Musings about Australian grenache 1

This is a stray, off-theme post about my recent excitement, fascination, and obsession with modern Australian Grenache. It’s had a huge historical presence within Australia, but setting aside its contribution to fortified wines, there haven’t been many varietal table wines that scaled the heights.

Of course, there have been honourable exceptions; some Hardy’s wines have proven Grenache’s longevity (a recent 1997 showed up well); the 2016 Turkey Flat famously won a Jimmy Watson trophy. Yet until recently, Grenache’s unfortified best seemed to be in rosé- style wines (a la Provence).

I have been a follower of SC Pannells grenache stylings for a few years (the Smart, the Old MacDonald and several blends) but apart from that, there weren’t many thrills. My view is that wineries regarded their red wine Shiraz, and Cabernet as their meal tickets – Grenache was an afterthought –picked when convenient, stored where convenient, treated cursorily.

But only a few years ago, some winemakers and companies realised that they had a treasure. They had the seriously old-vine resources (those that remained after the misguided vine-pull scheme). Earlier picking, treatment in older, larger oak, or concrete, or amphora, extended skin contact etc made a huge difference and the transformation began. Yalumba in the Barossa has many individual grenache releases, but the action really seems to be in McLaren Vale. Here, wines from Blewitt Springs can be world-class, but there’s terrific examples from Clarendon, and the less-known “outliers” Seaview and Onkaparinga Hills, plus the ability to blend across sites.

Stephen Pannell commented ”All I have to do is counteract the two misguided extremes of varietal style: sweet and syrupy at one end, under-ripe, tannin-free giggle juice at the other.  Truly great Grenache is neither.  Truly great Grenache has aromatics and texture with vibrance and energy. It unfurls gradually with air and, most importantly, speaks clearly of soil and season”.

What is the excitement? Red fruits with intrigue not just confined to raspberry, rose-hip, rhubarb, cherry, blood orange, grapefruit, sometimes violets, seaweed, red liquorice, blueberry, saltbush, and other exotics with an array of spices and incense. Fruit abundance not smeared with excessive oak, there’s tannins and longevity, and it’s ultra food-friendly. There’s an instant fruit hit, but easy to forecast equal joy with five-to-eight years cellaring.

My first visit To McLaren Vale for ten years was only a few months ago and I tasted some thrilling Grenache examples; in a rush of enthusiasm many more were purchased with very few disappointments. Plus many of the winemakers freely name acknowledge the growers.

I have not appended tasting notes or scores fore these Grenaches, but the meagre-cropping 2020 vintage was matched in quality by the 2021s I have tasted. I have been impressed enough to purchase (alphabetically, McLaren Vale unless noted) with very approximate prices. There are many more untasted, but there are limits both to my wallet, and drinking capacity.

Adelina (Clare Valley) 2021 $55

Bekkers 2020 (not cheap, $90 but the quality is riveting)

De Bortoli “wizardry” (Heathcote) $20 Bargain, short-term; with a more up-market amphora “Phi”

In Praise of shadows 2021 ($30)

Krondorf Founders View 2020 (Barossa) short-term, but outstanding $25 VFM)

Paralian 2020 and 2021 – Blewitt Springs, special VFM and quality ($45), the Shiraz is a ripper too

SC Pannell 2020 Smart, and Old McDonald ($70); the “Vale” blend is also eminently cellarworthy

Seppeltsfield “village” 2021 (Barossa) $30 intense, and fleshy. Don’t let “joven” deter you.

Thistledown There’s probably 10 grenaches in their kitbag, with the Sands of time well regarded, but thrills aplenty with Vagabond ($60) and I’m working my way through other 2021s

Vanguardist “V” 2020, Blewitt Springs ($50)

Varney 2021 ($35)

Willunga 100 2020 (Blewitt springs) $45; A range of Grenaches made; this stood out

Yangarra Blewitt Springs. The High Sands is admirable, but not immediately hedonistic; the Ovitelli and Hickinbotham (Clarendon  ($75) stir my senses.

I have not canvassed GSM blends; I am torn between the intellectual notion of site/terroir vs the bitter experience that many blends are not an attempt to make a better wine, but odds and ends thrown together, or an effort to “rescue” a batch in an attempt to cover its deficiencies.

I have also not covered the excitement of some of the Spanish Garnache blends nor some of the Southern Rhone (and yes, I have tasted several Ch Rayas).

Curiously, I think that some of the care taken with Grenache in McLaren Vale has benefited the approach taken with Shiraz too. These seem to have more freshness and are not mono-dimensional dark chocolate exemplars. I further speculate that experiences with tannin management with Nebbiolo, Nero etc have infiltrated the approach to Grenache.

