McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache – Masterclass (Part 2)

In the follow up to my first article on the wines presented in the ’McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache’ masterclass, presented in tandem with the London Australia Day tasting event, below you will find my thoughts on the final 5 wines tasted.


As a short reminder, the mission statement for the session was to highlight that “Grenache delivers what Pinot Noir promises” and, with the use of Burgundian techniques such as whole bunch pressing (and malolactic fermentation) to drive the softer fruits and the use of well-seasoned French oak, it is possible to craft well-structured/balanced wines as opposed to simply warm climate Grenache fruit-bombs.

Yangarra Estate ‘High Sands’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2013, 14.8% (£80)

One of the most northerly vineyards in McLaren Vale, this fine parcel of land is high altitude and low producing.  Being made from the prized older Grenache vines, the nose of the wine had an austere, almost fortified quality with perhaps a whiff of diesel.  The palate is equally rich, concentrated and spicy, with tight tannins and acidity.  Sarah pointed out how well structured the wine was instead of being a 15% fruit-bomb.

Nick Haselgrove Wines ‘The Old Faithful Northern Exposure’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2013, 14.5% (£30)

An award winning wine hailing from the north and situated at high altitude.  Coming from just 5 hectares (and not made every year) this is an extremely rare wine to come by (just 1,470 bottles) and therefore a pleasure to taste.  Aged in seasoned French oak for 40 months this was a voluptuous mix of red cherries and berries and all the spice and liquorice you would expect.

Caught Redhanded ‘Oscar Reserve’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2012, 15.2% (£?, not currently imported)

Although a typo in the show-guide had this listed as the 2016 its placement in the flight and the darkened colour of the wine gave it away as having a few years of age.  Destemmed berries are aged for 12 months in seasoned French and USA barriques, and a small amount of 2015 Sauvignon Blanc (3%) has been added to keep things vibrant.  The nose contained very fragrant cherry notes which carried on to the palate.  This wine has mellowed with time but still retains an inherent spicy note.


Chapel Hill Winery ‘Bush Vine’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2010, 14.5% (£22.50)

Hailing from the 2010 vintage, which was the first year to see good rainfall after several years of drought, this wine exuded a wonderful rose perfume.  My notes listed this as a mellow wine in terms of both the settled tannins and the silky nature of the fruit.  Indeed it was so relaxed that at no point did you feel that you were tasting a wine packing nearly 15% alcohol.

As you would expect there were notable tertiary characteristics providing the intrigue of old vines.  This was probably the standout wine of the session for me.

d’Arenberg ‘The Beautiful View’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2010, 13.6% (£60)

I tasted a full flight of the d’Arenberg wines on their table in the main event but didn’t recall seeing this wine, which was part of their ‘Amazing sites’ programme.  I had a quick check in with Sarah after the masterclass and it transpired that this was a special pick and, for one reason or another, d’Arenberg had not released any vintage more recently than the 2011.

Located in the loamy clay soils in the north of McLaren Vale where the hills begin to ascend, the grapes for this wine (which are 1/3rd old bush vine) are trodden by foot part-way through the fermentation, which is completed in seasoned French oak.

Still retaining (an albeit slightly muted) perfume on the nose and clean blue plummy fruit there is clear development on the palate with leather and farmyard qualities discernible.  The tannins are still evident but finely grained and a vibrant acidity keeps this lively in the mouth whilst juxtaposing the complexity.

Overall the masterclass was a fantastic insight in to how Grenache performs in the complex geological make-up of McLaren Vale, and I got exactly what I needed from the wines on display.  You can read Sarah’s own write-up of the new breed of McLaren Vale Grenache’s and the driver for the masterclass here (complete with a small soundbite from yours truly!)

With thanks to Wine Australia for providing the ticket to this fascinating masterclass

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McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache – Masterclass (Part 1)

It’s always a great opportunity and pleasure to learn directly from the experts, getting their forensic insight as to the finer details of a wine.  As part of last weeks Australia Day tasting I attended the ‘McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache’ masterclass led by Australia and Portugal wine specialist Sarah Ahmed.


Being more familiar with Grenache from a France/Spain perspective this was a good way for me to become more acquainted with it when produced in a warm climate (nearby Adelaide is the driest of Australia’s capital cities) and, knowing that Sarah would choose wines specifically to run the gamut of what McLaren Vale Grenache has to offer, I looked forward to being able to understand and appreciate how the various flavour components are driven specifically by terroir.

As something of a hangover from the old days of fortified wine, McLaren Vale has 1/3rd of Australia’s plantings of Grenache.  The geology of the region is incredibly diverse with something like 40 different soil/rock types but, in a nutshell, the sandier and lower lying south gives way to more complex and rockier soil in the north as the altitude ascends in to the inland mountain ranges.  It was likened to looking north as if “reaching for the spice rack”.

