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Wine

Know Your Variety – Australian Grenache

Having claims to its origins in both France and Spain, Grenache is most famously known in Australia as part of a blended trio with Shiraz and Mourvedre. But, Grenache is starting to break out and go solo with some superb single varietal wines from South Australia.

To help us learn more about Australian Grenache, we reached out to experts Kevin Glastonbury of Yalumba and Nathan Hughes of Willunga 100.

Australian Grenache Infographic

Grenache red wine infographic

Origins

In Spain it is known as Garnacha, in Sardinia it’s Cannonau and in France, where the variety carpets the Côtes du Rhône, it is Grenache. So, where does Grenache actually come from? It’s complicated. Spain has perhaps the strongest claim to producing the first vines, but this is hotly contested and constantly revised by wine academics.

It is, however, France where the variety is most famously grown with Grenache forming an integral part of the classic Rhône blend. In the Côtes du Rhône, Grenache is the star and must make up at least 50% of their prized blend along with Syrah (Shiraz) and Mourvedre.

Grenache in Australia

Grenache is a variety that relishes warm climates and improves as the vines grow old, which is why the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, two of Australia’s oldest regions, produce some of the best expressions. The Barossa, in particular, has blocks of wine with Grenache from 1850 still producing wines, each and every year.

Grenache is a red grape variety that relishes heat and can relatively easily produce ripe, full styles of wine. Perhaps Grenache was grown initially on sites that were more akin to producing a generous crop for fortified winemaking. But, now many wineries are searching for more finesse and picking these Grenache blocks earlier and seeking red fruit rather than riper black fruit flavours. The majority of Grenache in the Barossa is not trellised; it is grown as a bush-vine. These bush-vines tend to take care of themselves, allowing more air flow and light penetration. The Barossa and McLaren Vale are considered the two leading regions for Grenache in Australia. And it is always a great debate as to which consistently produces better quality wine.

- Kevin Glastonbury, Winemaker, Yalumba Family Vignerons

Tasting Notes

With a similar weight and tannin structure to light to medium bodied Shiraz, Grenache is light on the palate and is all about purity of fruit. With aromas like pomegranate, wild strawberries, violets and red fruits and a palate that’s restrained and fine in texture, it is often blended with Mataro/Mourvedre, which provides a heightened element of spice and tannin. But, with careful oak treatment, Grenache can produce be a splendid single varietal wine.

South Australia has old vines, this resource cannot be understated. We work with vines ranging from 50 to 90 years old. Grenache is extremely reflective of where it’s grown. In McLaren Vale, we see lighter bodied, more aromatic styles from Blewitt Springs and Clarendon. Down on the flats of Tatachilla, we see a far heavier, richer, full-bodied styles.

- Nathan Hughes, Willunga 100

Grenache food pairing

 

The heightened alcohol, medium tannin and low acidity that characterise Grenache mean it will work well with a range of dishes from game through to lighter dishes. For Kevin, the perfect match for Grenache is simple - “Pizza, always”. But, he is also fond of pairing it with “Sticky glaze duck with rocket and pear pizza. Pork belly, with buffalo mozzarella, balsamic onion, oregano and radicchio.” The notes of red plum, black cherry and raspberry also mean that Grenache is also a great match for many Asian-style dishes as long as they aren’t too spicy. As Nathan Hughes from Willunga 100 describes, “I love how lemongrass, soy and coriander work with Grenache.”

