Wirra Wirra Grenache
For reasons I’ve never really understood, Grenache has long been the Nutribullet of grape varietals; not really a headline act itself, but considered really useful for blending. But in recent years, the style seems to be gaining momentum as a single varietal of note and one worthy of occupying space in the cellar. And if you ask me, not before time!
Known as Garnacha in Spain and Cannonau in Sardinia, the grape has long been a rock star in the famous Rhone region in France, where it accounts for at least half the content of the district’s famous Côtes du Rhône red blend. It does best in dry soils and hot conditions in the vineyard, which makes it perfectly compatible with the climate in many Australian wine-producing regions, and especially places like South Australia’s McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley.
I recently had a conversation with James Halliday’s 2017 Winemaker of the Year, Sarah Crowe (of Yarra Yering fame), who herself sees a big future for Grenache as a style – to the point that she sees plantings in her hometown, the Yarra Valley, as also being on the rise. It seems that there may be a subtle winemaker’s drift by towards the style as a consumer-friendly, commercial proposition. So if industry-leading winemakers like Sarah see a big future for the grape, perhaps it really will be the next big thing for our domestic wine industry? Or just a grenache renaissance?
As a late-ripening varietal, Grenache will do best on places where the summer is long and the conditions are quite dry. The grape will generally be picked with high sugar levels making it a wine that will naturally be higher in alcohol than other reds and will often be rather fruit forward and mouth filling.
I suspect that Barossarians may well take umbrage at the statement, but I reckon that the best terroir in the country for producing world class grenache just has to be the Mediterranean climate of the McLaren Vale in the far south of the state. There, some of my all-time favourite grenache are made – by producers like Rastafarian genius Justin McNamee (at Samuels Gorge), Steve Pannell (S C Pannell) and the team of winemakers at Wirra Wirra.
One of the most eminently drinkable examples that you’ll currently find on the shelves has to be the 2018 “The Absconder” from Wirra Wirra. It’s undoubtedly a food wine that engulfs your senses with the first whiff yet satisfies the optics with clarity of ruby-esque colour in the glass and charms across the palate with candied red berries, spicy cinnamon and hints of raspberry and red-currants through an allspice-laced conclusion. It’s a credit to the winemaking skills of Paul Smith, Tom Ravech, Kelly Wellington & Gonzalo Sanchez that despite not appearing to be overly high in acid, it doesn’t get away thanks to the seamless integration of fine tannins and the tell-tale French oak exposure. I’m sure it would work really well with the Korean BBQ spiced pork dish that my sister often trots out when we visit.
This isn’t the hot and heavy type of Grenache that did the varietal no favours in times gone by; there’s an elegance to the Absconder that belies its power and presence. It’s not cheap at $65 – $70 a bottle, but I guess that’s just the price to pay for quality. A top drop and still much cheaper than a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-pape!