McLaren Vale Grenache is upping its game

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

18 September 2020

Following his account of Australia's Grenache revolution, Chris Losh explains why the grape might be set to become a key variety in McLaren Vale

Grenache is on its way to becoming for McLaren Vale what Shiraz is to Barossa. That was the clear message from an online tasting organised by Wines of Australia to celebrate today’s World Grenache Day.

The tasting featured a line-up of a dozen of McLaren Vale’s best Grenaches, with input from Liberty’s David Gleave MW, and Alliance Wine’s Giles Cooke MW, both of whom make their own Grenaches in the region.

‘Grenache is a perfect fit for McLaren Vale,’ said Gleave. ‘The problem in the past was people were picking it as though they were trying to make fortified wine.’

Thirty years ago, prices for the grape were low, so growers tended only to pick it when more lucrative varieties were safely in the tanks, resulting in jammy, overblown examples.

‘The skins on Grenache need to be crunchy,’ explained Gleave. ‘As soon as they get soft you lose the aromatics and tannic structure.’

But the last 15 years have seen a surge in interest in lighter, fresher, earlier-picked examples, often from old vines. Oak use has all but disappeared, and a certain amount of whole-bunch maceration is common.

This year Grenache prices in McLaren Vale surpassed those of Cabernet and Shiraz for the first time. The price, of A$2,150/tonne (£1,200), was ten times that of 1985.

‘When we started [Thistledown], people were still feeling pretty desolate about the variety,’ said Cooke. ‘We paid them more so that Grenache was no longer fourth or fifth priority.’

Australian uber-critic, James Halliday has described Grenache as McLaren Vale’s ‘secret weapon’, while respected wine writer, Max Allan, has suggested that it might capture warm climate terroirs better than Shiraz.

‘You look at an old vineyard of Grenache next to Shiraz and it will be green and healthy, while the neighbouring Shiraz will be drying up and losing leaves,’ said Cooke. He also pointed out that the new, lighter styles of Grenache are a better fit with Australian cuisine and drinking trends, too.

‘The market trend is for smashable, and Grenache does smashable,’ he said.

Smashable, but not cheap. The wines on show at the tasting were all over RRP £20.

‘If you want to keep [old] vineyards like these in the ground, you have to pay the price for the fruit,’ said Gleave. ‘It can’t be “poor man’s Pinot”. And if we are going to justify those prices then the wines have to be really high quality.’

  • During the virtual event, a poll of the attendants revealed Thistledown’s ‘Sands of Time’ Old Vine Single Vineyard Grenache 2018 (33% whole-bunch, from Blewitt Springs) to be the favourite wine of the line-up (£24.67, Alliance Wine, alliancewine.com).

Photo credit: Thistledown Wine Company (Giles Cooke in Smart Vineyard)

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