“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)





25 September 2015


Weddings, funerals, Grenache symposiums ... Sophie Otton, the author and Charlie Whish at Serafino Wines McLaren Vale ... thanks for the lend of the Deuce ... photo Rusty Gallagher

Symposium of seraphims sings glorias to Grenache at Serafino: it was the international day for it

International Grenache day wasn't so much an exploding firecracker as a gentle wash of cherries and rose blossoms, as much colour as springtime fragrance with broad-brush strokes of autumn.

We tasted thirteen splendid Grenache wines in a masterclass at Serafino in McLaren Vale.

The masterclass soon developed into a full-blown symposium.

I agreed with Sophie Otton, my co-presenter, who said some of them smelt blue. I smell a tough glinty gunbarrel blue while I suspected, maybe stupidly, that Sophie was referring to a more impressionistic smudge of E minor seventh blues that rose from the table with all those blood-soused fruits and petals.

photo©Milton Wordley

But I'm colourblind and anyway the conversation quickly rolled on to more Euclidian topics than interpretive and sensual, before swirling back through sensuous to viticulture, biochemistry, geology and the oak forests of France.

However you absorbed it, it was a total sensory mess after two hours. Heady. An ocean swell of delight so smooth and huge and overwhelming there was no time to take notes. If not drinking, talking.

Sophie, a Willunga winesleuth who became very famous indeed running the monster Rockpool cellar for Neil Perry, is now Australia editor of the Hong Kong Le Pan magazine. She and I selected the wines. Drew Noon MW, local Grenache grower/maker was to lead the discussion with us. When he fell ill Serafino winemaker and McLaren Flat grape grower Charlie Whish took his seat. Drew's fine now.

None of us had before tasted those thirteen wines together. It was a knockout to compare our presumptuous anticipations of how they'd appear with what eventually oozed from those bottles.

I'd graded my selections from across a spectrum my brain had filed as 'silky to rustic'. My memory had even ranked them.

Silky is that glissando, that seamless gossamer sheen that polishes the maraschino and morello fruits below. This texture, this feeling, this fruit, occurs more as winemakers show Grenache more sensitivity, and perhaps pick it earlier, but it's by no means a modern invention. Nor necessarily a regional thing.

My rustic is where the lumps of country life overcome the chrome. Bits of leather and lignite, burlap and schist, panforte and conserve poke through in varying manners. Blacker berries; smooth to coarse. All welcome!

photo © Milton Wordley

I believe some of this graduation relates to background humidity. High relative humidity tends to produce the shinier, silkier tannins. Being right on the Gulf, McLaren Vale has higher relative humidity than the Barossa. As their geologies and altitudes repeat to a great extent, this change of humidity stands as one of the few really significant differences. Some of the cherries common in, say, McLaren Flat or the sandy vineyards to its north at Blewett Springs tend to fade into the smells and flavours of barns, bakeries and charcuteries when you move to Barossa Grenache.

Of course when I first saw the wines poured together they did nothing like I'd imagined: the differences were much more complex and confounding, and my predetermined order was certainly no simple gradient from silky to rustic.

Similarly, the differences between the wines Sophie selected and my lot were not as great as the range of extremes within each selection.

Sophie Otton and the author ... photo ©Milton Wordley
This was no wine race; there was no discussion of scores or rank, but rather a communal ride of that giant gentle wave of delight.

Apart from habitually drinking what would have been predominantly McLaren Vale Grenache from  flagons in my earliest days of ethanology, I didn't really hit great Australian Grenache wittingly til the mid-eighties, when I moved to the Barossa. Before that, I'd known more about the Grenache blends of Spanish Rioja. In an act of brilliant Greek confidence, Peter Paulos had bought the main pub in Tanunda and opened the cellar to discover a great hoard of Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale 'Burgundies' from the 'sixties. These would have been more or less the GSMs of their day: a rarity when you consider that most of the old Grenache was still going into sweet tooth-loosening port.

