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Wine

Into the wild: Grenache

On top of a small hill in a small town in the south of France sits a ruined medieval castle. Dating back to the 14th century, it was built for Pope John XXII. The name of this town is Chateauneuf du Pape. Get it?

But the papacy wasn’t just responsible for the castle, they also planted vineyards in the area, presumably to fill the sacramental goblets, and the town is now a world famous wine destination.

The high quality Chateauneuf du Pape red wines are some of the most expensive in the world and while there are up to nine red wine varieties officially allowed to be used in Chateauneuf du Pape, the most common is Grenache.

One of the reasons for the prevalence of Grenache in this southern French region is the climate. Grenache loves the heat and in Chateauneuf du Pape, the stones that are common in the vineyard soils heat up during the day, then at night-time the heat slowly disperses, preventing the vines from getting too cold. The vines are also virtually free from pesticides as the prevailing Mistral wind prevents rot and fungal attack.

While the history of Grenache in Australia is a few hundred years shorter, we can put our success with the variety down to weather and a lack of bugs too. You’ll find most of our plantings in the McLaren Vale and Barossa regions where the Mediterranean-style climate of warm summers and mild winters helps Grenache feel at home.

“It’s also a variety that responds well to vine age,” explains Giles Cooke MW, winemaker and founder of Thistledown Wines. “As the vine ages, it is able to produce grapes that are fully ripe at lower potential alcohol levels than younger vines that tend to push a lot of energy into sugar production.”

“But what’s that got to do with bugs?” I hear you ask. Giles has the answer: “Australia has some of the best old vine resources in the world due to the lack of phylloxera (an aphid-like insect that’s wreaked havoc in vineyards throughout the world).”

Its lovely old gnarly look is part of what makes Grenache vines recognisable, but also have another distinct feature. While most grape varieties need a trellis to keep them off the ground, Grenache tends to grow upright and therefore it’s ideally suited to being grown as a bush vine. So it’s old, gnarly and wild.

While bush vines are more labour intensive in that they have to be hand pruned, they have certain advantages, especially in Australia. These untamed beasts are drought resistant and can control their yield so that in a dry year they’ll produce fewer grapes than in a wet year. What’s more, their roots penetrate deep into the earth where they find water and rich nutrients.

So if Grenache is so perfectly suited to Australia’s Mediterranean-style regions and we have some of the world’s oldest vines, why haven’t you heard more about it? Giles again: “Outside of Rhone and certain parts of Spain (Catalunya) it has been a workhorse variety capable of producing large quantities of highly alcoholic reds and Rosés. In Australia, its potential to make highly alcoholic wines lent it to fortification and so it was often anonymous.”

Justin Ardill, winemaker at Reillys Wines also adds, “Historically, wines were labelled as per their style, rather than the grape varietal and since Grenache was used to create Australian Burgundy, the market is more familiar with the term ‘Burgundy’ than ‘Grenache.’”

The tasting

It’s possible then, if you’re of a certain vintage, that you’ve tried Grenache without even knowing it. But if you’ve never tried Grenache or would like to learn more about it, the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel has taken the legwork out of finding the best examples with the latest State of Play tasting.

In the top 30 wines, you’ll find the majority come from McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley. There are a couple of Clare Valley wines, a McLaren Vale/Hunter/Orange blend, one from Nagambie Lakes and even one from WA’s Ferguson Valley.

Another thing to note is that there are more blends than straight varieties. Grenache is commonly blended with Shiraz and Mourvedre (Mataro) to make GSM, but you’ll also find it with Merlot, Malbec and even the Portuguese variety, Touriga.  

The predominance of blends was also the case when the Panel last did a Grenache tasting back in 2009 and Christian Gaffey had this explanation, “Blends are often more complete wines, more thought goes into the blend or perhaps the varieties are more complementary.”

Winemaker Damian Hutton, whose Iron Cloud Purple Patch GSM is in the top 30, agrees on the point of the complementary appeal. “Grenache adds beautiful characteristics to the wines it’s blended with. In the Purple Patch GSM, Grenache contributes its classic bright, cherry and raspberry flavours. Shiraz provides structure, spice, and plum flavours. The addition of Mourvedre completes the blend with added structure and depth.”

