintage of Willunga 100 because, he said, it takes time to open up.  It was on glorious form, with beguiling musky aromatics.  Thistledown’s This Charming Man Old Vine Single Vineyard Grenache 2018 is also opening up since I last tasted it.  For me, the Clarendon Grenaches’ acid and tannin structure is more immersive in the buoyant fruit, making for elegant wines, whilst the Blewitt Springs’ wines are edgier, especially the sandpapery tannins.

Adapted to heat & drought and ageworthy

It was my first chance to taste the 2019s – a hot, dry year, with heat spikes at vintage.  Fresh fruited, with detail, both wines illustrated how well adapted Grenache is to heat and drought conditions.   It was also my first chance to taste Yangarra Estate High Sands Grenache 2017, which James Halliday awarded 99 points.  Peter Fraser always talks about High Sands’ gritty tannins and, in this cooler year, it has terrific structure.  A wine to cellar – another topic of discussion during our webinar – the ageworthiness of new wave Grenache.

You can find my notes on most of the line up in this feature I wrote for Decanter Premium – McLaren Vale Grenache: Twenty top wines to try .  Click here for my previous posts on McLaren Vale Grenache, with detailed notes on the region, producers and wines.

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