“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)





06 April 2014


Proprietor/winemaker Michael Twelftree of Two Hands at Marananga in the Barossa, with some of his custom-built barrel-sized stainless steel Grenache maturation vessels ... this photo and bottle image below both by  Don Brice .

Six wines; six sites; six geologies
Barossa bloke invades the Vales
Get six mates and take a day off 

There's a big glass of Grenache in my hand. And in my nostrils, my mouth and throat.  It's all over my gustatory division. It's soused me. It's gone straight through the walls of my greedy stomach into my blood, scenting it, so when it pumps through my heart into my lung tissues, it perfumes my exhalations. Jesus, Hell. Glory be.

Beneath a summery, nose-tickling waft of dust, and perhaps a whiff of the old rusty black tea tin, wallers a lollyshop of gummy jubes and gels made from blackberry, cherries - both morello and maraschino - and to a lesser extent, raspberry, which makes me expect a gelatinous creamy texture. There's a whiff of cosmetic, somewhere between unscented coconut butter and a freshly-dressed saddle. Further down there's poached beetroot and turnip greens, and maybe just a dab of walnut furniture polish.

Drink it, and the wine is not at all creamy or even gelatinous. It's a lot more entertaining than face gunk or jelly. It has a perfectly appetising viscosity; moderate to slender. It has perfect weight: fine to moderate. And the texture's pretty much perfect, too, with very fine-grained, persistent tannins that set the salivaries oozing.

Long after swallowing, the organoleptics are still teased by the ongoing interplay of those cherry fruits and the beautifully appropriate tannins.

The wine is very long and tapered, of exquisite form. It reminds me of the divine Burgundian Pinots Jean-Pierre de Smet developed over his twenty years at Domaine de l'Arlot. Although these had very fine tannins when new, they were more tannic than people generally expect of Burgundy. I suspect this blend is less tannic than people generally expect of Grenache.

So there. In over thirty years of slavishly pursuing them, this is one of the finest pure Grenache wines I recall.

So what's missing? Only an obsessive would look for it: Other than that generic summer dust, the wine lacks any sense of what I might call geological terroir. Why? Because it's a blend I've made of equal parts of six fascinating Grenache wines just released by Michael Twelftree of Two Hands in the Barossa.

With the assistance of finicky McLaren Vale consultant Toby Bekkers, Twelftree has selected four sites from McLaren Vale, and two from the Barossa. 

"This will be ongoing," he says. "My aim is to make 10 to 12 single vineyard Grenaches each vintage but release only the best six. In 2013 I added a Clare Grenache off the Churinga vineyard to the chosen six.

Michael finds untrellised vineyards of dry-grown vines on their own roots. The youngest of this six-pack are 47 years old. They're shoot-thinned early to admit maximum light and air through the fruit, bunches that clump up are removed for the same reason, then they're hand-picked. Winemaking is very gentle, with some whole bunches included in wild yeast ferments.

"I make sure I'm in each block the morning we pick," Twelftree continues. "I bring all the fruit back to the winery on my ute and trailer. I like this because it forces me to keep the tonnes I can transport limited, hence keeping the project small.

Twelftree's perfectionism doesn't stop there. To "maintain as much freshness as possible," he's commissioned a suite of small stainless steel containers, from hogshead and puncheon size to 1,000 and 1,200 litres. Only a portion of each wine sees any oak, and this is always puncheons, so large they impart minimal flavour.

"The Blewitt Springs Grenaches are matured in two thirds stainless and one third oak puncheon; the Barossa Grenaches gets half-and-half, and the McLaren Vale floor Grenache is two thirds oak puncheon and one third stainless. After a maximum nine months I bottle them and keep them for a year before release.

"I do wonder what more could be done to make a more authentic product."