Straight talking

There are staunch advocates for keeping Grenache straight, though. Ben Riggs, whose Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache was a highlight of the tasting, says, “Our personal philosophy is to express pure Grenache. As a single varietal wine it expresses much more sense of place.”

On this point, winemaker Troy Kalleske agrees. “I think Grenache is extremely expressive of time and place. Grenache character can vary a lot from year to year depending on season and it expresses differently in different soils. So you never really know what you’re are going to get, and that’s enjoyable!”

What you are guaranteed to get is an extremely food-friendly red. As Ben explains, “Grenache pairs beautifully rather than overpowers, it amplifies the flavours of the food, rather than being overbearing with its own flavours.”

Damian and Troy add that the soft tannins contribute to its food-matching potential and they both recommend it with duck with bok choy. Justin agrees that Asian-style dishes work, but adds, “Grenache is also fantastic with barbecued meats, particularly charred meats as found in Greek souvlaki, yiros and roasted lamb. For Giles, “When chilled, a young Grenache is great with fish.”

It makes me wonder if Pope John had a favourite food match for his Chateauneuf du Pape. I am guessing it was divine.

Top 30 Grenache and Grenache blends (March 2016)

Thistledown The Vagabond Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $40)

S.C. Pannell Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2014 (McLaren Vale, $30)

Teusner Joshua Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2015 (Barossa, $35)

Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache 2013 (McLaren Vale, $27)

St John’s Road Motley Bunch Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2013 (Barossa, $22)

Henschke Johann’s Garden Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2014 (Barossa, $51)

Z Wines Roman Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $25)

Turkey Flat Vineyards Grenache 2014 (Barossa, $30)

Gomersal Wines Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $17)

IronCloud Rock of Solitude Purple Patch GSM 2014 (Ferguson Valley, $32)

Reillys Wines Old Bush Vine Grenache 2012 (Clare Valley, $25)

Two Hands Brave Faces Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz 2014 (Barossa, $27)

Vinrock Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $30)

Alternatus Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $25)

Landhaus Grenache 2012 (Barossa, $27)

Tim Smith Wines Grenache 2014 (Barossa, $36)

Serafino Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $28)

Doc Adams Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $20)

Handcrafted by Geoff Hardy Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $30)

Hemera Estate Single Vineyard Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $35)

Yalumba The Strapper Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2012 (Barossa, $22)

Kalleske Clarry’s Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2014 (Barossa, $21)

Château Tanunda 1858 Field Blend 150 year old vines Grenache Mourvedre Malbec 2013 (Eden Valley, $250)

Barossa Valley Estate Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2014 (Barossa, $26.99)

First Creek Grenache Shiraz Merlot 2014 (McLaren Vale/Hunter Valley/Orange, $25)

Running With Bulls Garnacha 2015 (Barossa, $20.95)

Stone Bridge Wines Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2014 (Clare Valley, $26)

Tahbilk Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (Nagambie Lakes, $27.95)

Richard Hamilton Colton’s Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (McLaren Vale, $21)

Charles Melton La Belle Mere Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (Barossa, $22.90)

