Calabria Saint Petri
Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds are one of those wines that are described as “intoxicating” as much for their delightful perfumed plummy nose as their high alcohol content. If these famous red blends from the southern Rhone region don’t make you a disciple to French wine, then I suspect that nothing will. They were undoubtedly the magic potion that turned my intrigue about French wine firstly into a fascination and later, an addiction.
In the Appellation there are five communes, of which Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the largest. There, the winemakers of the district are permitted to use 13 different varietals in crafting their artisan blends, but most of the reds are dominated by Grenache, supported by bold showings of Shiraz and Mataro (mourvèdre). Finding a bottle of the Southern Rhone’s iconic style shouldn’t be difficult given that there are about 320 wineries in the region producing about 14 million bottles a year. Prices can, of course, be rather unappealing given that you can pay upwards of $500 a bottle for the pleasure.
Fortunately for Australian wine consumers, our domestic producers make their own versions of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends at a fraction of the cost. Given that grenache is the centrepiece of the amalgam of varietals, it’s generally the warmer and more Mediterranean climates like those of the McLaren Vale and the Barossa that do the heavy lifting. I’ve previously sung the praises of the Mosaic of Dreams made by Samuel’s Gorge but recently I came across another worthy contender, the Saint Petri Grenache Shiraz Mataro made by Calabria. You’ll find it at around $80-90 a bottle, and the 2017 edition is currently on the shelves. It’s expensive – but quality normally is.
Calabria are a producer who only began growing fruit in the Barossa region a relatively short time ago having purchased and rejuvenated old vines since 2010. Some of these vines are over 100 years old so it’s unsurprising that the fruit is of premium quality. Chief Winemaker, Emma Norbiato, has sourced fruit from three separate Barossa vineyards to create the Saint Petri – grenache from 50-year-old vines from Rowland Flat as well as the Shiraz and Mataro from plots in Nuriootpa, the latter of which were planted in around 1914. Handpicking ensures that only the best fruit makes its way into the winery where, after fermentation and blending, the juice eventually rests in a mix of French (80%) and American (20%) oak barrels for 12 months prior to bottling.
Once in the glass the Saint Petri sparkles in it’s rubyesque glory. Swirl, whiff and sniff and the bouquet roars to life with aromas of strawberry, maraschino cherry and a savoury edge. Once you take that first fateful sip, the grenache tends to dominate up front adding layers of red fruits and delightful texture while the Mataro provides what the Francophiles would call “garrigue” – the savoury scrubbiness that reminds you of sage, rosemary and even the lavender that is so prevalent in the rocky outcrops of the Southern Rhone. Through the finish, the shiraz offers its handiwork in delivering a mouth-filling jubiness alongside abundant silky tannins that urge another sip even before you’ve had a chance to put the glass down. The 14.5% alcohol will put a glow in your cheeks but I challenge you to resist the temptation of a hasty refill!
The 2017 edition of the Calabria Saint Petri was awarded “Best in Show” at the 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards so my admiration is hardly surprising – a delightfully well-structured and balanced wine that will prove a cost-effective alternative to a trip to Avignon!