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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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Who makes my wine?
Words by Tyson Stelzer on 28 Apr 2016
Walk the aisles of your local Dan Murphy’s or First Choice store and you won’t find a wine labelled “Dan Murphy’s Select” or “First Choice Home Brand”. But lurking on those shelves are more than 100 brands owned by the supermarket chains with no disclosure on the label. In an age in which we are more interested than ever in the origins of our products, how can we distinguish a small family estate from a supermarket brand? The growth in supermarket “Buyer’s Own Brand” wines in Australia has been substantial, estimated to have mushroomed from five percent a decade ago to between 16 and 25 percent of the market today. The wine industry is concerned that this growing category of major retailers could mislead consumers. In February 2016, a Senate Inquiry report into the Australian Wine Industry put forward a proposal from the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia (WFA) “that the Government amend labelling requirements so wine labels must declare whether wine is produced by an entity owned or controlled by a major retailer.” “What we would like to see is that home brands are identified so consumers can make their choice,” WFA Chief Executive Paul Evans told the Inquiry. The enquiry’s report is not binding, but the government is expected to respond within six months. It can choose to accept or reject the recommendations. Not so simple The question of whether it should be the government’s place to legislate on this issue has been widely debated, but even if it is, the dilemma of how it could be defined and regulated is perhaps more pertinent. Buyer’s Own Brand wines have a fully valid and important place in the market, and the major retail chains own perfectly legitimate wineries under which some of their labels are branded. Some retailers’ own brands are even made by small, private estates. Further, many high profile winemakers, including Giaconda, Clonakilla, Oakridge and St Hallett, make exclusive labels for particular retailers under the winemaker’s own brands. Such relationships are of value for all levels of the wine industry. And if retailers are required to declare brand ownership, what of companies like Treasury Wine Estates, Accolade Wines and Pernod Ricard, who together own many more brands and a much greater market share than the supermarket groups? And, for that matter, what of the hundreds of private little “virtual” wine brands who own no vineyards, buy fruit and have it contract made in someone else’s facility? The big issue behind this discussion is the market dominance of Woolworths (who owns BWS, Dan Murphy’s, Cellarmasters and Langton’s) and Wesfarmers (Liquorland, First Choice and Vintage Cellars) and the increasing presence of Metcash (Cellarbrations, IGA Liquor and Bottle-O), Costco, and ALDI stores in the wine market. It is estimated that Woolworths and Wesfarmers together share just under 60 percent of the domestic wine retail market, with some estimates putting this at 70 percent. There is a bigger picture at play here, of which wine is just one small category. Controversy surrounds the supermarket duopoly and its increasing dominance across many categories. Legislative change for wine would not only be fraught with complications surrounding definitions and implementation, but such a precedent would have enormous ramifications for groceries, fuel, hardware, office supplies, insurance, etc.
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Italian Stallions
Words by Max Allen on 12 Aug 2015
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Change of Tempo with Tempranillo
Words by Jeni Port on 2 Jul 2015
In 2006 Melbourne academic, Professor Snow Barlow, offered some important advice to the Australian wine industry. As one of the leading agricultural scientists investigating the impact of climate change on viticulture in this country, he was succinct: adapt or else. Open your eyes, he implored, to the changes that increased levels of greenhouse gases and a warmer, drier climate are having on vines with earlier budburst, shorter winters, compressed vintages and extreme weather events. Learn to adjust. And then he returned to his vineyard, Baddaginnie Run, in the Strathbogie Ranges in Central Victoria and did just that. Out went his Merlot vines and in came Tempranillo. Merlot had worked well in the early days, but a combination of hot vintages with runs of 40+C days and drier conditions, were stressing the normally cool-mannered Bordeaux grape. Mediterranean-born Tempranillo was a better fit, he said. It lapped up the heat. 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Professor Barlow had omitted the fact that the grape is naturally shy in acidity, a rather important piece of information to keep in mind when planting in a warm area. “It’s a bit of a sook actually,” says Peter Leske, a fellow scientist-winemaker behind the specialist Tempranillo maker, La Linea, in the Adelaide Hills. However, Leske maintains the grape’s good points still far outweigh its negatives. “It retains perfume and flavour, flesh and spice, so it makes a wine high in deliciousness despite warm and dry conditions,” he says. Deliciousness, it seems, wins out. Great in the heat, even better in the cool Warm climate Tempranillo is one thing. Cool climate Tempranillo is quite another. It is just possible that in the future the most exciting examples will come from winemakers who venture high up into the wilds, to places where Pinot Noir might also be suited, where the heat is less and the rainfall is more. A little like the 500-metre high nosebleed parts of Spain where it thrives: Rioja, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Bright red fruits are to the fore in Tempranillo grown in cooler climes, the spice appears edgier, the