“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland)

Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin

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18 December 2010

GRENACHE AND McLAREN VALE CADENZIA

OLD VINE GRENACHE BEING SORTED IN THE VAUCHER BEGUET SORTING MACHINE AT YANGARRA, VINTAGE 2010. LEFT TO RIGHT: WINERIES BY DESIGN'S MD, GERALD ASBROEK, JACQUES BLAIN, CO-INVENTOR OF THE VAUCHER BEGUET MISTRAL GRAPE SORTER, AND PETER FRASER, GENERAL MANAGER AND WINEMAKER AT YANGARRA

 The Long Voyage Of Grenache
From Cape St Vincent, Oporto
To Gulf St Vincent, South Oz

by PHILIP WHITE

HIGH SANDS GRENACHE 'CAVIAR' AFTER THE SORTING PROCESS 

The first International Grenache Day passed in September.

While this may be a novel notion, it seems to make more sense than International Talk Like A Pirate Day, which slipped by on the 19th of that month, or the World Sports Journalists Day (July 2nd) which did little but make me wonder about Michaelangelo Rucci, a genius who writes about football in The Advertiser.

South Australia seems finally to be appreciating that many of the cold-region European varieties, like the Burgundian Pinot noir and Chardonnay, don’t much like this climate, which is more akin to the sands of North Africa than snowy continental Europe.

We should marvel more intensely on how the enlightened gentlemen who established the colony of South Australia were immediately savvy to the advantages of its Mediterranean climate in wine-making.

Some brash modernists now suggest that South Australia has the best Mediterranean climate in the world.

But those early householders needed fine wine on their tables, so they brought grape varieties from the western Mediterranean: from the Spanish and French coasts of that sea, and from around the corner into the Atlantic, to the Cape St Vincent and Portugal’s Vincentine Coast.

CABO DE SÃO VICENTE, ON PORTUGAL'S VINCENTINE COAST, SIMILAR IN MANY WAYS TO THE CAPE JARVIS, ON SOUTH AUSTRALIA'S GULF St. VINCENT

St Vincent is the patron of viticulturers; around his Cabo sailed wine shippers for centuries, taking wine to England. Outnumbered two-to-one, John “Old Jarvie” Jarvis (below right), a patron of Lord Nelson and Matthew Flinders, thrashed the Spanish navy off its waters in 1797, and was so awarded the title Earl St Vincent. Flinders named our Gulf St Vincent and Cape Jarvis after him.

While some of the early vignerons (Gilbert, Duffield, Reynell) struggled to succeed with the cooler climate varieties, like Cabernet, Semillon, and Riesling, most preferred the western Mediterranean types. Foremost amongst these was Grenache, the tough, wild red most prolific across north Africa, Italy, southern France and Spain, and around into Portugal.

My precursor in the wine column at The Advertiser, the rakish Ebenezer Ward, wrote in 1861 that Grenache was popularly being grafted widely onto roots of failed Cabernet, and thrived here on its own roots. He reports it doing well at Felixstowe, Clarendon, Beaumont, Auldana, Glen Osmond, Magill, Belair, Craigburn, and Keyneton. He associates no German names with its introduction.
















EBENEZER WARD
 
When the big English wine families began to turn their home table habit into a booming intoxicant industry, it soon became apparent that fortified wine was much easier to make and store, and provided significantly louder bang for the buck than effete table wines. Grenache was handy, as it made fine port for the mob as well as lighter, drier table wine for the odd posh table.

After World War Two, the fortified industry was roaring, as men shattered by battle and misplacement found consolation in strong sweet cheap ports; their womenfolk kept up with the hidden flagon sherry. But this was a classic case of a market that would obviously disappear through its own terminally addictive nature; by the late ’sixties the fashion was turning to lighter, less destructive wine.

It was in this transition that winemakers who could barely remember dry table Grenache seemed to completely forget its faithful nature, and far too many of the priceless old vineyards were uprooted to make way for Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay.

