Australian Grenache is finally having its moment in the sun. After waiting patiently for decades, often hidden away in shiraz blends, the world has finally woken up to its potential. It seemed few had made the connection between the hallowed region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhone Valley and what was on our own doorstep. We’ve had locals swooning over posh French examples for decades while overlooking what was sometimes only next door, or at least a couple of kilometres down the road. It’s been the cultural wine cringe, at its worst.

At the heart of every great Chateauenuf is old, gnarled, dry grown grenache vines that have survived dozens of baking vintages. And guess what – no one has more old vine grenache anywhere in the world than our own McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley. In fact, we’ve got older vines, some of which are heading towards their bicentenary. It’s a resource that winemakers around the globe, including our friends in France, can only dream of.

Most of the local grenache started out its life to drive Australia’s fortified wine industry thanks to this variety’s generous alcohol. But as that market fell away, much ended up unloved without a home – sold cheaply and then blended away. It seemed like Grenache’s days were potentially numbered when the likes of Wirra Wirra pulled grenache from their much-loved Church Block red. 

But a handful of other producers persevered. Yalumba with their Bush Vine Grenache, d’Arenberg, Turkey Flat and Charlie Melton managed to keep the light on long enough so that the penny finally dropped. Today you can not get your hands on old vine Grenache fruit for love or money, without a strong friendship or a big chequebook. The change has been impressive and remarkably quick. 



While all regions have their moments, when it comes to the leaders of the pack, for the sheer number of high quality wines, it’s a two horse race between the Barossa and McLaren Vale although with quite different styles. The continental Barossa is generally the more savoury of the two regions with spicy and meaty expressions of the variety plus a greater tendency towards red fruits. The McLaren Vale style is on the whole more decadent and fleshy, stacked high with dark, licorice fruits. Within these zones a fascinating pattern of sub-regional variation is also emerging – the sandy soils of Light Pass in the Barossa the most promising while Blewitt Springs seems to have the edge in McLaren Vale. But it’s very early days to declare any particular zone as king.  

These regional differences are also set against a backdrop of a revolution in winemaking practices for this variety. For years most winemakers did not really put in a hell of a lot of effort with their grenache, treating the wines almost like a light weight shiraz. But like pinot noir, this is a variety that responds to nuanced, detailed winemaking. In fact, without it grenache never really gets off the ground. But give grenache a chance and it can be a wonderful vehicle to showcase terroir.

Winemaking can be broadly broken into two camps. Traditionally rich and fleshy wines that showcase Grenache’s natural fruit generosity and then the more modern styles, often with plenty of whole bunches in the ferment and gentle extraction to provide more elegant and lifted wines. Each philosophy can craft exceptional wines so preferences generally come down to a matter of taste. Whatever your pick, Australian Grenache is here to stay and it will be fascinating to see where this variety ends up.

Image supplied by Cirillo Estate Wines

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