Proctor : July 2017
48 PROCTOR | July 2017 Grenache is one of the latest beneficiaries of the renewed respect for old vines in South Australia. Some commentators are saying that, with the right treatment, it is better than shiraz. Grenache has quite a history in Australia. In its spiritual home of McLaren Vale, there is a movement to bring out from the shadows excellent expressions of place and season from the old bush vines that still exist in the region. Some of these wines are exemplary, and even led respected wine writer Max Allen last year to write words some readers may accord with heresy: “In warm climate regions such as South Australia’s McLaren Vale, grenache is a better grape than shiraz, especially when it comes to making wines that taste of where they’re from.” 1 Despite any immediate impulse to call for the Spanish Inquisition, Allen might just have a point. Grenache in McLaren Vale has finally become valued for what it can really do, and winemakers have been free to experiment with the variety without the strictures of expectation. McLaren Vale shiraz is well known and most people are disappointed if it isn’t big, burly and laced with chocolate and spice, regardless of the conditions of the year. But with grenache McLaren winemakers have a grape that is perhaps better suited to their climate and no preconceived ideas in the market about what it’s meant to taste like. They can respond to the season, their individual site conditions and any innovative ideas with a degree of freedom. The saving of McLaren Vale grenache is also a wonderful backstory. Originally from the old kingdom of Aragon (or perhaps Sardinia depending on who you listen to), grenache came to Australia with James Busby in his vine ark of 1832 and to South Australia with Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold in 1844 for his Magill medical practice called ‘The Grange’. From there grenache became the hot weather favourite, with irrigation producing thin but plentiful red wine ideally suited for fortified wines. A 1956 ‘grape census’ had grenache as the mostly widely planted red in Australia, a title lost in the 1970s to shiraz. Concerns about oversupply of red wine in the early 1980s led to many of McLaren Vale’s grenache vines being over-grafted to the much more profitable chardonnay (grenache selling at $190 per tonne, chardonnay at $420). The drastic step of a vine-pull scheme was even legislated in South Australia in 1987, paying growers to remove old vines or unwanted varieties, and leave their land unplanted. In McLaren Vale it is legend that d’Arry Osborn of D’Arenberg refused to remove his old grenache vineyards and, after buying other sites, that company now holds nearly one third of McLaren Vale’s old bush vine grenache. From these treasured old bush vines the new crop of wines is being made. Lessons from the fortified days have been learnt and now no irrigation, close pruning and high heat on bush vines up to 120 years old come together to produce concentrated and even perfumed wines with forest berries, tobacco, and liquorice. These are the new (old) McLaren Vale grenaches, and a treasure they are. The first was the d’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache McLaren Vale 2013, with a colour of blood plum. The nose was spicy pepper and the body had immediate impact with oak and tannin coating a core hiding away with liquorice and jammy fruit, perhaps hints of star anise and berry. The second was the Kay Brothers Basket Pressed Grenache McLaren Vale 2014, with a colour of violet and dark plums. The nose was engaging and redolent of savoury spice, black pepper and summer fruits releasing their heady scent in warm afternoon sun. The palate was round, supple and velvety with rose Turkish delight, leather, cigar box, allspice and a hint of leather wound together in a beguiling and perfectly balanced harmonium. The last was the Rouler McLaren Vale Grenache 2015, with a dark brick red colour. The nose was roses and spice but a little demure. The palate was a young and spritely mix of spicy floral fruit. Verdict: The favourite of the selection was by far the Kay Brothers, which danced on the senses and charmed the sensibilities. Probably the best wine I have drunk this year. The tasting Matthew Dunn is Queensland Law Society acting CEO and government relations principal advisor. An old vines tale you must hear with Matthew Dunn Three examples of fine McLaren Vale grenache where subjected to scrutiny. Wine Note 1 The Australian, April 16, 2016, available at theaustralian.com.au/life/food-wine/wine/ jauma-wines-mclaren-vale-grenache-is-too-good- to-ignore/news-story/192bf52176fc4f3f97f5ec44 f1cffb06.