Aussie Grenache ‘can age better than Shiraz’

Australian Grenache has greater ageing potential than wines made from the country’s flagship red variety, Shiraz, according to wine writer Sarah Ahmed.

The eight wines selected for Sarah Ahmed’s McLaren Vale Grenache masterclass

Australian wine specialist Ahmed made the comments while hosting a masterclass on McLaren Vale Grenache at Wine Australia’s Australia Day Tasting in London.

At the tasting she presented eight examples of varietal Grenache from the McLaren Vale region (see bottom of this article for the list of wines) which she felt represented the recent trend towards medium-bodied, Burgundy-style wines expressing the region’s highly varied terroir.

The wine writer and judge drew attention to the comments of leading McLaren Vale producer Steve Pannell, whom she credited with drawing attention to Grenache’s remarkable ageing potential – even greater Shiraz, a far more highly prized variety in terms of wines made for ageing in Australia.

Ahmed explained that Grenache has a higher level of tartaric acid than Shiraz, which is a crucial factor in maintaining stability in a wine over time.

“To my mind premium Grenache has this low pH and this freshness which really means that it carries the alcohol much better than Shiraz over time, and really brings out the aromatics and the fruit,” she said.

“It gives it a liveliness and a buoyancy which I think you can lose with Shiraz.”

One of Ahmed’s objectives in the McLaren Vale Grenache masterclass was to demonstrate the freshness which was becoming typical of many of the best varietal Grenache wines in Australia.

Such a trend, which Ahmed noted led to McLaren Vale Grenache being labelled as the ‘warm-climate Pinot Noir’, is often associated with winemakers such as Steve Pannell and Julian Forwood. Ahmed said that this ‘new breed’ of Grenaches demonstrated a trend towards a tempering of the variety’s often sweet fruit with an element of savouriness, which was being achieved through techniques such as whole bunch maceration and extended skin maceration alongside judicious use of seasoned oak.

“Steve Pannell talks a lot about ‘winding the wines up’, getting them into bottle early, using reductive winemaking techniques, and people using whole bunch [maceration] and long skin contact,” she said. “Obviously with the fruit tannins you’re going to be getting an anti-oxidant effect, so again helping with the freshness, but I think it is that low pH, especially on the right sites, which gives these wines the capability to age well.”

Precious import

Grenache grapevines were first imported in to Australia from Durand in Roussillon in 1831 by the ‘father of Australian wine’, James Busby. In the early to mid-20th century it became the most-planted variety in Australia. However a huge cultural shift away from fortified wines (for which Grenache was used) in the 60s and 70s led to a drastic reduction in plantings.

Sarah Ahmed echoed the view of winemaker Steve Pannell that Grenache had greater ageing potential than the more heavily favoured Shiraz

The new wave of medium-bodied, ‘Pinotesque’ Australian Grenaches is most readily associated with the McLaren Vale in South Australia, a region with very similar environmental conditions to Roussillon and where Grenache is the third most-planted variety, covering around 1,500ha. Many of the Grenache vines in the region are old, low-yielding bush vines that are priced for the characterful wines they produce.

Winemakers such as Steve Pannell and Julian Forwood were among the first to usher in a change away from big, boozy, heavily extracted style of Grenache to premium, site-specific Grenache wines inspired by the likes of Château Rayas (which uses only Grenache) in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and using Burgundian cellar techniques such as cold soaks, whole-bunch fermentation and post-fermentation maceration. Earlier picking of the grapes also contributes to the freshness of such wines.

Ahmed explained how a growing number of McLaren Vale producers had latched on to a sort of Burgundian approach to Grenache, not just in terms of viniculture but also in terms of their terroir focus, noting that McLaren Vale is home to more than 40 unique geologies, which Grenache is ideally suited to express.

The Australia Day trade tasting, held at B1 in Holborn, central London, set a new attendance record this year, with more than 900 visitors from across the UK and Europe attending the event. Thirty winery principals also flew in from Australia to pour their wines, including Tim Adams, Kym Milne MW, Jane Campbell, Franklin Tate, Rory Lane, Damian North and Trina Smith.

Wines chosen by Sarah Ahmed for the McLaren Vale Grenache masterclass at the Australia Day Tasting, London, 24 January 2017:

  1. Wirra Wirra ‘The Absconder’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2015
  2. Serafino Wines ‘Serafino Reserve’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2014
  3. Bekkers Wine ‘Bekkers’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2014
  4. Yangarra Estate ‘High Sands’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2013
  5. Nick Haselgrove Wines ‘The Old Faithful Northern Exposure’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2013
  6. Caught Redhanded ‘Oscar Reserve’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2012
  7. Chapel Hill Winery ‘Bush Vine’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2010
  8. D’Arenberg ‘The Beautiful View’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2010

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