But the lesson is – go forth and try some of these wines; my preconceptions were outmoded; I hope my clever and influential readers are encouraged to experiment, gain thrills and spread the word; classy wines are so close, and the prices are more than fair.

One big bottle – 1990 Buller Vintage Port 20.8% (magnum #310)

Rutherglen Shiraz, but possibly with some Swan Hill fruit and perhaps some Portuguese varieties too! Who would know? What crazy person buys a magnum of a fortified (guilty) – yet 10 people over a long lunch left only perhaps 400ml, which is a hearty recommendation of the wine’s drinkability.

Buller’s was an obligatory first stop when visiting Rutherglen – its bird park an irresistible and unfailing attraction for my children, and a welcome chance to stretch out after a long car journey.

1990 bullers vp

The wine was a  bit advanced for its age – and a very ordinary cork- but forgiven for its deliciousness factor. Ultra-clean, likely neutral (SVR) spirit, there’s a wisp of mint/menthol/wintergreen; it’s very sweet and soft and densely packed with mocha and blackberry. Just the wine to soothe over a winter fire with witty conversation or a sparkling comedy.

Drink to 2030, 91 points

1976 Orlando Vintage Port 18.3%

Barossa Valley. “Limited Special release” with “potential for further cellaring”, Shiraz and Carignan, and possibly a better wine than the “unlimited ordinary”. A wizened cork, but no drama after 46 years.

1976 orlando vp new

An auction purchase last year for $20, this was insane buying, and a much better bottle than the previous one. Very dense garnet colour with some bricking on the rim; there’s sweet dark fruit, sweet spices and superior brandy spirit; the palate is plush and engaging, blueberry, blackberry and plum with a bit of mocha and red liquorice, all still fresh and crisp. A winner that looks good for another twenty years – cork permitting. Classic Oz. Exciting.

Drink to 2035, and well deserves 93 points

Two sweet, and two strong

2000 Ch Rieussec (Fargues, Sauternes) 13.5%
1999 Ch Coutet (Barsac, Sauternes) 13%
These were served as a pair (masked). The first wine had more of a copper colour, but with definitive Sauternes character – vanilla, cumquat, wax, honey, bitter orange and citrus rind. It seemed ripe, ready, and enjoyable. 2000 was a wet year with a small crop – 65% Semillon, 24% sav blanc, 11% muscadelle.
Drink to 2025, and 92 points

The second wine also seemed typically Sauternes, albeit with less overt acidity. Pale orange colour, melon and tropical pineapple were its key features. This was also ready, but in a subtler style than the first wine. Sound, correct but few thrills. 75% Semillon, 23% sav blanc, 2% muscadelle.
Drink now, 90 points

I (correctly) guessed both wines were from the mid to late 1990’s, and from “lesser” years.

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One sweet, one strong

1996 SA Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux 1er trie 12.5%
Chenin Blanc, Vouvray, Loire Valley (biodynamic since 1990).

Huet is a famous maker, with a range including sparkling, sec, demi-sec and sweet. Clos du Bourg is regarded as its “top” site. Chenin Blanc is a high acid white wine variety, entirely undistinguished in Australia (although it played an important role in old Houghton White Burgundies, and there are a few brave producers persevering, such as Coriole).

1996 huet

The cork was unremarkable but had performed its task, and the colour was bright gold. Despite its sweetness level (70 g/l?)  this wine was deliberately served with a meal as a savoury white wine. The acidity was completely integrated and concealed the inherent sweetness. Apricot, cumquat, baked apple, honey, marzipan and shortcrust; resoundingly fresh and savoury in intent (regardless of its  analytical sweetness).  Super-complex, it was just a delight to drink and a reminder of the potency of the best wines of the Loire (much harder to find in Australia than they deserve).

Drink to 2030, and 94 points (for surprise value, a higher score is warranted)

1971 Metala Vintage Port
Langhorne Creek, South Australia, likely Shiraz.

Langhorne Creek is not a “renowned” area for VP styles in Australia, but it’s full of surprises. Its longstanding contributions to the red wines of Wolf Blass cannot be ignored. Bleasdale makes an array of excellent Malbecs – and much more- Lake Breeze deserves greater recognition,  as does Bremerton.

The label of this wine had effectively disintegrated, but it’s understood to have been recorked (and possibly tweaked) in 2015. Huon Hooke has an illuminating article on the recent buyback of the Metala brand here.

But it was another knockout to drink – another 51-year-old wine consumed only weeks after the All Saints.

