• Roger Jones on the upturn of South Australian Grenache

    All of those advocates of South Australian Grenache – winemakers and voices in the trade – are being proved right as the sheer quality of the wines coming out from Down Under are proving to be peerless. To make the point Amelia Jukes held an event in London’s 67 Pall Mall called ‘Continents of Grenache – an exploration of South Australian Grenache’ to highlight what South Australia can offer and to pit them against the best from across the globe. Roger Jones was in attendance and picks out his highlights that include wines from Alkina, Cirillo, John Duval and Yangarra.

    All of those advocates of South Australian Grenache – winemakers and voices in the trade – are being proved right as the sheer quality of the wines coming out from Down Under are proving to be peerless. To make the point Amelia Jukes held an event in London’s 67 Pall Mall called ‘Continents of Grenache – an exploration of South Australian Grenache’ to highlight what South Australia can offer and to pit them against the best from across the globe. Roger Jones was in attendance and picks out his highlights that include wines from Alkina, Cirillo, John Duval and Yangarra.

    mm By November 5, 2023

    “I certainly left the tasting with a spring in my step, happily educated in the knowledge that South Australian Grenache really is becoming a superstar,” writes Jones

    South Australian Grenache
    Just some of the many top South Australian Grenache shown at the masterclass, October 4, 2023

    There cannot be many grape varieties that have seen such a monumental change in their prosperity than South Australian Grenache. Yes, one could mention Chenin Blanc in South Africa, and many decades ago the amazing uplift in world wide sales of Riesling after Australia had brought that grape to the table, but what has happened in a relatively short period with Grenache is quite remarkable, especially with the prices that the top wines are achieving.

    Earlier this month Amelia Jukes hosted Continents of Grenache – an exploration of South Australian Grenache to highlight what South Australia can offer and to pit them against the best from across the globe, although Château Rayas was not in the line-up, even Amelia’s generosity did not stretch this far (NB Berry Bros has the 2009 on sale at £2,043 a bottle).

    Historically, Grenache was used in Australia for its fortified wines back in the 1950s and in recent years, for me, was often in a clumsy position between a jammy fruit bomb and a restrained forest floor dusty number with, of course, a few notable exceptions such as Clarendon Hills, Yangarra and Torbreck and some GSM efforts. However, Grenache vineyards now fetch four times the price of Pinot vineyards in South Australia according to Giles Cooke MW who, to be fair, has been banging the drum on Grenache for decades – even making his own.

    Hallelujah! This tasting highlighted my recent ignorance and brought some quite outstanding wines to the table, in front of a packed out audience at London’s 67 Pall Mall. There was a panel of experts who knew a thing or two about Grenache: Matthew Jukes, Giles Cook MW, and Susie Barrie MW and there were many more Grenache experts in the audience.

    There were new names (vineyards) such as Alkina, which has been causing quite a stir in recent years in Australia, with plenty of money behind it, forging forth with the ‘Grenache testament’. Then old kids on the block who have come out from the shadows such as Cirillo, sourcing its Grenache from 175-year-old vines on the Seigersford plot in the Barossa. Vincent Cirillo took over the estate in the 1970s selling firstly to local home winemakers before moving on to selling to the big names, and now producing its own wines led by son Marco and wife Annika.

    Tasting South Australian Grenache against other wines

    Besides straight Grenache samples there were also some blended wines, but I will concentrate on the straight Grenache in this article, but rest assured there were some outstanding blends.

    South Australian Grenache

    MMAD Vineyard Grenache 2021 RRP £40.95 (Liberty)

    Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale

    Early days for this consortium including Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith, with this first vintage, although vines were first planted here in the 193’s. This certainly has potential, coming from the esteemed Blewitt Springs region. Fresh delicate strawberry perfume, some dark notes, bubble gum, raisins, chalk and spice. Hints of cocoa, not quite balanced currently, but evolving and needs time.

    Chapel Hill ‘1952’ Old Vine Grenache 2021 RRP £52.00 (Bancroft)

    McLaren Flat, McLaren Vale 

    This vineyard was planted in 1952, fruit coming from a single vineyard plot of un-grafted bush vines. Dark purple hue, violets, savoury, with perfume of rose buds. Luxurious mouthfeel. This was fresh and layered, fresh berry notes combining well with savoury notes, vanilla salt, cranberry, hint of tangerine pith, touch of BBQ/bacon, all integrated well. Youthful but will evolve beautifully.

