My Grenache Epiphany.
You can count me among the hordes of North Americans who have been increasingly gravitating towards Australian wine as of late.
While Australia’s breadth of regionality and diversity of wine styles offers everything from crisp, cool-climate Chardonnays to legendary, opulent Shirazes, I had a recent epiphany while travelling through Australian wine country about a few oft-overlooked varieties and hallmarks of the Australian wine industry as a whole. In particular, Australian Grenache. Marco Cirillo’s Barossa Valley Grenache vineyard is home to the oldest Grenache vines on the planet, planted in 1848. Coupled with this heritage, these vines are growing from soils that are 100 million years old, also among the oldest on the planet. While swirling the fresh vintage of Cirillo’s 1850 Old Vine Grenache that Marco had poured for me from the back of his pickup truck as the sun beamed down, it struck me how brilliant Aussie Grenache is at balancing the poise and elegance of something like a Pinot Noir, yet providing the oomph of a top-tier Shiraz. Waves of purple fruit and baking spices flooded my palate and, in those few moments, nothing else mattered besides my glass, that wine, and those vines.
The epiphany was that this place, and these wines, matter. The grape itself is remarkably dynamic, and depending on site and a winemaker’s hand, can be interpreted in various ways. Look at Yalumba’s 2015 Old Bush Vine Grenache, soft with purple fruit, balsamic notes, a wisp of vanilla bean and clove, and then a charming lift of orange zest on the finish. Or toddle over to Yangarra for their biodynamic take on the grape in their 2014 Old Vines Grenache. How fresh are all those raspberries mingling with white pepper, lemon rind, and perfect smattering of dusty tannins keeping everything in place? D’Arenberg’s 2013 Derelict Vineyard Grenache has just as much character and charisma as coproprietor and chief winemaker Chester Osborn.
Gobs of ripe raspberry are stirred with a Twizzler or two, made a little more decadent with chocolatecovered cherries. You think you’ve nailed the wine, but then a rush of savory character: tomato plant, hickory smoke and oregano follows. Fascinating stuff. Those savory notes of Australian Grenache hit all the right notes, and are quite apparent in Chapel Hill’s 2013 Bush Vine Grenache. The warmth of roasted red bell pepper and sundried tomatoes, lifted by fennel top and anise? Yup. That’s the stuff, right there.
Let’s mix it up a bit, literally. Grenache blends so well, and even in this capacity you needn’t fuss with it too much. Ochota Barrels 2015 ‘The Green Room’ Grenache Syrah is made in a minimalintervention style, fresh as a daisy with bright Grenache-esque blackberries and mulberries, and then a rush of Syrah-driven cardamom, white pepper, with floral notes on the finish. This isn’t Old World, this isn’t New World. This is Australian Grenache, and there’s nothing like it anywhere else. It’s time for global wine enthusiasts to have their own epiphany.