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Wine
Be cool. Cool climate Shiraz
Words by Mark Hughes on 12 Aug 2015
My father-in-law, Neville, is your typical knock-about Aussie bloke. A former brickie, he used to drive his Holden Kingswood ute to work and cruise the weekends in his white Torana LJ Sedan. He loves fishing, hunting and knocking back a couple of Tooheys New while charring some animal flesh on the barbecue. But since his retirement a few years ago things have changed. He mostly spends his time drawing the jack rather than mixing the mortar, he has a flashy new Korean-built SUV to tow his caravan and he’s pretty much swapped the beers for red wine. When he started drinking vino his preferred drop was the big fruit-driven reds from South Australia: juicy, plummy, peppery and pretty big on the alcohol – perfect for his medium rare steak and snags. Recently though, his palate seems to have matured and he asked me for a red with more elegance. I gave him a gorgeous Yarra Valley Pinot , but it wasn’t for him. “Tastes a bit posh,” he said. “A bit too watery.” Maybe I had aimed a bit high. What really caught his attention was a medium-bodied Shiraz from the Canberra Distric t. “Now this is pretty good,” he said, while putting on his glasses to read the label – always a positive sign. I didn’t get to have any more of that wine after he had poured another one for himself and his wife, and my wife, and one more for himself. Now, I’ve never really thought of Nev as a trend-setter. He’s happiest in t-shirt, shorts and those sandals with Velcro tabs, but apparently when it comes to Shiraz, he’s in fashion! Neville is part of a shift in the drinking public that is looking for more restraint and elegance in Australia’s most iconic red wine. If the drinking public was thinking it, the critics confirmed it when in 2009, the judges at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show awarded the Jimmy Watson Trophy for the best young red wine in the country to a wine from the Canberra District: the Eden Road Wines ‘Long Road’ Hilltops Shiraz 2008. It made the wine world sit up and take notice. Just to confirm this trend, this year’s Jimmy Watson winner was the Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Pere Shiraz 2010 from Tasmania. A Shiraz from Tasmania? It was unfathomable. The Jimmy Watson is an award that has almost exclusively gone to the Barossa or McLaren Vale or maybe the Hunter, but not the Canberra District and certainly not Tasmania! Apparently it is not just a trend that is happening here in Australia. At the 2011 International Wine Challenge in London, Adelaide Hills winery Bird in Hand was awarded the trophy for the Best Australian Red Wine and the Best Australian Shiraz. What is cool? The common thread between all these award-winning wines is that they come from cool climate regions. There was something here that definitely needed investigating, so we thought we should do a State of Play tasting on cool climate Shiraz. First of all we had to define what a cool climate is as it is a phrase that is bandied about with almost gay abandon with little regard for the official meaning. Perhaps the strongest definition comes from the International Cool Climate Wine Show. This annual event began in the Mornington Peninsula and has been running since the year 2000, so it has some pedigree. It defines cool climate wines as: Wines made from grapes grown either: south of latitude 37.5 degrees south, or north of latitude 37.5 degrees north or from a property in the Southern or Northern hemisphere which has an average January/July (whichever is applicable) temperature below 19ºCelsius, as confirmed by the nearest Bureau of Meterology site, or vineyard site above 800m in altitude. Therefore Australian wine regions that automatically qualify as cool climate are: Tasmania, the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and Western Australia’s Great Southern region. Then there are a few grey areas. According to these criteria, the Adelaide Hills does not qualify as cool climate. Its elevation and latitude are well off and its average temperature in January is 19.1. However, most would agree that it is cool climate, and for the sake of point one of a degree, one must admit that this really does qualify as cool climate. Likewise the Canberra region and Orange in New South Wales should also be considered cool climate. There are some vineyards in these regions above 800 metres, but their average January temperature is around the 20 degree mark. But I challenge anyone to stand out in a vineyard on the slopes of Mount Canobolas in the middle of winter and dispute whether it is a cool climate. Therefore some of the parameters, especially in Australia, still need to be defined. A recent cool climate wine show in Tasmania had the elevations at 500 metres, which seems more logical and perhaps we need to look at a combination of average temperatures across the whole year. However the upshot is: regions where Australian Shiraz has an outstanding pedigree, i.e., Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Hunter Valley, are not cool climate regions. All that jazz It is perhaps the amazing success of Shiraz from these warmer regions that has hampered the progress of cool climate Shiraz. Winemakers in cool climates convinced themselves it would be pointless to pursue Shiraz as the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Hunter were already delivering outstanding wines custom-made for the tastes of the drinking public. Scott