“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)





04 November 2009



Cadenzia Hits Six For Grenache
McLaren Vale Getting The Point

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this first appeaered in THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

There’s a big district on the Rhone delta away down in the south of France where an unholy number of Popes shacked up after 1308. They call it Châteauneuf-du-Pape. An appellation gradually evolved there. Unlike any other in France, this one permitted a great number of varieties, and while over 70% of it is now planted to grenache, fourteen other varieties can go in the blends.

So a red Châteauneuf will most likely be grenache noir-based, but may also contain any percentage of other stuff, like the reds (cinsault, counoise, mourvèdre, muscardin, picpoul noir, shiraz, terret noir, and vaccarèse), and the whites (bourboulenc, clairette, grenache blanc, picpoul blanc, picardan, and roussanne).

Early this millenium, grenache was beginning to earn some overdue respect in the Barossa, with the wiser small producers paying it the attention and winemaking budgets previously shewn only shiraz.

It seemed to me that since McLaren Vale grew grenache of a strength, finesse and character that deserved particular attention since the 1860s, the variety had fallen from favour in the post-war Croserised Roseworthy epoch. So I invented Cadenza, a sort of sub-appellation for wines made principally of McLaren Vale grenache, which could be made by any winery, but marketed together. The idea was to improve the profile of grenache in that region, to the advantage of growers, makers and, most importantly, to my readers, the thirsty.

A cadenza’s a passage of classical music where the lead player gets a chance to improvise a few riffs while the rest of the band sticks to the composer’s written score. It’s the beginning of jazz. My idea was that like the winemakers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Vales makers could take the opportunity to have a bit of a blow, and after all the standard boring varietals are put to bed, blend something unprecedented in its complexity and form.

Because a couple of winemongers elsewhere on Earth traded under the Cadenza name, the Vales version blended in an i to become Cadenzia, and now the project is in its sixth release, with seven winemakers participating, fewer than some years, but increasing again. The winemakers’ council owns the name, which was donated, along with the whole idea, and any local producer may release a Cadenzia provided it contains more grenache than any other variety and passes a quality examination conducted by a panel of independent judges.

The project has been a little disappointing to me in the sense that so many of the wines are straight grenache, which is permitted, but hardly takes full advantage of the spirit of the original idea. Maybe the winemakers are taking longer than the punters to learn what grenache is like; perhaps some have no varieties suitable for blending. Which is not to decry the quality of any of these new Cadenzias, straight or blended. There’s little market resistance to well-grown and made grenache, best manifest in the fact that the price of good quality Vales grenache fruit has doubled in the decade, sometimes trebled, whilst other stuff has tumbled.

This year’s release contains three blends and four straight wines. For obvious reasons I’ve paid close attention since the project commenced six short years ago, and sat on the quality assurance panel. This lot’s the most accomplished yet.

Of the straight wines, the Oliver’s Taranga 07 may seem more intense and inky than many expect of grenache, with Clare-like kalamata and dense black cherry dominating any raspberry that may lie beneath. The palate’s silky, then chalky with tannin, and there’s some American-looking oak adding sap. Tapestry’s 07 is even more austere, tight and sooty to sniff, with juicier fruit in the mouth: black russian tomatoes and mature beetroot come to mind; the tannins finer and softer. Samuel’s Gorge 07 is headily perfumed, like His & Hers parfumiers crashed into Ditters; its palate velvety and slightly doughy, like chocolate sourdough. The Dog Ridge 07 seems more like traditional McLaren Vale Dry Red, with sinewy athleticism leading to sweet plum pudding, and Mississippi mudcake tannins.

D’Arenberg’s 06 Cadenzia is grenache, shiraz and mourvèdre. It has that classic d’Arry stripe of stubborn red character - like his old “burgundies” when babies - somehow imparting plump plummy fullness as much as balancing lemony sinew before the velvet tannins arise. The extra year has done it proud. Yangarra’s 07 grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre will do well with another year, or fifteen, as its wood is still very fresh, and its intense complexity and dense, taut stance guarantee the longevity of a top Châteauneuf. Gemtree’s 07 Cadenzia is grenache, tempranillo and shiraz, and is the only wine to step off the Châteauneuf-du-Pape template: it’s done a runner across the Spanish border, picked up a very classy travelling companion, and with all that pomade, perfume and shoe polish, is determinedly heading to the bull ring.

Go catch the Cadenzia train. That was the idea. Get a driver, do the cellars, and stock up for next winter.

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