Recommended Recipe: Stefano Manfredi’s roast spitchcock with bread and truffle stuffing

Recommended Recipe: Bocconcini, cherry tomato and basil pizza

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Chardonnay Members Tasting
Words by Patrick Haddock on 13 Nov 2017
Australian Chardonnay has undergone quite a transformation since the days of ‘sunshine in a bottle’, coming of age as a world-beating white. I partly blame Selector . For cementing my love affair with Chardonnay , I mean. Seven years ago, Selector hosted the most ambitious Chardonnay tasting ever staged in Australia. In attendance were some luminaries of the industry, including Iain Riggs and Tyson Stelzer and it was my first tasting en masse with a variety I’ve come to adore. It ignited a solid relationship with the many styles and regions in this vast land. Yet weirdly, my affair with Australian Chardonnay had commenced a decade or more before. It was the golden era for Chardonnay and I remember dinner tables being awash with names like Oxford Landing, Koonunga Hill and Rosemount as we slated our thirsts on cheap two-for-one deals in the bottle shops of London. It personified a new taste on the UK wine scene that found an unquenchable thirst. Looking back, it was risible that such overly fruity and highly oaked wines could have made such a splash, but Australia saw the opportunity and grabbed it. The New World invasion of the early 90s was pulled off with aplomb. As the saying went: “No wood? No good.” A Sunny Impression
The other insidious ruse that Australia employed was to label their wines with the variety – virtually unheard of in the Old World and it was a genius bit of marketing. When the English were drinking Burgundy, they may not have known it was actually Chardonnay. A classic example was my mum saying she hated Chardonnay, but loved Pouilly Fuisse – a small sub-region of Burgundy that makes Chardonnay. However, the French are far too proud to put the variety on their bottles, causing mass consumer confusion. UK consumers were also buying into the image of Aussie life, summed up by the phrase for Australian Chardonnay, “sunshine in a bottle.” The label was seen as just as important as what was inside. Australia made wines that were soft and easy to drink with obvious flavours. Australia proudly screamed Chardonnay on the label, most often from South East Australia. We had visions of beaches and sun-tanned sheilas picking the grapes; never mind that it actually came from a mass irrigated desert wasteland somewhere near the NSW border and was machine harvested before being relegated to industrial amounts of new oak or worse still, flavoured with oak chips. A Refining Moment
Yet for all the joy of a tidal wave of wood that Chardonnay brought, it all imploded. The bargain bins remained full as the obvious flavour hit of the New World came crashing down and the wines became increasingly like caricatures of Chardonnay. We had some soul searching to do. Was Australia happy to stand on the world stage offering nothing but bargain basement wines, or did we want to be taken seriously? A decade later, in the middle of the noughties, a seismic shift began. A new wave of Chardonnay producers were re-inventing the wheel, spearheaded by intelligent winemakers in regions like the Yarra Valley , Tasmania and Margaret River . Chardonnay went from being Dolly Parton (buxom and generous) to Kate Moss (skeletal and lithe), although the best example of Chardonnay for mine is the Cindy Crawford – curvy and ample, but still chiselled and toned. Earlier picking, less oak, natural acid and throwing away the process of malolactic fermentation saw the rulebook re-written. It was time for Chardonnay to grow up and make an impression. Then in 2010, one of the UK’s most outspoken commentators, the erudite Andrew Jefford, opined that Australian Chardonnay can “compete effortlessly with the greatest wines of Burgundy.” He went on to exclaim: “There is no variety that responds better to craft than Chardonnay, and the greatest Australian examples are perfect syntheses of grape, place and intellectual understanding.” What a renaissance occurred. And the world took notice. Since then, any Chardonnay producer worth their salt has worked hard to improve the breed. Contemporary Style
Which brings us to today and as Hunter Valley winemaker and Chardonnay craftsman, Usher Tinkler describes, “Australian Chardonnay is in the best shape ever.” While winemakers and wine critics are well aware of Chardonnay’s contemporary appeal, has the everyday wine-lover caught on? To find out, we invited some Wine Selectors members and guests along to The Dolphin Hotel in Sydney for a dinner matched with a selection of modern Australian Chardonnays. As I chatted with the guests before the wines started flowing, a common theme arose. The reputation of Chardonnay was stuck in the past. As member Kirsty Bryant described:

“Although the Chardonnays that come in my regular selections have always been nice, I still have a mental association where drinking Chardonnay equals drinking a tree.”