McCarthy, winemaker at Helen’s Hill in the Yarra Valley, echoed these sentiments when he joined our Tasting Panel for this tasting, but added that things have changed. “In the past, for us, the focus has been on Pinot and Chardonnay and looking for the best places to plant those,” he said. “Shiraz has always been there as a good workhorse to produce good wines, but no-one has really given it the same attention as they have some of the other varieties. “But now we are looking at clones and root stocks and looking at actually planting it in the best part of the vineyard, not just the part that is left over from Pinot and Chardonnay.” Scott is well credentialed to be the spokesperson for cool climate winemakers. He grew up in a vineyard and spent his first 10 years as a winemaker in the Barossa before experiencing vintages in the Napa and France (Loire Valley and Languedoc). During a four-vintage stint in Marlborough, New Zealand, Scott fell in love with cool climate winemaking and he continued that affair by settling back in Australia in the Yarra, where he makes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Shiraz. While winemakers like Scott are convinced of the future of cool climate Shiraz, critics have traditionally been sceptical. The purveying perception of Shiraz from these regions was of a wine that was green, stalky and under-ripe. That may have been somewhat true a decade ago, but as Scott explains, a better understanding of Shiraz in the vineyard, and in the winery, has allowed cool climate Shiraz to be far more expressive. “My experience in the Yarra is that Shiraz is one variety that is made in the vineyard and probably the biggest decision that has to be made that influences the outcome of the wine is the day that you pick it. “I believe there is only a day or two between really getting out of that green phase and when it is starting to get over-ripe. You have to work with the vineyards and taste the fruit over a period of time to know how each block is going to react, how quickly they ripen and when is the best time to pick each block,” Scott says, while also stressing the attention to detail that must be given to micro-climates, even in the same vineyard. “Instead of testing the whole vineyard as one block of Shiraz we have isolated different aspects. We know the cool, low-lying areas are going to ripen a little bit later and we make sure that we test them independently." “You used to go out and pick your whole vineyard. Now it is literally one side of the hill to the other and we are talking a distance of just 50 metres and we will pick a week, two weeks later in some cases, just because the aspects are quite different. “We want to get it through that green spectrum – so we are looking for that tomato leaf character to go out of the juice and to get a ripe spectrum with those nice blueberry characters.” The tasting The Panel sat down to 40-odd wines from across a dozen cool climate regions. The results were outstanding. Nearly all the wines medalled and the overall scoring was very high. Importantly, the tasting confirmed that these wines had busted the perception of having ‘green and stalky characters’. The key descriptors that came forth were of punchy red fruits and blueberry flavours, some spiciness and pepperiness as well as minerality and earthiness. Furthermore there was a noticeable shift to a more graceful style of Shiraz. While most were medium-bodied, some were full-bodied and fruit-driven, but with an elegant core, great balance and an alcohol content of around 14 per cent. “Some of the traditional descriptors you look for in Shiraz – those big ripe plummy characters, strong tannins and big vanillin oak – they were not in the wines we looked at today,” commented Scott. “We were using descriptors like oyster shell, cassis and minerality; descriptors that lend themselves to be able to match to food.” Wine Selectors Tasting Panelist Christian Gaffey was equally impressed with the elegance displayed across these wines in the tasting. “There was one wine today that was described as ‘Burgundy-like’, which for Shiraz is somewhat unheard of,” he said. “Not that Burgundy is the be all and end all, but for it to be compared to a wine of finesse like a Pinot Noir versus your classic 15 per cent Shiraz, means a lot, especially if you want to match it to food.” Regionality and diversity The top 20 scoring wines contained a great spread of wines from different regions. Five were from the Yarra, four from Adelaide Hills, three each from the Canberra District and Mornington Peninsula, two from West Australia’s Great Southern region, one each from Great Western, the Grampians and Tasmania. Within those wines there was an amazing diversity. While wines from certain regions had similar benchmark characters, each wine had its own life and there were amazing differences between wines from the same region, from vineyards within a stone’s throw from each other. “It really is a celebration of the differences you can get with cool climate Shiraz,” remarked Scott. “I think the biggest thing with cool climate Shiraz is the ability to show the terroir – the sense of place with the wines, which you don’t always see in some of the warmer climates.” Combined with a sense of grace and elegance, it is this diversity in the wines that suggests that cool climate Shiraz is a great food-matching wine. The Shiraz from the Yarra versus Mornington and Pyrenees are all very different so they should lend themselves to a greater variety of food than classic Aussie Shiraz matched