With remarkable success, the Barossa and McLaren Vale are currently locked in a dainty race to re-establish Grenache as a fine gastronomic tincture. Tim Smith, Charlie Melton, and Greenock Creek lead the Barossa pack in sheer shimmering quality. Smiffy this year won Best Single Vineyard or Estate Grenache in the world at the London International Wine and Spirit Challenge with his Chateau Tanunda The Everest Barossa Grenache 2008. Kaesler, Langmeil, Kalleske, Murray Street, John Duval and Teusner also make lovely Grenache wines. Many of these are austere regardless of their alcohol, akin to wines made from the drier uplands of Spain.


CHATEAU TANUNDA, BAROSSA, WHERE TIM SMITH MADE THE THE EVEREST BAROSSA GRENACHE 2008, WINNER OF THE WORLD'S BEST GRENACHE AT THE LONDON INTERNATIONAL WINE AND SPIRIT CHALLENGE, 2010

McLaren Vale, with its more Mediterranean levels of humidity, seems to make a softer, more silky and soulful type of Grenache along the lines of the sunny south of France. These are perhaps best studied through the new set of Cadenzia wines, which are Grenache, or Grenache-based, and made by six rival producers who work together in this scheme.

Named after the cadenza, a passage of music where the soloist in an orchestra is given a chance to improvise, these wines offer a very handy spectrum of Grenache styles, from the simpler south of France maraschino and marello cherry-bombs, through to the overt black leather and kalamata Spanishness of the blends, tasted most extremely in the d’Arenberg.

I must take some blame for the Cadenzia project. In a 2003-2004 attempt to raise the image of Grenache in McLaren Vale, where much of it was in danger of being replaced with other, well, Bacchus only knows what varieties, I convinced Walter Clappis to kindly hand his ownership of the name, which I had suggested to him but he had not used, to the McLaren Vale winemakers, thirteen of whom agreed to participate and make Grenache-based wines, sharing the common Cadenza appellation. It was soon discovered that two wine companies elsewhere in the world were already using the word, so an I was jammed in before the ultimate A, the new name was registered, and off it went.

This was a successful exercise, as within a few years Grenache prices went from around $300 per tonne to more than $3000 for the better selections, and the uprooting ceased. But many producers missed the point of the improvisation: the original idea was that the wines should be jazzy blends, with Grenache being the principal ingredient. This would open the doors for a wider range of flavours, make a more interesting suite of products, and permit the total volume of the wines to be much larger.

Since then, various makers who purchased the fruit for their Cadenzias have dropped out of the project, perhaps because the McLaren vale Grenache prices had gone so high. There is little difficulty now in selling straight Grenache from McLaren Vale, so my belief is that more focus should now be put on the development of Grenache-based blends, which some of the members of the movement are now beginning to appreciate.

It's time to play that saxaphone.


1946 PLANTINGS OF UNIRRIGATED GRENACHE ON THE YANGARRA HIGH SANDS VINEYARD, McLAREN VALE photo STACEY POTHOVEN

If you prefer a cheeky, Pinot-style fruit wine, commence with the Dog Ridge 2008 (88 points), which has more dusty terroir tones than past efforts, in a veritable puddle of those two cherry types. Samuel’s Gorge 2008 (85 points) is a more autumnal wine, with vegetal tones and alluring orange chocolate. Of the three straight Grenache Cadenzias, the Oliver’s Taranga 2008 (91 points) is the most feistily complex and bristly, with its carbide, cordite and blackpepper edge.

The three blended Cadenzias are similarly varied. Maximus is a 2008 Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre (80 points) that opens with maraschino simplicity, but builds in complexity and darkens and glowers with air and consideration. The Yangarra 2008 Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre (90++ points) has more bright fruit and vivid acidity, with prickly white pepper topnotes in perhaps the most bright modern Chateauneuf style.

Then comes d’Arenberg 2008 (90 points) with an unabashedly Spanish mood forged from Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo and Cinsault. It’s the Zorro of the litter.

You don’t need a specially-approved day to drink any of these beauties.

Nor with Grenache of any fine sort. As part of International Grenache Day, a group of mates organized a blind tasting of this stalwart at Yangarra, and after a few great aged wines from Mediterranean France, suddenly hitting the first Australians in our line-up reminded me of the smell of Australia.