- Krysty Bryant, Wine Selectors Member
Guest, Lisa Currie was of a similar mind, saying, “Chardonnay has always been a variety that means an intense oakey, woody flavour, very buttery and heavy, which just isn’t to my taste.” To help bring our doubting guests around to the charm of Chardonnay, we were fortunate to be joined by Usher, who offered some insights and, as luck would have it, his Reserve Chardonnay 2016 – a unanimous crowd favourite. To explain why Usher personally loves Chardonnay, he offered a succinct analogy:

“If Shiraz and Cabernet are like Kings, then Chardonnay is the Queen – like the chess piece, it can do anything from anywhere! It’s the most interesting variety to make and to drink.”

- Usher Tinkler, Hunter Valley Winemaker
It’s also extremely food friendly, depending on the style – Chardonnay can be versatile and extremely easy to pair with a variety of dishes. You only need to think of crystalline Chablis with oysters, a generously oaked Chardonnay with roast pork or chicken, and something in between for scallops and lobster. Don’t forget that Chardonnay is also excellent with soft cheeses. It certainly added an extra dimension to the tasting having food to accompany the wines. This was particularly true of the second bracket, which all had high levels of acidity, and so illustrated how food can really enhance the wine experience. The fusilli with crab, chilli and herbs helped soften the acidity, making for a harmonious matching. So Many Regions to Love It
Chardonnay is planted in virtually every region in Australia, but the ones that have excelled include Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley, Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills. Bubbling under for quality there’s Orange, Mudgee and Tumbarumba, Mornington Peninsula and Macedon Ranges, Beechworth and Coonawarra. On the night, it was the Hunter Valley and the Adelaide Hills that got the most nods with support also going to Mudgee, Coonawarra and Margaret River. The styles were varying among the different regions, but showed clearly the development of Chardonnay and the multitude of ways that winemakers are manipulating the variety in their favour to create the best expressions. And for those dubious guests, the tasting certainly had the desired effect. As Lisa described, “I found the flavour nuances really interesting, most were very balanced, yet complex.” Kirsty agreed, saying, “I was delighted to find that when it’s a good Chardonnay, even the more wooded ones don’t taste like trees. They have very inviting flavours.” For member, Robert Vukasinovic, who was already a fan, he found his “love for Chardonnay has grown stronger after the tasting because there are so many new styles available compared to the past bias towards heavily oaked styles.” What it certainly showed is there’s no doubting we’ve come of age and the new dawn of Australian Chardonnay has emerged victorious.
Wine
Magic Mediterranean - Vermentino
Words by Daniel Honan on 15 Oct 2017
The Italian varietal Vermentino is winning fans for its wonderfully refreshing characters and textural mouthfeel making it the drink for this summer. You heard it here first – Vermentino is the new white! There are fewer wines around that are as sexy to say, taste as good, and are perfect paired with a spread of fresh seafood on a summer’s afternoon. In fact, drinking a glass of Vermentino is like going on a Mediterranean holiday. Indeed, Vermentino hails from the type of places where warm sun and cool sea breezes, cellar doors and summer afternoons are in abundance. Just off the coasts of Italy and France are the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, which lie (almost) in the middle of the Mediterranean, split between the Balearic and Tyrrhenian Seas. Here you’ll find a melting pot of different soils (limestone, granite, sandstone and clay) and climates (maritime and continental) mixed together to provide the perfect growing conditions for this unique grape variety. Aussie Vermentino Just like its home in the Med, here in Australia, Vermentino seems especially at home near the coast, in regions like McLaren Vale , Margaret River , even the Hunter Valley . Yet, this grape variety is also finding favour, and flavour, in other places a little further from the shore, such as King Valley , the Barossa , and the Riverland wine region around Mildura. Inland wine growers, Chalmers, have been pioneering alternative varietals for over 15 years. The family first planted Vermentino back in 2000, and were one of the first wineries in Australia to make wine from the variety. 