with steak. Aging potential and the future Perhaps the most surprising result to come out of this tasting was the superb natural acid balance these wines displayed. This acid lends itself to the minerality character displayed in these wines and, more importantly, suggests superb aging potential. This was confirmed by the fact that towards the end of the tasting the Panel was giving very high marks to all the wines that had a bit of age to them. If that is any indication of what is going to happen over time, then in 10 years time we are going to have some sensational back stocks of cool climate Shiraz. Furthermore, the wine that had the most acid was from Tasmania, which suggests the cooler the climate, the better. “Tassie is going to be a tough place to grow Shiraz consistently,” remarked Christian. “But we have known through the years that sometimes it is the inconsistent places that produce the best wines in the good years.” Finally, as cool climate Shiraz is a fairly recent endeavour, most of the wines are from vines with an average age of 15 years or younger. We know that generally the older Shiraz vines get, the better the fruit they produce. These vines are still in their teenage years, so as they mature we can expect to see some world-beating examples of cool climate Australian Shiraz. I can hear Neville firing up the barbie now. Check out  Wine Selectors great range of Shiraz today .
Wine
The Gee in Pinot G
Words by Peter Forrestal on 12 Aug 2015
The rise Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio in the Australian marketplace has been nothing short of remarkable, especially as it has occurred at the same time as the country has been drenched by a tsunami of increasingly cheap Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. While there has been a knock-on effect with increased interest in local Sauvignon Blanc , and substantial growth in plantings of Muscat à Petit grains (from a small base) for Moscato, there has been huge consumer interest in Pinot Gris/Grigio. So, what better time for the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel to line up 60 of the country’s finest and put them to the test? The Panel was joined by two learned Pinot Gris/Grigio producers: Mornington Peninsula vigneron Garry Crittenden and King Valley winemaker Sam Miranda, as well as yours truly. A quick history lesson Pinot Gris was planted in Australia much earlier than most would have imagined. Chris Bourke of Sons & Brothers in Orange mentions on his website that when James Busby imported his collection of grape varieties from France and Spain in the 1830s, what he had thought to be Cabernet Sauvignon was, in fact, Pinot Gris. As with much of Busby’s collection, it didn’t survive. Today’s Pinot Gris/Grigio was pioneered on the Mornington Peninsula in the 1980s by Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy at T’Gallant and, although slowly at first, in the past decade it has taken hold of the public consciousness with increasing speed. Kathleen sees three factors coming together to enable Pinot Gris to succeed on Mornington. It was the right region for the right variety. The clone that was available was ideal as it produced small berries, small bunches and only moderate vigour. There were adequate good sites (north facing slopes), which were as vital to ripening Pinot Gris as they were to ripening Pinot Noir. Consumers were the other key in this equation and she saw them as being interested in new varieties: looking for unwooded whites and wanting premium varieties as expressive as Pinot Noir . In Australia no variety, except Sauvignon Blanc , has grown more impressively than Pinot Gris/Grigio in the last five years when the industry trend has been to stabilise or decrease the supply of grapes. In that time, it has moved ahead of Viognier , Verdelho , Muscat, Colombard and Riesling : more of it is produced than any of the major white varieties except for Chardonnay , Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. There are in excess of a hundred different labels of Pinot Gris/Grigio on the market in Australia at present. What’s in a name? A major marketing and consumer issue in Australia is that the same grape variety is produced and sold as both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio and, for many, this can seem pretty confusing. This difference has its roots in the vineyards of Europe. Pinot Grigio is most successfully grown in the regions of Fruili, the Veneto and Alto Adige in North-Eastern Italy where it is picked early and produces a fresh, zesty, racy style with clean savoury characters. In France, it is known as Pinot Gris and is popular in Alsace where it is picked riper and therefore has a richer, fuller, plumper profile and is higher in alcohol. The variety produces bluey grey grapes (deep purple with green flesh when fully ripe) that make white or lightly pink wines and are thought to be related to (or a mutant of) Pinot Noir. Throughout this tasting the issue of colour was rigorously discussed. Garry Crittenden said he liked his wine to be clear, while others on the Panel thought the wine should have a pinkish tinge to it. Whatever the preference, it is important that the consumer knows most Gris/Grigio will have a ‘pink-grey’ tinge to it, and that is completely normal. Another key issue for Gris/Grigio has been the importance of identifying the places where it can be grown most successfully. Kathleen believes that far too much Gris/Grigio has been planted in warm Australian regions for which it is