This yearning for authenticity has seen the finicky Bekkers name and age the precise geology of each block, and the overlying topsoils, at the head of each back label. This forensic attention to detail makes McLaren Vale's so-called Scarce Earths Shiraz marketing project look a bit silly. But there's one flaw: while the maker claims each wine is named after the street or road of the vineyard's location, then its sub-region, these front label claims don't always square with the back label geology. The maker promises this will cease with the release of the 2013s.

Otherwise, the price, $40 per bottle, is a modest consideration given their likely provenance and outstanding capacity to reflect their terroir.

Having first sunk myself in the blend, I then tasted the six components in the order Michael suggested, from the elegant Blewett Springs beauties from just over the ridge from my home, through the bigger Barossa jobs, to finish with the darkest-coloured, fullest-bodied wines, one from near d'Arenberg and the other the McLaren Flats. 

Twelftree Schuller Blewett Springs McLaren Vale Grenache 2012 ($40; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 144 dozen; 93++ points) From a vineyard I could call a neighbour, this wine's from white æolian sand blown in recently on top of the underlying ferruginous Maslin Sand deposits, which have been there for over 34 million years. There's a layer of ferruginous clay between them. It smells more dusty than sandy, with maraschino cocktail cherries and bittersweet pickled morello cherries soused together in lemon juice; maybe there's pithy strawberries in the bowl, too. The dark morellos dominate the flavour, which is a neat, tight, linear arrangement with a hint of fresh soft licorice. It's fine of flesh, and its viscosity is just right for those joyous, open-hearted flavours. It's more like an elegant entry-level burgundy from, say, the Seysses family's Domaine Dujac, than any traditional Ocker Grenache.

Twelftree Moritz Blewett Springs McLaren Vale Grenache 2012 ($40; 15% alcohol; screw cap; 144 dozen; 92+++ points) From a similar soil and geological profile, just over another hill, this wine is another thing again. The fruits are very similar, but this one seems to have a verbena topnote and a soaking red kidney bean base, perhaps from the iron in the clay.  It's less fleshy than the Schuller, more slender and tight, and more demanding of food, like a gentle pork cassoulet.  I suspect it'll be a better wine for an extra year or two in the cellar. It's a real sweet cutie after a few days' air, intense but cheeky, and just a little burny, from those alcohols in the tail. They've made it thinner. 

Typical Blewett Springs soil profile out the back of Tim Geddes' place: very recent rubble on top; wind-blown sand from last few thousand years; water-washed buckshot ironstone overlaying ferruginous clay ... below that we'd hit the much more coarse-grained riverine  Maslin Sand, from about 50 million years ago ... photo Philip White

Twelftree Sturt Ebenezer Barossa Valley Grenache 2012 ($40; 14.6% alcohol; screw cap; 167 dozen; 93 points) Grown in the young ferruginous soil over recent alluvium typical of the sunny north Barossa flats, this is where the butcher shop totally overwhelms the fruiterer, in the aroma at least. It smells buttery, meaty and fleshy, like prosciutto and mettwurst and all those heady charcuterie delights. This makes the pithy strawberry-and-lemon fruit seem a touch simple in contrast.  The palate's slender, elegant and ungiving, the lemon providing the spine below some pleasant glycerol flesh which is reminiscent of ripe raspberry gums. The tannins seem just right, being fine but tight enough to draw all those disparities together - they're the sort you'll find in cold black Ceylon tea. This is more like traditional Grenache than the Blewett Springs duo, and gets more so with air. It's more of a roast lamb wine for some reason; maybe its persistent acidity calls for that distinctively aromatic, juicy meat. Like the rest, it'd be better without so much ethanol. 