    SC Pannell, Old McDonald Grenache 2021 RRP £42.00 (Liberty)

    Blewitt Springs 

    79 year old un-grafted vineyard on Maslin Beach Sands; ripe juicy strawberry nose, cranberry, dark violets and rose buds. Bright and focused on the palate, zingy, clusters of berries dance on the palate, fresh and vibrant, hints of chalk, the tannin is focused.Again this needs time to relax and evolve.

    Willunga 100, Smart Vineyard Grenache 2021 RRP £28.00 (Liberty)

    Smart Vineyard Clarendon, McLaren Vale 

    Founded by David Gleave and John Ratcliffe in the early 2000s. Both were keen to invest in Grenache and produced an award winning Grenache in 2005 (great vision), since then they searched further afield with Tim James as consultant winemaker, and since 2015 have been sourcing these grapes from the Smart Vineyard in Clarendon.

    This was the first Grenache in the tasting to give that back-of-the-neck thrill, and the cheapest wine in the line-up. Loganberries, delicate blackberries, gentle perfume, spiced fruity and velvety. This is fresh, clean and focused, a glorious mouthfeel, still young, but plenty of character – has that impressive cool feel on the finish.

    Thistledown, Charming Man Grenache, 2021 RRP £48.00 (Alliance)

    Clarendon, McLaren Vale 

    Thistledown wines was set up by Giles Cooke MW & Fergal Tynan in 2011, with the aim of re-inventing the Grenache vision in Australia, sourcing grapes from the very best old vine sites across McLaren Vale, Barossa and Riverland. Parts of this vineyard are owned by the McLaren Vale legend ‘Bernard Smart’ who has been instrumental in saving 100-year-old Grenache vineyards.

    Purple notes, cranberry, cherry, delicate perfume, elegant and seamless I noted, fresh and vibrant, lacquered but spotlessly clean, plenty of energy, the balance is fabulous, love to see this age a decade.

    The Language of Yes Grenache, Santa Maria, California 2020 RRP £44.00 (Hallgarten)

    Big aromatic perfumed style, clean on the palate, pomegranate, hint of ice cream, cool fresh and tasted expensive, rather liked this, especially at the price for a Californian wine.

    Bodegas Frontonio La Crequeta, Aragon, Spain 2020 RRP £48.00 (Bancroft)

    Rosebuds, bubble gum, floral, dry tannins, then mid-palate there is a crunch, energy and freshness, good balance between herbaceous notes, red fruit and forest floor notes. Still a bit closed for me.

    UVAs Felices, La Reina de los Desios, Madrid Spain 2020 RRP £90.00 (Wine Treasury)

    Unfortunately for me my sample of this wine was faulty, oxidised.

    Annexus Grenache, John Duval 2022 RRP £40.00 (Liberty)

    Eden Valley, Barossa 

    I first met John Duval whilst he was holding the keys to Penfolds Grange, and have followed his footsteps with his own label over the years. This 95% Grenache (small amount of Shiraz and Mataro) are sourced from vines planted 165 years ago, at the Stonegarden Vineyard, just outside Springton in the Eden Valley.

    This is plush with dark but precise notes, voluptuous and restrained in the same mouthful. Rich spices, vibrant aromatics, focused with a racy acidity. This is complex and complete with a beautiful perfume. Quite exceptional.

    Yalumba The Tri-Centenary Grenache 2021 RRP £40.00 (Fells)

    Vine Vale, Barossa Valley 

    This Grenache was left ‘on skins’ for 250 days, whereas normally 100 days had been the norm, the result? an outstanding savoury, spiced, fruity, textured and layered wine of exceptional value and quality.

    This is ‘Old School’ Grenache but with immense flavours, a great balance between dark fruit and meaty bacon notes, but still has elegance – one for those who like ‘the dark side’.

    A Tribute to Grace, Shake Ridge Ranch, Sierra Foothills, California 2020 RRP £75.00 (Lea & Sandeman)

    Made by a New Zealand winemaker, Angela Osbourne, with Rayas in her mythology, this is an impressive wine, perfumed and beautifully balanced, violets, silky, with a restrained 13.9%, exceptional mouthfeel, the delicate flavours on the palate are exquisite.

    Gigondas, Clos Derrière Vieille, Domaine Santa Duc, France RRP £50.95 (Lea & Sandeman)

    Punchy with tobacco notes, taut tannin, fresh spices, dark fruit, a classic Gigondas which had some medicinal notes, perfectly good for this style, but needs decanting and opening up.

    Nine Popes 2019, Charles Melton £78.00 (Barossa) was served next, which was fabulous but it is 48% Shiraz likewise the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Tiancee, Domaine de la Barroche, France RRP £70.00 is 50/50 Grenache to Syrah, again a polished wine but the Nine Popes was much classier.