“Vermentino was one of our first flagship wines,” says Kim Chalmers. “It’s a variety that loves warm summers and sunshine, which is perfect for our Australian conditions. Its big bunches and juicy berries make it quite resistant to long heat waves. We’ve had a lot of success growing Vermentino at our vineyards in both Heathcote and Mildura.”

- Kim Chalmers, Chalmers Wines, Riverland
That is the great thing we’ve discovered about this (and other) Italian varietals recently trialled across the many wine regions of Australia - their adaptability. If you speak to a European producer of Vermentino, they’ll probably tell you that the grapes must be grown in close proximity to the sea, so that they can possess and express their inherently unique and refreshing sea-spray aroma and flavour. “Our experience growing Vermentino would suggest otherwise,” counters Kim. “We’ve only ever grown the variety very inland, and yet we still get that delicious sea-salt, briny character in all of our wines made from the variety. I think the closeness to the ocean rumour might be an old wives tale.” Key characters
The unique textural and sensual characteristics of Vermentino are what make this variety such a delicious alternative to your typical tipple of, say, Sauvignon Blanc , or Pinot Gris . The dominant aromas and flavours expressed by the grape include juicy lemons and limes, fleshy grapefruit, crunchy green apples and crushed almonds. Sometimes, you may notice the briny scent of ocean-spray drifting over fresh jasmine. At other times, you might smell a hint of beeswax and musk, or taste fresh tropical fruits, crispy pear, with a touch of salt. This all depends, of course, on where the grapes are grown, when they’re picked, and what the winemaker’s intent is when making Vermentino into wine. If the grapes are picked early you will, typically, note freshness and citrus, with bright, crunchy acids. If the grapes are allowed to ripen and are picked a bit later, you get a fleshier, juicier, more tropical style of wine. “The thing about Vermentino is it’s a very late picked varietal, for example, in the Hunter they pick it after Shiraz,” says winemaker David Hook, who has been specialising in Italian varietals for 30 years. “Some go for that lighter, crunchier style, which is picked earlier and is great for everyday drinking. But in Orange, where I source my Vermentino, I like to wait as long as I can to pick it as it gives a bigger, richer style that really highlights the varietal characters and the texture is ramped up.” Phil Ryan, co-Chairman of the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel , echoes David’s preference for the fuller, riper style of Vermentino, saying that it offers so much more for the drinker. “The riper style of Vermentino offers far more complexity and intrigue to the wine,” says Phil. “It also allows those delicious stonefruit characteristics to come to the fore and plays to one of its major appeals, which is its texture.” Vermentino’s textual qualities (the way the wine feels in the mouth when you drink it) also boosts its food matching ability and is one of the reasons why this varietal stands out from the rest of the wine crowd.

Vermentino always goes down well by the glass, here. We’ll often get people sitting at the bar snacking on a bowl of salty, crispy white bait. Personally, I love it matched to a plate of grilled blue mackerel with fresh tomato, olives and chilli.

