Grenache? Get On Board!

I applaud promiscuity when it comes to wine. Any red-blooded drinker confronted with a world of beauty and diversity is duty bound to get out there and share the love. That’s why I was quick to doff my cap to the polygamist proclamations of a bloke who wears his heart on his sleeve – well, on his twitter handle. That’s right, @ILoveRiesling has a roving eye. I caught Tom Hogan, celebrated sommelier and co-owner of Melbourne wine bar Harry & Frankie, whispering sweet nothings about Grenache. I just thought you ought to know.
“In terms of something quintessentially Australian, old-vine Grenache is being made particularly well at the moment,” Hogan tells me. “People are reining in alcohol levels and getting more finesse, elegance and perfume. The wines are more at that floral end of the spectrum instead of high alcohol and largesse. What’s exciting is they’re not trying to copy anywhere else; they’re not trying to be French Grenache or Garnacha from Spain. They have their own take.”
Hogan, an associate judge at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards and Sydney Royal Wine Show, concedes that Grenache may have suffered from something of a cultural cringe, with the variety relegated in the eyes of some to “B” grade status, below A-listers like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In part this was down to over-the-top, boozy styles with sweet, confected fruit. He hopes that wine-judging attitudes may change now, with wines like Ochota Barrels’ Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2012 ($38; sold out – 2014 released 1st December) and The Green Room Grenache Syrah 2013 (sold out – 2014 released 1st September) almost taking their cue from Pinot and mimicking its ethereal appeal.
“A lot of these new styles are being led by a new wave of producers who are looking for deliciousness and drinkability. Australia’s making some of the best Chardonnay in the world but a lot of it is made in cerebral fashion instead of just being delicious and moreish. The modern movement of Grenache has delicacy and vitality, brightness and freshness.” Take the Jauma Biggles 2013 ($25; sold out with new vintage due in spring) for example. “I absolutely adored that wine,” says Hogan. “It’s bright, vibrant and almost Beaujolais-like – so fresh and accessible.”

Jauma's James Erskine
Jauma’s James Erskine
Hogan’s background as an Adelaide-bred member of the hospitality industry means he’s never been far away from Grenache. He’s also deliberately thrown himself in its path. He’s worked a couple of vintages in the Barossa, including in 2008 at Spinifex, producer of the Papillon Grenache Cinsault blend ($26) – an old favourite. He’s also paid a couple of visits over the years to the southern Rhone, home to Clos des Papes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, “probably my favourite producer year in, year out”. He’s currently got around 25+ Grenache wines on the 650-strong list at Harry & Frankie.
From Australia, it’s no surprise to hear Hogan laud McLaren Vale, particularly the Blewitt Springs sub-region. Less obvious is Victoria’s Pyrenees, where he’s captivated by DogRock’s Degraves Road Shiraz Grenache Tempranillo blend ($75). “That’s a top wine, more in the bay leaf/dried herb spectrum,” he adds.
He sees GSM as the Barossa Valley’s strongest suit, preferring his Shiraz from the higher, cooler climes of Eden Valley and Barossa Ranges. “In the Barossa, it’s the Grenache that comes in looking pristine. This is the variety that should be embraced there,” says Hogan. “To some extent, a lot of Barossa and McLaren Vale Shiraz can come across as dry reddy – a lot of dark fruit and tannin. But the Grenache and the GSM from those regions have a transparency about them and feel at ease with themselves. The great thing about these wines is that they have such a history about them and when you buy a bottle, you’re buying a bit of that history as well.”

More Go-To Grenache From Tom Hogan

Ruggabellus, Barossa Valley“Abel Gibson’s wines are a bit more resinous, a bit more structured and speak more of the earth. The 2012 Timaeus ($40; sold out) has a lot of lift and perfume. It’s alluring and sits in the red-fruit end of the spectrum without being simple.”

Izway, Barossa Valley –Three Brians Grenache 2012 ($75) “Old style meets new. This is one of those wines that manages to carry pretty high alcohol and show elegance and femininity. It’s super light on its feet.”

Bekkers, McLaren Vale – The 2012 Grenache ($80) has unfortunately sold out, but the 2013 is slated for release in November this year. “Those wines are pretty impressive. Definitely one to watch.”

SC Pannell, McLaren Vale“The straight Grenache from 2010 and 2011 ($55) were absolutely delicious. 2011 was a vintage to separate the men from the boys. That wine shows how you can produce a wine in a more restrained style and still come up with something brilliant and interesting.”

Samuels Gorge, McLaren Vale“Try the straight Grenache 2011 ($35).”

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