Tag Archives: Cinsault

Game Of Rhones Rules

If I say “wine tasting”, this is what you see: Men – I bet it’s men – swirling and snorting, scowling and spitting in a space with all the cheer of a dentist’s waiting room. What you don’t see is the swashbuckling sauciness of the Seven Kingdoms.
But armour-clad winemakers and goblet-toting maidens are exactly what you get at Game of Rhones. This event, now in its second year, kicked off in Adelaide on 24th May before heading to Brisbane and then Melbourne on 7th and 14th June respectively. It features 150-odd drops from almost 50 Australian producers, as well as – say it quietly – fun.
The initiative is the brainchild of Melbourne sommelier and wine educator Dan Sims of Bottle Shop Concepts. It’s his act of rebellion against “boring-arse masterclasses” that cater solely for the geekiest 5% of the wine-drinking public. “We’re trying to speak to the other 95% and tell them that it’s possible to come along, enjoy yourself and learn about wine,” he says. “Plus by sticking to Rhône varieties, we’re keeping it simple.”

Dan Sims of Bottle Shop Concepts
Dan Sims of Bottle Shop Concepts
This last point is important. Beyond the theatricality – and organisers have camped up the Game of Thrones parody to the max – this is a chance to get to know some of Australia’s most enjoyable wines and the people who make them.
So which varieties are we talking about? For a start, reds rule the Rhône. Syrah (Shiraz) reigns supreme in the cooler northern end of the valley, while Grenache leads the way in the south, usually blended with the likes of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault and others. Playing second fiddle are aromatic whites ranging from hedonistic Viognier to floral Marsanne and fashionable Roussanne.
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French wines will be available at Game of Rhones, but homegrown talent takes centre stage. It’s time to banish for good the stereotype of Aussie Shiraz as a generic big, dry red. “Shiraz in Australia is so diverse,” says Sims. “What we want to celebrate is the diversity of style within the variety.” Full-throttle blockbusters are but a detail in a tapestry that includes earthy, medium-bodied Hunter Valley wines, the peppery, black-olive notes of Victoria and evolving elegance from Adelaide Hills and Margaret River.
Meanwhile the Barossa and McLaren Vale are getting Grenache to sing right now. It loves the heat, as does frequent blending partner Mourvèdre (Mataro), and a trend away from hot, jammy numbers in favour of freshness, is allowing them to shine. “We’ve got some of the oldest Grenache vines in the world and the wines offer ridiculous value,” says Sims. “GSM is wonderful, medium bodied and goes great with food.”
Corinna Wright of Oliver's Taranga
Winemaker Corinna Wright
Let’s not forget the white varieties of the Rhône, which continue their mouthwatering march. The once isolated success of Yalumba with Viognier or Tahbilk with Marsanne is being built on by others. “Viognier is always going to be a richer style of wine,” says Sims. “Then you have Marsanne and Roussanne and blends. They’re never going to be as popular as Chardonnay but I think they offer a more savoury style, and Australian winemakers are learning to play with them better.”
Game of Rhones: you’ve got to be in it to win it. And the beauty is you can always play along at home.

Dan Sims’s Game of Rhones heroes:

Head Red GSM 2013 Barossa Valley $25

“Alex Head’s wines are going from strength to strength and this is just bloody delicious. Medium-bodied, red-fruited deliciousness.”

Voyager Estate Shiraz 2011 Margaret River $38

“While the west isn’t famed for Shiraz, Voyager is nailing it. Fuller flavour, dark plums with a savoury edge. It begs for roasted meats.”

Tyrrell’s Stevens Single Vineyard Shiraz 2011 Hunter Valley $38

“I really like Hunter Shiraz as it’s classically medium bodied without being too much. Perfumed and elegant now but long lived for sure.”

Oliver’s Taranga Shiraz 2012 McLaren Vale $30

“Superfresh, dark-fruited, slippery and slurpy deliciousness from winemaker Corinna Wright.”

Mitchell Harris Mataro 2012 Pyrenees $29

“Recently did very well in the North East Versus Western Victoria Challenge. Medium bodied, spicy, attractive fruit. Great drink.”

Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2012 Adelaide Hills $50

“Cool climate, spicy fresh Shiraz at its Adelaide best. Super smooth and seductive.”

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).”