patently unsuitable. For Garry Crittenden, Pinot Gris/Grigio, like Pinot Noir, has become genetically adapted over the centuries to showing its full phenolic character in cool climates where the grapes ripen slowly over a long period of time. Low vigour is also vital to producing Pinot Gris/Grigio grapes that show concentration and character. The results reveal Firstly, the results supported Kathleen Quealy’s theory that Pinot Gris/Grigio does best in cool climate regions. The majority of wines in the tasting were cool climate and all of the top 20 wines were sourced from cool climate areas. More than half of those wines were sourced from Victorian vineyards, with the King Valley accounting for six of the top 20, while the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula claimed three each and Geelong , one. The Adelaide Hills , Eden Valley and Tasmania also registered as strong regions for Gris/Grigio, while Orange and Tumbarumba were the only regions of note north of the border. Seven of the top 10 scoring wines were Pinot Gris. This result was explained by the fact that this varietal style is generally more malleable to winemaker manipulation. The Grigio style should be lighter, drier and more minerally, so will generally be picked quite early, cool-fermented in tank, then bottled, whereas the Gris style would be picked later and therefore riper, which means it can handle some winemaking artefact, such as lees stirring and barrel fermentation or maturation. Pinot G? The results also showed the Gris tasted were significantly removed from the wines of Alsace, while the Grigios were substantially different from their Mediterranean counterparts, and there were some wines that sat in between. Panellist Trent Mannell posed this revolutionary hypothesis: had Australia developed its own style of Pinot Gris/Grigio, a style that is neither Gris nor Grigio but sits somewhere in between, a style we could simply label as Pinot G? For instance, the Thorn Clarke Sandpiper Pinot Gris showed floral aromas but had some minerality on the nose with zippy acidity, while the The Pawn ‘Caissa’ Pinot Grigio was described as having a delicate acid balance and vibrance while at the same time was lauded for its muscaty aromatics and thick viscous texture. So you can see in these two examples there is some overlap in styles. If the results of the tasting were seriously scrutinised, then the outcome would suggest that we do indeed have three styles of this versatile varietal in Australia: Gris, Grigio and G. The element of food One of the other main issues that the Panel discussed during the tasting was the importance of drinking Pinot G in the company of food. These are textural wines, much more savoury and less fruity than most Aussie whites. They are transformed by being paired with appropriate foods. One of the magic moments during the tasting came when Chairman Karl Stockhausen condemned a Pinot Gris as being lean, tight and watery. “I want some flavour,” he growled. Sam came to the Eden Valley wine’s defence, agreeing that it was neutral but insisting that placing it alongside food would bring the wine alive. Then he asserted, “I could drink it all day!” With Pinot Grigio, you could try oysters, clams, prawns, grilled whiting, lightly battered barramundi fillets, mildly spiced stir fries, and with Pinot Gris, go for onion tart, lobster, barbecued or roast pork, or roast chicken. It’s a question of finding dishes that you think will work with the crisp zestiness of Pinot Grigio or the richer, fuller, weightier, more viscous character of Pinot Gris. Overall, Sam believed that the tasting showed how far Pinot Gris/Grigio has come in Australia in the past decade. He said that if we’d held a similar tasting in the 1990s, far too many of the wines would have been bland or faulty. Most importantly, he was impressed at how well producers achieved the style that the label told us they were aiming for. For you, though, the message is both clear and welcoming. Pinot Gris/Grigio, or for that matter, Pinot G, is doing very well in Australia. So when you are sitting down al fresco-style to a shared mezze plate or some antipasti this summer, crack open a bottle of Australian Pinot G and discover what all the fuss is about.
Wine
Cabernet: Custom-made for a change
Words by Mark Hughes on 15 May 2016
In Europe, Cabernet Sauvignon is considered King of wines. In Australia it seems to sit in the shadow of Shiraz . But a greater understanding of the varietal by producers and key changes in the weather signal an exciting future for this regal wine. Of all the great wine regions in the world, it is Bordeaux that commands the most respect. Home to esteemed names such as Château Montrose, Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, the wines of Bordeaux have a sense of royalty about them. It is here where Cabernet reigns supreme – dark and brooding with flavours ranging from chocolate, cigar box and tobacco, its broad tannin structure allows it to age far more than any other wine. It is the stuff legend. In Australia, the thick-skinned grape varietal has been planted in virtually every wine region across Australia, however, it doesn’t always produce the goods. It struggles when it’s too cold and gets too jammy when it is too hot. Naturally, regions whose climes resemble the maritime climate of Bordeaux, with its warm days and cool nights, produce our best. Traditionally, that has been Coonawarra in South Australia and, more recently, the Western Australian wine regions of Margaret River