Over a couple of summers, the smartest local winemakers drank this trove very observantly. Shit it was fun. But also desperate: another little drop in the total brew of knowledge and rage that eventually put an end to the Vine Pull Scheme, where the majority of the old bush vine Grenache of McLaren Vale and Barossa was uprooted and burnt.

A few years later in France I discovered a personal songline. In Champagne, Pinot noir makes white wine. Go south; it gets warmer; you get red Pinot in Burgundy. Keep southerly, through Maçon and the Gamay of Beaujolais and you're soon hitting patches of Grenache, which is the rosiest of the three major reds of the south - with Shiraz/Syrah and Mataro/Mourvèdre - all the way down the Rhône Gorge to its vast delta and the Mediterranean.

Where, in the summer, you can smell Africa with your bouillabaisse and the turkish delight/pashmak rosiness of your Provence rosé.

There's little science in it, but in this organoleptic journey, fine Grenache to me is closer to the Pinot of Burgundy than to the leathery blackness of Mourvèdre or Syrah.

There was a temptation to insert a bottle of a darker, more tannic than average Burgundy amongst these wines to prove a point. But to argue with myselves which Burgundy we'd set with which South Australian Grenache is dumb, and became much more dumber once those thirteen glasses had got to their powerful seduction.

Event organiser Russell 'Rusty' Gallagher of Serafino ... photo©Milton Wordley

The luxurious Wirra Wirra Absconder 2012 sure had the shiny silk I expected, but in the months since I last drank it, it had grown a whole range of glowering complexities. The Serafino 2014 comes from close by vineyards in similar ground, but had more rustic tannin and more obvious oak, not surprising given its youth and it being half the price.

It was very hard to believe the Twelftree Schuller 2012 came from just across the road from the Yangarra High Sands 2012. Same sand, but the Twelftree was bright maraschino joy, the Yangarra glowering complex marello and spice, with real moody tannins.

Steve Pannell laughed when I selected his 2014 vintage. He reckons it's the most Pinot-like Grenache he's made, but when I ponder it, I wonder which Burgundian vineyard he loves most. Like his wine was much more sinuous and tight than the Longhop 2013, from Adelaide Plains and One Tree Hill. From similarly aged vines, these were chalk and cheese, the Longhop half the price and more like the big dark tannic Burgundy of say Domaine de l'Arlot than the taut modern raciness of the S C Pannell.

Paul Carpenter's silky morello Longline Albright 2014 comes from ancient pre-Cambrian geology on the Onkaparinga Gorge: very similar to that of the Greenock Creek Cornerstone 2014, but similarities end there. The Greenock wine's all panforte, with nutmeg, ground coriander and dried fruits.

Grenache grower and Serafino Winemaker, Charlie Whish ... photo©Milton Wordley

And on we went. Yalumba's Tri-Centenary from the 1880s vineyard that set the highest price yet paid for vines per acre in Australia when Rob Hill Smith bought it in the 'nineties: complex with fruitcake and nutmince a bit like the Greenock; contrasting against the bright high country confectionery and essence of The Willunga 100 2010.

Marco Cirillo's The Vincent 2014 sat similarly opposite Tom Carson's Heathcote Estate 2012, the hearty cured meats and fruitcake of the Barossa against the silky confectionery and high country fruit essence of the Victorian wine.

And then, John Duval's Annexus 2013 from the Barossa and its uplands, an intense sombre wine for the cellar, with a dash of Shiraz in it. Which makes it more of a John Duval than a Grenache, which means it's a cracker nevertheless.

It's days ago now, but that tasting's still rattling round my head, knocking corners off old theories and picking splinters out of others while the whole thing swirls round like a delicious technicolour syrup.

Australian Grenache has changed gears. No other country on Earth could set up a rainbow slurp quite like this. Growers and winemakers, take a bow. 

everyone brought their favourite Grenache to a fine slow long table lunch
top photo Rusty Gallagher photo below ©Milton Wordley

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