The name, Duval, is and always will be inextricably linked with Grange. John Duval was chief winemaker at Penfold’s from 1986 to 2002, making some of the truly great Granges and plenty more besides. He left to ‘do his own thing’ – after all, there really is no further ladder to climb once you are the man at the top – and now works with his son, Tim, at John Duval Wines.
When John left Penfold’s, everyone was expecting the next Grange from him, or surely at the very least, a Grange-lookalike, but as he said at the time, that was never going to happen, not least because he’d locked down all the vineyards providing the grapes which suited the style and quality of Grange during his time at Penfold’s.
Instead, we have an array of beautifully crafted, elegant Barossa reds. They have also looked closely at Grenache. It makes the occasional appearance at Penfold’s, especially in their Bin 138, but Tim and John have made it a speciality. Small production sure, but these are wines not to miss. See how good Barossa Grenache can be.
Duval ‘Concilio’ Grenache 2019
Despite the use of only ‘grenache’ on the label, this wine is a blend of grenache (85%) and shiraz (15%), but not breaching the regulated limits allows the use of the straight varietal name. The aim behind John and son, Tim, releasing this wine is to offer a grenache at a more approachable price which provides “more vibrancy, savouriness and texture”.
The colour is a dull crimson. The nose offers spices and red fruits. This is a fine example of that slightly gritty, savoury style of grenache. There is a hint of brambles along with some soy and beef stock, as well as dry herbs and a curious but pleasant beef sausage note. There is also a hint among the spices of a character which seems like oregano. The wine is attractive now but has a good five to eight years ahead of it and, as delicious as it is now, expect it to improve.
Duval Annexus Grenache 2018
If we move to their flagship grenache, ‘Annexus’, 90% of this wine comes from a parcel of Eden Valley Grenache planted in 1858 (known as Ancestor Vines). The remaining 10% comes from old bush vine vineyards in the northern Barossa. The first vintage of Annexus was the 2013. Tim has said that the Eden Valley vineyard provides “amazing structure and an intensity of fruit and spice but with an elegance that many don’t expect from the region”. This is the most recent release and, given a little more time, will be an absolute star. Just 250 cases.
The colour is a lovely mix of purples and reds. The aromas are of truffles, spices, dry herbs and delicatessen notes, while the wine exhibits a most appealing texture. There are notes of red fruits and root vegetables which emerge over the journey, with a hint of beetroot. It is seamless and supple and there is excellent length here. There are fine, ever-so-slightly gravelly tannins. This vintage is understandably still very youthful though is perfectly drinkable at this early stage. Eight to ten years will see it rise even further and I suspect that in time, we’ll think of this as the best in the series so far.
Duval Annexus Grenache 2017
Tim offered some thoughts on grenache. “We see Grenache as a critical element to our wines, adding aromatic lift and elegance to our blends as well as spice notes complemented by a purity of fruit expression. We are lucky to have access to a range of different Grenache sites, from the sandier soils of central Barossa Valley that provide perfume and aromatic lift to the gnarly old vines from Eden Valley that show spice, more concentration and structure. This gives us a great diversity of Grenache expressions to showcase either on their own, or to add critical highlights to blended wines such as our Plexus SGM”.
As usual, there were just 250 cases of this wine made. It spent 14 months in oak. The colour is pale red. For me, this is a classically varietal grenache. There is a pleasing mix of spices, red fruits, dry herbs, soft notes of beef stock and truffles. It is seamless, well structured and with silky tannins, while offering good focus. This is a very fine grenache, though for me, falls a fraction short of 2015 and 2016. It has good, not great, length. One suspects that further time in the bottle will soon fix that and it really does promise well for the future.
Duval Annexus Grenache 2016
Again, 250 cases and again, the wine spent 14 months in oak. The colour is a slightly dull magenta – indeed, if it was a Shiraz, one might pick it as much older, but colour with Grenache is not much more useful as a guide than it is with Pinot Noir. The nose offers dry herbs and a hint of undergrowth along with cherries. There is a whiff of fungal/truffle notes and coffee grinds. This is a savoury style and there is better length here, as well as fine tannins. A wine with complexity and serious concentration and yet it dances. Love it.
Duval Annexus Grenache 2015
Okay, granted your chances of finding some of the older vintages of Annexus on retail shelves might be slim but if you find them on a list (or if you do find that pot of gold at the end of the vinous rainbow), it is worth mentioning that at just $70, this must be one of the world’s great wine buys – a wine from vines of over 160 to 170 years of age for relative peanuts. Again, 250 cases. Offers red fruits, herbal notes, persimmons. It is on the palate where this vintage really lifts. Very fresh, focused and long. Cashmere tannins. Has the softness and complexity of grenache at its best. Lingers with intent. Has ten years plus ahead of it.