and Great Southern . Certainly, these were the regions that shone in our Cabernet tasting with more than half the wines in the Top 30 produced in these three regions. “The potential to make world class Cabernet from Margaret River and the Great Southern is amazing and it’s only just getting started,” says Richard Burch from Howard Park, whose Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 topped the tasting. “Western Australia is a relatively young wine region with vines only planted in the 1970s. But when you put together the benign weather and growing conditions, the gradual accumulation of vine age, and the continuing discovery of the best individual sites for Cabernet in Western Australia, the future looks exciting.” The Bordeaux of South Australia Before Western Australia came onto the wine scene, it was Coonawarra that held the mantle as Australia’s premier Cabernet region. For many, it still is. Remarkably similar to Bordeaux in its maritime climate, the region’s famous terra rossa soils were thought to be a hindrance to producing great Cabernet, but as Paul Gordon, senior winemaker at Leconfield points out, it has imparted Cabernet from this region with a unique flavour profile and the climate allows for consistently good vintages. “That strip of terra rossa soil that sits thinly over limestone. The red soil, high in clay content, provides moisture-holding capacity to sustain the vines over the dry summer months while the porous limestone allows access to high quality water several metres below the surface, says Paul. “The cold Antarctic waters unique to South East South Australia cool the night summer breezes, ameliorating the warmth of the day to produce a long growing season. In cooler years, the conditions allow for ripening through April and early May and produce fine, elegant styles of great longevity. In warmer seasons, harvest may occur in mid to late March and fuller styles result – but always the emphasis is on patience to allow the flavours and tannins to ripen.” Care for the canopy As this tasting shows, Coonawarra is not the only South Australia region to produce quality Cabernet. McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek , Eden Valley , Barossa Valley and Clare Valley can produce wines with strong varietal characters. “There is very strong potential to make great Cabernet in Clare,” says Sevenhill winemaker Liz Heidenreich. “Cabernet vines thrive on the cool nights and warm days we see in the Clare ripening period. The best wines come from years when the crop level is not too high, the canopies are full and healthy, allowing grapes to ripen for longer into the season, and when we have long, even summers. Paul Smith, winemaker at Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale, also believes canopy management is paramount in the production of great Cabernet, while also highlighting the importance of winemaking nous. “The vine canopy has to provide dappled light to the fruit, the window of picking for beautiful fragrant Cabernet is short, while handling through ferment and oak selection will expose some winemakers,” says Paul. While experience has shown Paul that canopy management is important in producing great Cabernet, science is backing up the theory. One of the primary characters of Cabernet Sauvignon is the presence of herbaceous green flavours, particularly when the wine is young. Researchers have found the presence of methoxypyrazine (more commonly called pyrazine) is responsible. It is the compound that gives Cabernet aromas of capsicum, eucalypt and mint. It has been discovered that pyrazine can be altered through attentive vineyard management. By careful pruning of the leafy part of the vines, viticulturists can manage what sort of aromas result in the wine. While work in the vineyard is becoming increasingly important, winemakers have softened the somewhat off-putting green, stalky flavours of Cabernet simply by allowing the wine to mature. Most of the wines in this tasting have some age, with some of the stars being from vintages such as 2010 and 2012. A Key Change One of the surprising findings from this tasting was that cooler wine regions such as the Yarra Valley , Adelaide Hills and even the Hilltops have been able to produce top shelf Cabernet. “The Yarra Valley has a proven track record of producing high quality Cabernet, lets not forget names like Mount Mary, Yarra Yering and Yeringberg,” says Ben Portet from Dominque Portet Wines in the Yarra Valley. “In saying that, the potential to make even greater, and more importantly, more consistent Cabernet is strong, especially with the increase in our growing season average temperature and in turn our drier climatic conditions.” Vic Peos from Peos Estate in the cool climate region of Manjimup of Western Australia also agrees that climate change has had a positive effect on the potential for cooler regions such as his to produce great Cabernet. “The last decade the weather has really changed, the last six years, apart from 2010, have been spectacular for producing Cabernet,” says Vic. “We still have the cold nights and early rainfall in late winter and early spring, so the canopy is lush and the berry is great. But during the summer, it is not as wet anymore, so we can really hang our Cabernet a lot longer on the vines, and we can get skin and tannin ripeness. We are thinking that Cabernet can be one of our real stars. The future is exciting.”
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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