- Stuart Knox, , Owner and sommelier of Fix St James, in Sydney.
For renowned Vermentino producer Joe Grilli from Primo Estate in McLaren Vale, the big attraction of Vermentino is the combination of freshness and texture. “Our Vermentino has aromas of fresh melon fruits, then some intriguing almond notes, followed by the slightest touch of citrus to finish,” says Joe. “What makes Vermentino so delicious is when all these facets are wrapped up in a lighter bodied wine with still enough texture to really satisfy the tastebuds.” In fashion There is no doubt Vermentino is one of the hottest whites around. Its increasing popularity in wines bars and restaurants around the country is reflected in its growing success at wine shows, particularly the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, held each year in Mildura. Organiser, Kim Chalmers says that Vermentino is one of the most popular wines of the show. “It’s massive,” says Kim. “We’ve had a Vermentino class since 2008 and for a number of years only a handful of wineries entered wines into that class. Within five years, the numbers have boomed. Last year there were 93 entries, and now the class has split into two separate classes: one for the lighter and fresher styles, and one for the more fuller bodied, richer styles.” There’s even a third style to be found in Australia, these days. It’s said that the name Vermentino derives from the Italian word, ‘fermento’, which relates to the fizzy characters of the young wine and this might have inspired Fowles Wine, from the Strathbogie Ranges, to make a fun, sparkling style of Vermentino. “I’m a huge fan of the tangy lemon and light florals of Vermentino and thought it might be fun to see those characters sparkle,” says Matt Fowles. “We make our sparkling Vermentino in a Prosecco style, and, I must say, I’ve been surprised just how well it’s been received!” The tasting For this tasting, over 50 Vermentinos were submitted to the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel . For a wine considered to still be an ‘emerging’ varietal, the pass rate was impressively high with around 75% scoring a medal. The top 20 wines were hotly contested and, as expected, the spread of regions was vast with multiple entries from the Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale and Barossa, as well as Riverland, which doesn’t often get much kudos in wine shows, but is proving to be a real contender with Italian varietals. The styles were varied, which is to be expected, given all the variables, but the underlying characters remained true – delicious stonefruit flavours balanced with freshness and texture with subtle sea salt notes and energetic acidity. You just have to find the particular nuances that appeal to you. Yep, Vermentino is here. Whether enjoying a warm afternoon with a sumptuous spread of seafood or sitting in a cosy bar planning a potential Mediterranean sojourn, pairing your activity with a glass of your favourite Vermentino seems like the perfect thing to do. The Standout Vermentino from the Tasting Trentham The Family Vermentino 2016 (Murray Darling) Chalmers Vermentino 2016 (Heathcote) Stone Dwellers Limited Release Vermentino 2015 (Strathbogie Ranges) Lovable Rogue The Italian Jobs Vermentino 2016 (Hunter Valley) Parish Hill Vermentino 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Seppeltsfield Cellar Door Collection Vermentino 2017 (Barossa) Tulloch Cellar Door Release Vermentino 2017 (Orange) Chalk Hill Wines Vermentino 2016 (McLaren Vale) Saddler’s Vermentino 2015 (Barossa) Alejandro Vermentino 2016 (Riverland) Alternatus Vermentino 2016 (Mclaren vale) David Hook Central Ranges Vermentino 2016 (Orange) First Creek Vermentino 2016 (Hunter Valley) La Maschera Vermentino 2015 (Barossa)
Wine
Seven New Wines to Explore this Spring
Celebrate the arrival of spring and explore a whole new world of wine with some exciting alternative varietals guaranteed to become firm new favourites. To take the guess work out of what you think you might or might not enjoy, the Tasting Pane l has selected seven favourite main-stream varietals our Members love and suggested a new alternative varietal that is similar. Chardonnay + Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc + Vermentino, Pinot G + Arneis, Riesling + Gruner Veltliner, Shiraz + Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon + Durif, and Pinot Noir + Nero d’Avola. Favourites you love + new finds to enjoy 1. Roussanne
