Yangarra \ McLaren Vale
It’s time to talk grenache, a great grape for winter. After a stuttering start in Australia, grenache is finally starting to gain popularity and recognition for what it is – a bloody good drink.
Grenache and its traditional Rhône Valley blending partners shiraz and mourvèdre have played a big part in turning several of my friends and family into wine lovers, especially when it comes to reds. When made well, grenache’s soft tannins and raspberry, plum and spice flavours can really captivate.
Last spring, I ventured over to the vineyards of Yangarra, home to one of McLaren Vale’s largest plantings of the grape.
The old bush vines had just sprung to life; small, green buds of leaves were poking through the twisted black branches that reached out from the sandy soils like gnarled hands.
The drive through the old bush vines with winemaker Peter Fraser was made even more delightful by the kaleidoscope carpet of native flowers growing among the biodynamically farmed vines. I was seduced before we even made it into the winery for a chat and a taste.
“In the grand scheme of wine, grenache captures all sorts of people, from wine geeks to the everyday drinker,” Fraser says.
“When made well it’s just great to drink: nice acidity, great tannins and a great savoury character.”
It has taken a while for us to discover grenache’s charms, and the grape is now going through a renaissance.
“Grenache was a hard sell up to about five years ago. It’s now our easiest wine to sell,” Fraser says.
“I love the heritage of grenache – it’s been a battler; the workhorse that’s come good.”
Grenache was originally planted in Australia because it had good sugar levels and didn’t need a lot of water – an important quality in hot areas.
“Looking back, it was the largest planted variety around here in McLaren Vale – the backbone of fortified wine production and the old South Australian burgundies – but shiraz went on to become the golden child,” Fraser says.
A lot was pulled out during the vine-pull scheme in the 1980s and now it’s quite rare, making up just 2 to 4 per cent of all vines planted in McLaren Vale. Fifty years ago that figure would have been around 50 per cent, maybe even higher.
Grenache, Fraser says, “grows a bit like a weed and doesn’t need great soil or water – but it is a hard grape to manage”. The grapes can act like a chameleon in the winery and, depending on the winemaking, can produce a wide spectrum of styles and flavours.
“Anything you do to the grapes in the winery shows (in the wine),” he says. “Treat it gently and you will get a wine of elegance and finesse. But with those very same grapes, we could make a really big, powerful wine.”
Grenache’s high natural acidity means it’s a wine that can age really well, and Fraser has some advice for anyone who’s thinking about laying some down.
“Jammy, confected lolly characters show a wine that won’t age, but get a wine with red and dark fruits, spice, pepper, tight acidity and good tannin structure and you’ll get one that ages.”
Grenache is a great blender, too – it’s the G in a GSM blend – mixing well with shiraz and mourvèdre. Shiraz brings along the backbone and mourvèdre adds depth to the flavours of the hallmark wines of France’s Côtes du Rhône.
Paxton AAA Shiraz Grenache 2010
(McLaren Vale) $19.99; 14%
A 65/35 per cent split of shiraz and grenache – in that order – this is an interloper in this column about grenache-dominant wines. But it is a wine I’ve enjoyed over several years and a review is long overdue. Aromas of raspberry, cherry, rose petals, cedar oak and earth are replicated on the medium-bodied palate, along with flavours of chocolate-coated liquorice. It’s smooth, with sandy tannins adding texture and grip, and has a high drinkability factor.
Food match \ Lamb rogan josh
Wirra Wirra Original Blend Grenache Shiraz 2011
(McLaren Vale) $24; 14.5%
In 1972 Wirra Wirra released a grenache-shiraz blend from a vineyard opposite the Bethany Chapel. It went on to become the famous Church Block. But here’s a chance to taste the wine in its original format: a simple blend of grenache and shiraz. Rich and earthy – just the thing for winter – this has flavours of blackberry, cherry, earth, blueberry, dried herbs and pepper spice. It’s smooth in the mouth, with soft tannins and vibrant acid carrying dark fruit flavours around the mouth and through to a long finish.
Food match \ Shepherd’s pie
Brash Higgins GR/M 2011
(McLaren Vale) $37; 14.5%
Rather than making two separate wines and joining them to make a blend, former sommelier Brad Hickey hand-picked a mix of 70 per cent grenache and 30 per cent mataro and threw the grapes in to ferment together. The result is a wine of tension and vibrancy that is loaded with bright raspberry, cherry, herb and pepper aromatics. Sandy tannins and linear acidity carry the savoury blackberry, dark cherry, loam and spice flavours through to an intense finish.
Food match \ Pork paella
Yangarra Old Vine Grenache 2011
(McLaren Vale) $28; 13.5%
Made from bush vines planted in 1946 on sandy dunes, this is a wine of charm and some class. Enticing, layered aromas of raspberry, dark cherry, blood plum, spice, white pepper and a hint of cedar oak pave the way to the bright, savoury red-fruit flavours. There’s an intensity here that’s a good match for the grippy tannins and vibrant line of acidity on the palate. This really opened up over a few hours, so give it a bit of time in the decanter before tucking in.
Food match \ Real English cheddar
Love a bargain?
D’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache 2009
(McLaren Vale) $19; 14.5%
D’Arenberg refused to remove its grenache vineyards during the vine-pull scheme in the 1980s and now owns about a third of all McLaren Vale’s grenache vines. This is its entry-level offering. Seductive aromas of raspberry, dark cherry, spice, earth and ironstone lead to bright flavours of sweet (but not confected) red fruits, spice and a hint of leather. Sandy tannins and bright acid provide a good foil for the sweet core of flavour in this good-value wine that finishes with a twist of dried herb.
Food match \ Braised beef short ribs