 













SPEAKING OF BEAUTIES, AND THE SMELL OF AUSTRALIA, d'ARENBERG'S CHESTER OSBORN, LEFT, HAS HALF A DOZEN GRENACHE-BASED PRODUCTS

A friend, Davy Dowie, had recently returned by ship from Macquarie Island, where he’d worked for eighteen months, way down on the edge of the Antarctic. They were still some hundred kays off the south coast of Tasmania when they suddenly realized they could smell Australia: that sweet, minty whiff of eucalyptus.

After a year and a half of smelling little more than dimethyl sulphide (the smell of the ocean, produced by phytoplankton), and penguin cack, the highly aromatic eucalypt bouquet of Australia, extending for so many nautical miles across the Great Southern Ocean, brought tears to the travellers’ eyes.

Starting with the oldest wines, the 1990 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve (94 points), and the Domaine Les Goubert Cuvée Florence Gigondas 1990 (89 points) and slurping through Brunel Les Cailloux Chateauneuf 1998 (87 points) provided a brief but enlightening tour of the Old World Grenache flavour spectrum.


OLD VINES AT CHATEAU RAYAS IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

The jujubes, sweet fresh leather and caramel of the Rayas, with its silky polished sheen and bright acidity, led to the coal tar, peppery spice, cedar and leather of the Gigondas, followed by the simpler raspberry and charcuterie porkfat of the fading Les Cailloux … all supple, teasing wines of considerable finesse and gastronomic delight.

Then, bang: suddenly we hit the unmistakable summery dust of Australia in the Hardy’s Tintara McLaren Vale Grenache 1998 (80 points), where my notes took a lurch into the carpentry vocab: “spicy oak quite dominant, oak toast dominates fruit … made more from a Shiraz mentality than a Pinot”. This raised the question: apart from this big ol' country's unmistakable eucalypt and summer dust terroir, which infest many of its wines for better or worse, it is a sad truth that much of our regional distinction comes from raw oak from France and America.

Steve Pannell recognized his wine on the blind, and retorted immediately to my oak comment, suggesting that he had used only old oak in the wine, and that perhaps the fruit somehow develops some woody notes of its own. Which is quite possible, given that lignin, the major flavourant of oak, is the very scaffolding of all grapes, providing the wooden, stiffer parts of the skin, stalks and pips.

But of course the selection of oak is critical: the silky polish of the best Grenache seems to exaggerate the slightest hint of oak spice or toast.

The lumberjacks aside, two aspects of my note provided a basis for the discussions of the entire afternoon. One is my suspicion that Grenache is better treated like a Pinot noir by the winemaker, with whole bunches in the ferment, and much careful working of the skins. Steve, who made this wine when he was boss red winemaker for BRL-Hardy before it was devoured by the brutes at Constellation, agreed.

Part of my suggested approach is to aim for higher natural acidity, which means picking earlier than most Australians are game to risk, as they are generally more interested in higher alcohols and sweeter fruit than finesse, by some strange ignorant habit or and/or a simple gastronomically juvenile yearning for the alcoholic lolly shop.

PICKING THE OLD GRENACHE BUSH VINES AT THE GREENOCK CREEK ROENNFELDT'S ROAD VINEYARD, BAROSSA photo LEO DAVIS

We hit the eucalypt big time in the Greenock Creek Cornerstone Grenache 2008 (90 points), along with all those confectioners’ sugars and estery components typical of that tiny old vineyard on Roennfeldt’s Road. Tellingly, I had never noticed such eucalypt in the wine before. It also seemed very jujube sweet and silky, but with staunch, uncommonly natural acidity, before those dry velvet tannins rose.

From just a few kays over the ridge came the deeper, darker, Penfolds Cellar Reserve 2002 (75 points) once again showing quite prominent charcoal amongst all its violets and roses and blackcurrant gel. This wine made me think of Mataro, Mourvedre, Monastrell … whichever moniker you prefer.

And on we went through the great Australians. Torbreck Le Ames 2006 (88 points) coaltar, musk, cherries, raspberry jelly; Charlie Melton Richelieu 2006 (87 points) road kill, summer dust, rusty galvo; d’Arenberg The Derelict Vineyard 2006 (92 points) classic leather, berries and fudge; Clarendon Hills Old Vines Clarendon 2002 (83 points) rude blood, roses, blueberry jujubes, juniper tannins; and then the lithe and wild triumph of the S. C. Pannell 2006 (93 points) rich fruitcake and walnuts, marine limestone, steely acid. (Acid, see?)