"Wonderfully aromatic, Roussanne delivers all the stonefruit and honeysuckle characters that Chardonnay drinkers can’t resist,” says Tasting Panellist, Dave Mavor . Roussanne hails from the Northern Rhône and its name comes from ‘roux’, French for ‘russet’, which describes the reddish-gold colour of its skin when ripe. It thrives in moderate to warm climates such as Barossa Valley , McLaren Vale and Rutherglen . Its rich texture makes it ideal with creamy sauces – roasted poultry, shellfish with cream sauce, pork dishes. Discover the delights of Roussanne for free with each Chardonnay Charm Dozen 2. Vermentino 
“ Sauvignon Blanc fans will love how Vermentino is just as mouth-watering and full of citrus flavours,” says Tasting Panellist, Nicole Gow . Find out more about the variety with Nicole's Vermentino guide here . Most famously grown on the Italian island of Sardinia, it makes perfect sense that Vermentino suits Australia’s warm climate, especially that of McLaren Vale . Styles range from light and fresh to rich and textural. It thrives in cool to warm climates giving different characteristics. Grown increasingly in Australia, most notably in King Valley , McLaren Vale and the Hunter Valley . Bright acidity and textural elements make it idea with a range of simply-prepared foods – grilled white fish, calamari, and tomato based sauces. Experience the refreshing citrus flavours of Vermentino for free with the Symphony of Sauvignon Blanc Dozen. 3. Arneis
“Crisp, floral and packed full of pear with a lovely texture, like Pinot G , Arneis is a fabulously food-friendly white,” says Tasting Panellist, Keith Tulloch . Originating in Italy, Arneis is a white varietal winemakers often blend with Nebbiolo to add a touch of sweetness and perfume. Here in Australia, it’s living up to its reputation as being a little difficult to grow – an emerging hit. It thrives on cool to moderate climates such as Adelaide Hills , King Valley and Mornington Peninsula . A crisp yet generous and versatile variety – pair it with salads, egg-based dishes, antipasto. Discover the food-friendly Arneis for free with the Pinot G Perfection Dozen 4. Gruner Veltliner
“ Gruner Veltliner is very similar to Riesling , but with just a little more richness and a distinctive peppery aroma that I know you’ll adore," says Tasting Panellist, Trent Mannell . Gruener Veltliner is the most famous and widely planted white variety in Austria. Here in Australia it’s gaining a great following due to passion of producers including Tomich Wines, Cape Barren and Geoff Hardy . It thrives in cool climates such as Adelaide Hills . An elegant, complex and savoury variety, ideally suited to aromatic dishes, spicy vegetables, tofu and Japanese. Venture into the world of Gruner Veltliner for free with the Flourish of Riesling Dozen 5. Zinfandel
“Big, rich and plummy, Zinfandel offers all the intensity that Shiraz lovers look for," says Tasting Panel co-Chairman, Phil Ryan . Know in Australia more by its Puglian name of Primitivo, this robust red can have a very high alcohol content, sometimes as high as 17%! In America, it’s also made into a white wine called White Zin. It thrives in warmer climates such as Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Rutherglen . Its sweet fruit and spicy tannins pair well with smokey, spicy dishes – barbeques, spicy Asian dishes, and curries. Savour the deliciousness of Zinfandel for free with the Shiraz Intensity Doze n 6. Durif
“ Durif and Cabernet are similarly luxurious with dark cherry, chocolate and hints of anise,” says Tasting Panellist, Dave Mavor . Hailing from the south of France, Durif is now most prolific in Australia and California. It has great ageing potential and blends beautifully with Shiraz. It thrives in hot climates such as Rutherglen, Barossa Valley and Riverland . Pair it with richer, high fat foods to balance the robust tannins – rich braised meats, casserole and meaty pasta. Delve into the delicious world of Durif with the Chocolatey Cabernet Dozen . 7. Nero d’Avola
“With its spicy fruits and supple savoury texture, Nero d’Avola will sweep you off your feet,” says Tasting Panellist, Adam Walls . Find out more about the variety in Adam's video here Translating as ‘black grape of Avola’, Nero d’Avola hails from the Italian town for which it’s named. It didn’t arrive in Australia until 1998 and while it’s not widely known, it’s proving to be a delicious drink. It thrives in moderate to warm climates such as Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Riverland, Heathcote and Murray Darling. Pair it with rich dishes that will be balanced by the tannins and high acidity – osso bucco, spicy Indian and game meat. Make a Nero d’Avola discovery for free with the Pinot Noir Explosion Dozen . Expand your cellar with all of these great new finds, and open up a whole new world of food and wine matching possibilities.
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