Twelftree Airport Greenock Barossa Valley Grenache 2012 ($40; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 67 dozen; 88 points) This is nothing like burgundy, but in both aroma and flavour, it's more like black Spanish ham - jamón ibérico - and I can think of nothing more appropriate to accompany it. At first flush, it reeked too of blood and roses, even cherries and raspberries, and that distinctive panforte nuttiness that marks the Tapley's Hill formation (around 700 million years) rocks between Greenock Creek, Seppeltsfield and the Nain Hills, and spreads out to the north toward Kapunda. These more frivolous fruits fall away as the wine takes air - after a couple of days there's some cherry left, and a scant layer of the initial raspberry flesh, but it's always really bony and lean, and a little short. The name's confusing: there's no airport, but the vineyard's near the Greenock aeroplane museum on Vine Grove Road. 

Twelftree Copperview Onkaparinga Gorge McLaren Vale Grenache 2012 ($40; 15.5% alcohol; screw cap; 178 dozen; 92++ points) The branding falls down again here: the back label claims Blanche Point formation, which does not occur in the Onkaparinga Gorge. There's none at the intersection of the Seaview and Coppermine Roads, either. That's where Michael says the vineyard is: he couldn't use the Seaview name because the ghouls of Treasury own it, having butchered what was a truly great brand; so he made a sort of blend of location names, which is a pity. Blanche Point's more towards Osborn Road and Twenty-eight Road, intensifying to the south. But while there's nearly 700 million years difference in the age of their rocks, I'm interested that the geologies of this wine and the Greenock above involve calcerious siltstone, and these wines are as similar as the duo from the Blewett Springs sands, so I tend to believe the back labels more than the front. This has the panforte and the cherries of the Greenock wine, but also quite a slice of those charcuterie meats; in this case fleshy, pale mortadella. Which is donkey, not black pig. Apart from all that, this is one of the simpler  wines. It has an estery bouquet, with a whiff of dried banana. 

Twelftree Strout McLaren Flat McLaren Vale Grenache 2012 ($40; 16% alcohol; screw cap; 167 dozen; 90 points) Grown in very young clays, loams and gravels, this bugger's a tad woody and alcoholic.  That aside, it's very close in style to the posh Wirra Wirra Absconder I recommended last week: at 47 years, these Strout vines are half the age of the Absconder's, but their flavour and style suggests they grew in the same dark dirt. Without syrupy sugar, alcohol is a powerful thinning agent, and it's had its way, making a more slender, dusty wine than the $70 Absconder. There's still fresh fruits: raspberry and blackberry and sweet-and-sour pickled morello cherries, but then we get the dust and dry bay leaf and the old dried-out harness and tea tin, taking me back to much leaner, less understanding times. Like the Copperview, this has a chew of Ditter's dried banana in the tail, an estery thing which I suspect is as much to do with alcohol as Grenache.

Michael Twelftree in one of the Blewett Springs vineyards he didn't use ... note the recent wine-blown (æolian) sand ...  a little more warming and that'll all start moving again ... photo Don Brice

So. Are any of the components of my blend as intriguing and satisfying as it? Perhaps not. But these six wines are a significant step on our understanding of how sites affect flavour, using the one red grape variety which I suspect is more sensitive to site than any other grown along the South Mount Lofty Ranges.

As a tasting exercise, it's one I recommend heartily: get five mates, dob in $40 each, and draw a line through an autumn afternoon so you can wallow and learn. Make a little of the blend first: equal parts of all six, and learn and discuss that before you try any of the components. Work backwards.

It's at least as much fun as doing the same with the Harvey family's Alpha Crucis six pack, where they invited six winemakers to have their individual ways with Shiraz fruit from the one small vineyard on the same Blanche Point formation as Twelftree's Copperview.

Depending on whether you believe Twelftree's front labels more than Bekkers' back ones, of course. These wines stunned me at first, but over three days, as I scratched further into them, I kept hitting that wall where science meets romance. Both can be thrilling, but if you're selling science romantically, you'd better make it science, not romance, before you dress it up.

This helps avoid disappointment when it's undressed.

I congratulate Michael Twelftree for this bright endeavour, and trust that you support him so he can keep it up, refining his own knowledge and science as he goes. Then, we're all winners.