Liquorice, dark fruits, cream and pie crumble, dark berries, dried fruits and the most startling feature was its freshness – a lovely piece of history.

Drink to 2030 and 93 points

1971 All Saints Vintage Port

Australia has a prolific number of wineries and wines with “saint” embedded in their names; St Hallett, St Hugo, St Huberts, and St Leonards are merely some that I have purchased. All Saints (established in the 1860s) is an old winery near Rutherglen that went through complex ownership, marketing and labelling upheavals (it’s now owned independently by members of the Brown family.  Visiting as a youngster, I prowled through the enormous hall where barrels of fortified matured (since mostly sold off), the castle-style main building, and the vast estate grounds full of numerous buildings.

This wine was served blind, and my impressions ran “mocha/toffee/coffee, cherry, then very dense, obviously old, sweet blackberry, traditional in style, but still fresh, lively and delicious”. My conclusions- “Australian vintage Port, likely early 1980’s, and unable to guess origin – if pushed, South Australia”,.

Regardless, it’s special occasion when I taste a wine over fifty years old.

Drink to 2030, with 91 points (higher if history nudges wine appreciation more).

2000 Pfeiffer Christopher’s VP 18%

Rutherglen, Victoria, 100% Touriga

Pfeiffer is making one of – and arguably-  the best Australian VP style with the amazing 2015 carting away numerous gold medals on the Australian wine circuit, and available on their website  for a surreal bargain price $30.

2000 pfeiffer vp

This was a recent auction purchase. The back label advises “will continue to improve for at least 21 years”, so it was expected to be ready (or near enough with the conservative winemaker predictions that allow for imperfect cellaring).

Good cork, and the sediment was easily removed with decanting

Deep ruby colour with some harmless bricking on the meniscus. There’s plentiful cinnamon spices, dark roses, cherry, and red liquorice with a faint touch pf prune. The palate is bright and fresh, and drier than most Oz VP efforts. High quality brandy spirit makes more of an impression here, overall; it’s succulent with mixed red and black fruits. There’s fine tannin, and this is another wine that provides complete satisfaction for a meagre price.

Drink to 2030, 93 points

Hector and “minimal intervention” (NOB) wines

I, (Hector Lannible) am constantly approached by business leaders, Government Ministers and the assorted press – gutter and otherwise- seeking my profound wisdom on the world of alcohol. My evidence-based, iron-disciplined views are justifiably notorious.

So let me settle one controversial wine topic once and for all.

NOB – (Natural, Organic, Biodynamic) – hipster voodoo nonsense, or planet-saving healthiness?

No-one can deny trends in the wine industry. Huge strides have been made in grapegrowing, winemaking and, of course, marketing. We know all about getting the “right varieties in the right places,” old vines, and the cult of auteur winemakers.

Lately we’ve seen growing customer distrust of industrialisation; a desire for intimacy and diminished manipulation. For the story behind the wines. For doing more with less.

And the makers of these nouvelle vague wines often proudly boast they carry no winemaking qualifications, no vineyard or winery. Every wine is more honest, more compelling, and more rewarding than tricked up soulless mass-market wine products.

Critics might describe the NOB market as virtue-signalling, sandal-wearing, vegan tree-huggers with electric SUV’s. But these people are missing the key benefit of natural wine.

We can get it into the market quickly, and at a premium price.

What more could we ask for? Cashflow is king! Why bother with the time involved to make “proper” sparkling wine, with years of maturation when you can whip out “prosecco” in a few months. And why bother with that, when a “pet-nat” can grace the shelves mere weeks after harvest?

And, of course, Stoney Goose Ridge could not ignore the lucrative sales, margins, brand-building and resultant boost to my bonus.

Our wine people are always itching to tinker with new techniques and gadgetry. Thanks to my uncanny exploitation of R&D tax breaks, we have ceramic eggs, amphorae, prepared ambient yeasts, and many other toys. Under my benevolent oversight, winemakers carefully curate small batches, and after my brutal assessments and improvement finesses, these can readily transformed be into commercial wine lake quantities.

Our first lo-fi, hands-off “orange wine” Hipster’s Reward®,  laid waste to somms, and customers across several continents, smashing sales records. Our selected winemaking ambassadors fronted the media – with minders – flaunting their beards, tattoos, and piercings. Non-male winemakers too.

It was a runaway success, where our only key problem was making more!

Organic and biodynamic wines often have annoying and, frankly, unnecessarily laborious certification processes, with competing authorities, and ambiguous rules. This is ideal for Stoney Goose Ridge! We claim to abide by the principles but see no need to be hamstrung by red-tape stifling innovation.

