Australia part 3: Grenache
While travelling round the different regions I heard about many changing trends, new experiments with varieties and ways of making wine. These guys are not resting on their past success! But this did take different forms in different regions. In South Australia there was a lot of emphasis on Grenache. This is originally a French grape variety, at home in the warm climates of Southern France where is plays the major part in all the blends there, including the famous Chateaneuf du Pape.
In fact it’s a grape variety that is more often seen as part of a blend than as single varietal wine, and this is because without careful growing it can tend toward high alcohol and low tannin and acidity – which is not a good thing! The other grape varieties it is traditionally blended with (Shiraz, Mourvedre) have more tannin and acidity and therefore provide the balance.
Single varietal Grenache has existed in Australia for a long time: the conditions are just right. It needs some heat to ripen, but can maintain some of it’s more savoury undertones. However, it has never been the star of the show, always second place to the more famous Shiraz. But times are changing. While I was there Turkey Flat’s 2016 Grenache won the Jimmy Watson award is one of Australia’s most prestigious wine awards (for the best one or two year old dry red) – the first time a Grenache has ever won!! And while we were in McLaren Vale I was lucky enough to attend the annual Bushing Lunch where the Bushing Monarch’s are crowned as an award for the best wine. And guess what it was? Another Grenache. The 2016 Kay Brother’s Griffon’s Key Grenache to be precise.
So what is it about Grenache that is so appealing? Well part of the ability to create these wines is the access to old vines, which will create more concentrated and structured wines. Picking at lower yields, and picking earlier will ensure that not too much sugar builds up in the grape. As well as this changes in fermentation mean that whole berries or whole bunches are becoming are frequent, which will also soften the tannin and bring a brightness of flavour. Use of oak varies, but for the most part winemakers are going for large format old barrels, to give soften the texture and add subtle complexity. The wines produced vary in style, some more delicate and fruit driven, some more savoury or spicy or floral or tannic - you get the idea!
While it may not be so easy to describe a 'typical' style, what’s certain is that they definitely deserve more attention! I was lucky enough to taste many excellent example, some of my favourites were Wirra Wirra The Absconder Grenache 2016, Mitolo The Jester Grenache 2016, Gemtree Grenache 2017 and Serafino GSM 2016. Go check them out!