Jeez I love that blend


FOOTNOTE: It's an uncommon name, but these wines have nothing to do with the new Howard Twelftree Award, an annual acknowledgement of an individual who makes an outstanding contribution to Adelaide gastronomy. Howard Twelftree was foremost among Australian gastronomic writers in the three decades he wrote under the pseudonym John McGrath in The Adelaide Review. The inaugural Howard Twelftree Award will be presented on Saturday as part of the Adelaide Food and Wine Festival.


Anonymous said...

wanna do it at your place

mme lasch

jillo said...

Is that Charlie Seppelt on piano?

Toby Bekkers said...

Hi Philip,

You’re quite right that the very distinctive Blanche Point formation starts a little further south of the vineyard in question (Buddy Franklin could kick a football there). 20 years ago I was involved in planting a vineyard directly across the road and this geology was kept quite separate, such is its distinctiveness. The label error, which I can only put down to transcription from database to English is mine, not Michael’s. Perhaps a little more ‘finicky-ness’ on my part is required before hitting the send button….

I’m disappointed to have taken some gloss off what is a really important initiative in understanding the natural assets we have to work with. Geology is only one part of the jigsaw but it is a logical baseline within which to frame the diversity of our viticultural landscapes. Some with great experience/influence who should have the wisdom to look a little deeper have unfortunately dismissed geology as irrelevant. You, I and others are well aware that soil and geology are different things. I do however observe that in McLaren Vale, changes in soil type are highly correlated to changes in underlying geology. Further, there are many instances of vine roots being able to access the old rocks. Not to mention the effects on topography etc…. Having walked MV vineyards for 20 years the influence of geology, to my mind, is blindingly obvious.

These sorts of projects add much to our understanding and I’m pleased to say that interest in the subject is a common theme amongst the better producers (coincidence?) that I have contact with across many regions.


Philip White said...

Toby, thankyou for your response. Don't worry too much - this remarkable project is much bigger of torque and momentum than one slip can slow. I really admire what the two of you are doing - it is revolutionary in Australia and will have far-reaching influence on the way this troubled industry proceeds. In the first instance, you are, on a micro scale [essential at this stage], completing something I've been thinkin', wishin' and hopin' about for most of my adult life, and for that I thank you. And Michael. Look neither to left nor right!

Michael Twelftree said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to taste my vinos, trying to get the wheels in monition is the hardest part.
I am thrilled that there are now three people on Planet Earth that believes in my chosen direction.
I face an enormous frustration that our brilliant vineyard lands are not divided properly by name and place and I think it’s completely unfair of my forefathers to have been so mindless in not setting these great lands apart. Simply why should it be up to me to try to name the parcels of which I source!………..We can save the cities encroachment of the Vale and Barossa but why cant we return the names of Seaview, Ebenezer, Kalimna, Koonunga Hill, Tatachilla, etc. to there rightful owners, the people who farm there lands! As a wine producing nation me must get our undies out of our arse on this one and straight away, or the Old World will never take our great wines seriously and surely that would be the ultimate accomplishment.
Only a few year in and I must say I feel a little ‘Raiders of the Lost Arc’ riding side-saddle with Bekkers hoping the next great vineyard discovery is just around the corner.
I can’t wait to one day see the Grenache section of any wine shop being larger than the Pinot section and every punter raving about the new single vineyard Premier Cru designated Grenache they just nailed whilst laughing and sharing the bottle with friends and a meal.
Onwards and Upwards

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Tewelfa. Can't wait to line them up & partake in a Grenache journey.

Great vision that a foreign owned major wine Co could never realise- as i know too well given a McV single vineyeard Shiraz range I once was a part of sadly lasted only two seasons.......vision, a narrative, a sense of place that the big guys can never grasp.


Cheers SCK
(who needs Echezeaux?)

Anonymous said...

Michael, Phillip

Where can one secure all of these if one were so interested in doing a tasting with friends?
Not all of these seem to have made it to the Two Hands Website..