Clare, most of whose Grenache was destroyed in the taxpayer-funded mid-eighties Vine Pull Scheme, offered two two tidy wines of distinction: Killikanoon's The Duke 2004 (89 points), which showed a delightful counterpoise of old world sweat, leather and tar against sweet, slender, mulberry and blackberry fruit; and Clos Clare's The Hayes Boy 2006 (90 points) which was open-hearted, if simple, but disarmingly clean and smooth.

The Jasper Hill Cornella Vineyard Heathcote (Victoria) 2009 (85 points) was confusing, if entertaining, with lemons, rocket, and watercress aromas mingling with a seaside whiff, over a squishy beetroot base.

Contini 'Inu Cannoneau di Sardegna Riserva 2005 (91 points) was similar to the Jasper, with its lemony whiff, and bracing aftershave-like witch hazel adding some cutting edge to its juicy, easy, fruitgum-like base.

The serious young insects of Australia’s new swarm of sommeliers came under some derision for their current obsession with listing a few freshly trendy French: their favourite highlights were faulty and shoddy, and not delightful. Domaine De Gramenon l‘Elementaire 2009 (40 points) smelled of seaweed (DMS?) and sulphidey rubber; Domaine Gramenon Ceps Centenaires Le Mémé Cõtes-du-Rhõne 2007 (55 points) smelled of seaweed (DMS?) and cold dripping; Domaine Gramenon La Sagesse Cõtes-du-Rhõne 2008 (40 points) smelled powerfully of trichloranisole, and the Bosquet des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 (60 points) was simply caramel, with little evidence of grapes.

Most of the Australians blew these recently, suddenly popular Frenchies away. I can see those bright young bullies recommending these to the unsuspecting seekers of the exotic foreigner as funky. Funky, just incidentally, means full of smoke. Blow some up my arse, there's a good fellow.


But it was the Spanish quartet that won the day. These showed more kalamata, satsuma, beetroot and Marello cherry: they were blacker, tighter, in a way a little more threatening and sinister in their polished leather manner.

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia Rioja 2008 (83 points) smelt promisingly like Wendouree Mataro, but seemed a little simple and short in the palate. The Pegaso Granito Castilla Y León 2007 (93 points) was a great step up, with its fruit gums gradually building to its royally composed finish; the Artazuri Navarra 2008 (93 points) stacked with nutmeg, Satsuma, porkfat and black leather, and the Mas D’en Compte Priorat 2006 (94 points), which contained a fair dose of Carignan, and was better for it, with all its reek of sweet leather harness and old timber stables.

STEVE PANNELL OF S. C. PANNELL WINES, McLAREN VALE; 'AUSTRALIANS SHOULD LAY OFF DRINKING THE IMPORTS FOR A WHILE."

"It all supports my belief that Australians should put a bit more effort into acknowledging our own wines”, Pannell concluded. “We have a lot to learn from these lovely Spanish wines, but our obsession with drinking the French and stomaching their shortcomings is not getting us anywhere.

“I’m proposing that in the new year, Australians should lay off drinking the imports for a while, and celebrate our own beautiful wines. It’s just a pity that the sommeliers probably won’t take any notice.”

5 comments:

Richard G. said...

Phillip. What a delightfully rambling account of what is surely one of Australia's best kept secrets. I love Grenache for its unpretentiousness and yet it can be incredibly interesting and just a good drink at the same time. Your story reflected its nature really well.

James Hook said...

Thanks Whitey,

A very informative post on the prince of grapes.

Cam Haskell said...

Great post. Totally agree about the natural acidity. What I find most ungainly is the really confected wines getting that tartaric touch-up, and then they're just super disjointed. Anyways, great stuff.

Pretty damning indictment on the sommeliers too...

grenach granny said...

That's really interesting. How can we get this stuff in New York?

sinnik said...

So tell us: Scarce Earths Shiraz? A whole region trying to hike the cost of Shitraz up to $100 a bot disguised as a geological exercise? F**k that! Are the new ones any good, or just another rip-off like last year? Will they enter them in the Mclaren Vale Wine Show?