structure is definitely firmer and more apparent. As the full impact of climate change is felt, it could be these areas that will ultimately be better suited to Tempranillo. Time will tell. In the meantime, Australian winemakers consider the newcomer amongst them. “We still have a lot to learn about Tempranillo,” admits Peter Leske. There are things we already know about the grape, like the little matter of pronunciation. If you know Spanish you know, Tempranillo is pronounced with the two lls silent: tem-pra-neee-o. That’s how it should be. It’s not too difficult. Many Aussie enthusiasts have already shortened it to ‘temp’ – clearly a display of endearment. We know that at first, quite a few Australian winemakers mistook Tempranillo for a grape just like Shiraz and made it like Shiraz, emasculating its vibrant Spanish passion into just another Aussie dry red. No identity. No excitement. Tempranillo is not Shiraz. It might act like it sometimes, taste like it occasionally, but its DNA – while not completely known – suggests one immediate relative is most likely Albillo Mayor, a grape from Ribera del Duero, in northern Spain. No Shiraz in sight. The tempraneo gang Some of the greatest advances in understanding the grape come from a group of six Aussie winemakers who got together in 2010, calling themselves ‘TempraNeo’. Each maker comes from a different region, covering most of the viticultural bases: Mayford in the Alpine Valleys, La Linea in the Adelaide Hills, Mount Majura in Canberra, Tar and Roses in Heathcote, Yalumba’s Running With Bulls in the Barossa and Gemtree in McLaren Vale. A number of winemaking bases, too, are explored. No two producers follow the same methods. Eleana Anderson at Mayford brings some basic Pinot Noir winemaking techniques to her Tempranillo including whole bunch fermentation with stalks for added tannin (now that’s simply not done in Spain) and extended time on skins to extract colour and flavour. Her take on Tempranillo is definitely fragrant, elegantly poised. Frank Van De Loo at Mount Majura introduces the notion of savouriness into his Tempranillo. He favours wild ferments, which by definition can be a bit feral and uncontrolled. At La Linea, Peter Leske and David Le Mire, MW, are seeing just what multiple site selections can do for Tempranillo. They source grapes from six vineyards in the Adelaide Hills from Kersbrook to the north (the warmest) through to Birdwood (the coolest location). Blending the blocks together is already producing some attractive characters: fragrance, structure, mouth feel, vibrant fruit, abundant spice. Mike Brown at Gemtree Vineyards, is a biodynamic grower who prefers a hands-off winemaking approach. Winemaker Sam Wigan at Running With Bulls is giving his Tempranillo time in Hungarian oak. “I’m using five to 10 per cent new Hungarian oak because it integrates well with the grape’s tannins,” he says, adding Hungarian oak doesn’t impart vanilla notes common to French oak, so it’s about looking to something out of the ordinary. At Heathcote in Central Victoria, a notable red wine producing region, winemakers Don Lewis and Narelle King at Tar & Roses are studying Tempranillo’s finickety acid profile, amongst other things. In 2014 they did a trial on a half tonne batch of Tempranillo, adding no acid. It didn’t work out well. “I don’t see it as a way forward,” says Don. When it comes to the fuller wine style of the Tar & Roses Tempranillo, he is now certain that it is essential to add acid. However, the grape does have other useful qualities he can employ to deliver structure, namely tannin. “If you taste the grape in the vineyard it’s not very juicy, it’s quite fleshy and it has a chalky tannin that no other variety has,” says Don. “Those two things – fleshiness and chalky tannins - are the epitome of Tempranillo to me. It was what I was used to seeing in La Mancha (Spain) when I was making wine there.” The TempraNeo group is also monitoring the growing number of Tempranillo clones (plant material) now available in Australia. The main sources are Spain, France and Portugal where the grape goes under the name of Tinta Roriz or Aragones. Some clones deliver fruit high in perfume, others show pronounced savouriness. Ten years of trials at Australian nurseries have revealed significant taste and aroma differences between the dozen clones available here. Importantly, Australian winemakers need to know where their clonal material hails from, because it is becoming clear that place of origin can dictate the clone’s performance in a foreign land. A clone taken from a vineyard in Rioja performs better in Rioja then in Valdepenas and vice versa. Comparing the region of origin with their own site’s climate, soil and topography could be a way forward for Australian producers. Tempranillo’s time As we head into a warmer, unpredictable future the role of Tempranillo in Australia is destined to loom large. Much larger. Despite its tendency to turn ‘sook’ and drop acid while on the vine, it has shown in a relatively short time that it is entirely well suited to parts of this country, both warm and cool. In warmer climes its generosity of black fruits, spice and sunny disposition is welcoming. What the grape lacks in sophistication it makes up for in pleasant drinkability. In cooler climes, where Tempranillo grapes are in top demand, each vintage with a price to match (averaging $1448 a tonne in 2012), we see a grape in the throes of reinvention, moulded by some of this country’s most forward-thinking winemakers. Here, the flavours are finer, more subtle, red and black fruits, spice and herbs and because these wines aren’t carrying a heavy weight, Tempranillo’s meagre acid backbone isn’t taxed quite as much. Sometimes savoury nuance surfaces, sometimes a textural loveliness. Exciting times indeed. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. It is early days still.
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