    Cirillo Ancestor Vine Grenache, 2015 RRP £67.00 (GB Wine Shippers)

    Seigersdorf/Light Pass, Barossa

    This single vineyard is believed to be the oldest Grenache vineyard in the world, planted in 1848. Only two people have pruned the vines in the last 53 years, Marco and his father Vincent Cirillo.

    Juicy and focused, love the purity, this is pretty seamless, liquid gold, the fruits are just a gentle taste in the background with succulent notes, for age and drinkability this is a great value, quality and classy wine that will enthral newcomers to Grenache.

    Mas Martinet, Els Escurcons, Priorat, Spain 2016 RRP £83.00 (Justerini & Brooks)

    Dark perfume elegant aromatics, still feels youthful despite being nearly eight years old. This is full of life, vibrant, gushing with fruity and savoury notes, it is earthy, bacon, forest floor combined with ripe fruit – I guess the Aussies would fault it for that bit of Brett!

    South Australian Grenache

    Alkina Polygon No.5 Grenache, 2020 RRP £185.00 (Raeburn Fine Wines)

    Greenock, Barossa Valley

    New kid on the block, but with vines dating back to the 1950s. These guys take Grenache seriously, no holds or costs held back here with the aim of making perfection.

    Wow, what a wine! this is focused, pure and quite breathtakingly brilliant. Don’t panic re. the price there are siblings at more manageable prices, but buck for buck this is definitely worth this price. Huge noises coming from the big guns (judges) of Australia on this wine.

    Cocoa spice, cranberry, rich cherries, mulberries, the notes keep on coming – there is a dark graphite feel, it has power but as it evolves on the palate it gently softens away leaving an incredible mouthfeel. And one extra plus point – the alcohol is a restrained 13.7%, although the winery claims it is even lower at 13.2%.

    South Australian Grenache

    Yangarra High Sands Grenache 2019 RRP £150.00  (Fells)

    Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale

    This vineyard was planted in 1946 – Yangarra has championed Grenache for some time, and this wine shows real class. This has sensitivity throughout, seamless with bright freshness balanced with spices and savoury notes. Cranberry and cherries, with some herbaceous notes together – as the wine opens up on the palate there is a wonderful, perfect mouthfeel – this really does show just how good Grenache can be and will evolve perfectly.

    Torbreck Les Amis Grenache 2018 RRP £140.00 (Fells)

    Greenock, Barossa Valley

    Single vineyard planted in the 1960s, another Grenache superstar, Wow! my notes said “incredible”. This is rich and textured, big bold, full throttle with textured notes, cocoa, red fruit in abundance, polished – as it opens up and evolves you can feel the true future of this quite outstanding wine… come back in 10 years.

    Terroir Al Limit, Las Manyes Priorat, Spain 2019 RRP £174.50 (Indigo Wines)

    Exceptional Priorat, pure, seamless, gentle backbone of savoury notes, then a palate full of luscious fruit, the word beautiful kept coming up in my notes, still young but this is a superstar wine to age gracefully.

    Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Colombis, Domaine Isabel Ferrando, France RRP £115.20 (Justerinis & Brooks)

    Delicate and perfumed, a pretty wine, with delicate clean notes, gentle fine notes, racy freshness, clean and not what one would expect from a Châteauneuf, this is very classy.

    Following the Masterclass there was a walk-round tasting of what I would call Good Value’ or ‘Introduction Wines’, offering exceptional value in some cases, I have merely listed my favourites here, there were many to try;

    Yangarra Old Vine Grenache 2021 £37.75, Yangarra Ovitelli Grenache 2020 £78.05, Yalumba Vine Vale Grenache 2022 £40.00, Teusner Joshua Grenache £25.00

    However two wines stood out from their peers

    Alkina Kin Grenache, Greenock, 2022 RRP £25.00

    Value for money this is just outstanding, red cherry and gentle spices, fresh, gentle and focused, I call this seamless and a hugely enjoyable delicate fine wine.

    South Australian Grenache

    Cirillo The Vincent Grenache, Light Pass 2022 RRP £25.00

    Dark and seductive, juicy ripe dark fruit, bright freshness lifts it, quite outstanding for the price and a certain for my cellar.

    So in conclusion….

    So what did we learn? besides obviously that Grenache can get quite expensive, and that Amelia Jukes was exceptionally generous in setting up and organising this brilliant exploration of South Australian Grenache, and showcasing Grenache from across the globe. I certainly left the tasting with a spring in my step, happily educated in the knowledge that Grenache, certainly in South Australia is becoming a superstar.

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