And we are sensitive to feedback, with our massed lawyers always eager to issue writs for defamation, with corrective and humbling apologies and punitive damages sought.

Of course, our mainline is mainstream wines, utilising all the tools that make such a difference in improving quality and decreasing costs; mini-ox, oak chunks, reversal osmosis, flowcross filtering and so on in the winery, and spraying with mega-drones, and mechanical trimming and grape collection.

We even made a wine to appeal to the fervent anti-NOBs, an interstellar opposite, the ultra-hi-tech dark horse Miraculous Maximus Technoplex®.

At Stoney Goose Ridge, we are indifferently agnostic to unquantifiable customer beliefs. We proudly cater for all market matrices  that provide momentum-bursting growth and profitability metrics.

Two 2007 spatlese from Schloss Lieser

2007 schloss lieser spatlese pair

Schloss Lieser is one of my favourite Mosel producers, with a track record of providing excellence at a modest price. I have fond memories and notes from a dinner when winemaker Thomas Haag visited Australia in March 2010 – (with a mere 15! wines presented). Neville Yates‘ Eurocentric store has many Schloss Lieser wines available).

Neiderberg Helden wines are typically on the more earthy, minerally end than Brauneberg. These sweet wines of Schloss Lieser were fermented in stainless steel with wild yeasts.

2007 Schloss Lieser Neiderberg Helden Riesling Spatlese AP#7 8.5%
Mosel, 78 g/l residual sugar.

The first bottle was oxidised; so another was located and opened. Pale gold colour, Light spices, fresh red apple and some herbs. User-friendly now, with its lemon/citrus fruited sweetness melded with acidity and good concentration. But there’s no real upside in waiting.

Drink to 2027, 90 points

2007 Schloss Lieser Braunberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese AP#8 8%
Mosel, and a high-for-style 94g/l residual sugar.

Lemon colour, exuberantly bursts out with sweet cinnamon, spices, ripe apple and honey, a dash of lime and brown sugar. Balanced, fresh, and so easy to revel in. The palate is creamy, with white peach notes, oranges and underlying flintiness.

Crisp and persistent. Precise.  Sweet and cuddly, but that natural acidity cleans up beautifully. Ripping quality and value.

Drink to 2032, 93 points

Odds and ends impressions- local, and not

at matteos

2011 Ch Climens
Barsac, 100% Semillon (biodynamic) 20-22 months in oak, 30-40% new oak

Crème brulee, stonefruit, vanilla, ripe but not overripe apricots, citrus. 140g/l rs, but light on its feet, energetic, beautifully balanced. If time permitted, more nuance would come through. A Long cellaring time beckons but no problem tackling now!

Drink to 2035, 95 points

2010 Crawford River “nektar”
90% sav Blanc, 10% Semillon. 116 g/l rs. From Henty (western Victoria), and proof that Crawford River can produce more than their mighty Rieslings.

Very youthful, with a striking overlay of an attractive green nettle character and citrus, with . Pure, bright, and frighteningly youthful, botrytis and citrus, lingering and packed with acidity. The half-bottle emptied rapidly!

Drink to 2030, 92 points.

1997 Stanton and Killleen Vintage Port
Rutherglen, and regarded by the late winemaker Chris Killeen as his best wine. 60% Shiraz, 25% touriga, 5% each of Durif, tinta cao and tinta barocca. 3 trophies and 13 gold medals (when these were hard to get).

When I tasted this wine prior to its release; I instantly signed up for six bottles, and still have a few! I last wrote about it for this site in November 2018.

Dense deep red colour, cocoa, blackcurrant, chocolate mocha, almond, liquorice and blueberry. Masterful. Australia, you bloody beauty!

Drink to 2035, 95 points

2012 Quinta do Noval unfiltered Late-bottled vintage port 19.5%
QDN now declare a vintage every year, with the “less-than VP” wines cascaded potentially into the single quinta Silval, the LBVPs, and onwards.

LBVPs are a curious partway house between VPs, and the deliberately oxidative tawnies. From a single year, they can fall into “ready” vs “worth ageing”, but I have not found “unfiltered” to be a reliable cellaring guide; the key is producer.

Regardless, this excellent-value wine is a bawling infant, crimson in colour, ultra-fresh with floral red cherry, mixed spices and almond spirit; delicious, dry but ultimately straightforward. Tannin too, but not the substantial underlying depth of a true VP.  There’s no need to rush to consume, but its best will be within this decade.

Drink to 2027, 91 points