If there was any kind of mission statement for the session it was to highlight that “Grenache delivers what Pinot Noir promises” and, with the use of Burgundian techniques such as whole bunch pressing (and malolactic fermentation) to drive the softer fruits and the use of well-seasoned French oak, it is possible to craft well-structured/balanced wines as opposed to simply warm climate Grenache fruit-bombs.

The wines on show clearly proved that this was the case and there were some wonderfully fragrant, well-judged blends where you would be hard pressed to say that you were drinking 15% abv.  You can read much more about the scene setting and lead-up to the tasting here.

The flight of 8 wines ran from the most recent vintage backwards and presented many wines that were not available to try in the wider tasting event.  In this first part of two pieces on the masterclass I will go through my notes on the first 3 wines tasted, with the remaining 5 wines covered in the 2nd part.


Wirra Wirra ‘The Absconder’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2015, 14.5% (£40)

From towards the southern central part of McLaren Vale with a blend of southern sand and the stone and schist soils of the north, this wine was also on show at the main event and I was keen to see if my notes differed when casting a more critical eye on it.  What came across more in the masterclass was the crunchiness of the fruit and the spice and leathery notes.  Sarah pointed out that the wine spends 9 months in seasoned oak and, perhaps being made aware of this, I became more attuned to those qualities.

Other than that I recorded a lightness of touch on the palate in terms of delicate aromatics and a fresh and fruity quality.  Cherry and plum fruits abound and a light grippy tannin is evident.

Serafino Wine ‘Serafino Reserve’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2014, 14.5% (£25, not currently imported)

Sarah described how the sandy soils really come through on to the wine in the shape of the sandpaper tannins, as well as the lighter soil type highlighting the lighter notes and aromatics.  Indeed this wine was full of fragrance and contained mouth-wateringly fresh cherry and kirsch flavour.

The juicy fruit was matched with a well-pitched acidity, with only the slightly raw tannins off balance.  Nevertheless this wine was the epitome of the reason that I placed myself in the masterclass, to see how the landscape makes it’s presence felt in the end product.

Bekkers Wine ‘Bekkars’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2014, 15% (£50)

Up to the north of McLaren Vale now where the soils comprise sand, ironstone, loam and clay, and another good example of how the darker denser make-up brings out the darker denser notes of the Grenache.

We had clearly hit a different level of richness and concentration with this wine, but again it was so well balanced against the medium acidity.  With hints of both black and red fruits, invigorated and lifted through 20% whole bunch pressing, the 18 months spent maturing in seasoned French oak drew out the spicier notes which rounded out the whole.

To keep reading about the next 5 wines in the flight and the conclusion of the masterclass, please click here.

With thanks to Wine Australia for providing the ticket to this fascinating masterclass

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Water in to wine

In my modest but fairly sizeable wine rack sit 6 bottles which I’m not touching. This isn’t because they are rare vintages, are valuable, or even because they need ageing to reach their peak.

No, it’s simply because they contain 15% alcohol and having had a bottle or two before I found it to be too overpowering. I do like a ‘big’ red wine and subscribe with Laithwaites to receive their ‘Big Reds’ mixed case, but the clue to the huge body is in the name of the wine. ‘The Heavyweight’ is a blockbuster Shiraz from South Australia and packs a punch that (judging by the reviews online) is loved and loathed in equal measure.

Heavy wine  Punching above its’ weight?

Occasionally this particular bottle pops in to a mixed case, and when I forget to replace it, adds to my growing collection. I started thinking of gifting the bottles, but with the high level of alcohol I felt it would need to go to a serious wine lover rather than slipped in to the mix at a party. If I couldn’t vouch for the wine though, how would I be able to pass it off to a friend?

I was interested to read a letter in this months’ Decanter magazine from a Professor Herbert who clearly has a similar problem. I must admit that I had never considered his solution of adding water to a wine to dilute the alcohol (indeed, in an upcoming review, I’m even baffled by a red wine meant to be served over ice cubes). The idea of watering down wine seems almost an abomination of all the hard work that the producer has put in, and it was only a few months ago that I wrote about the outrage caused by ‘Wine Based Drinks’ where exactly this practice was happening (in this case by the winery, rather than at home). My split-second shock and disdain was quickly transformed in to one of absolute curiosity. Could this be the answer I was looking for?

Professor Herbert makes mention of an article in the New York Times which talks about the effects of dilution across a range of beverages from Cocktails to Coffee. Adding water to high alcohol spirits is an accepted norm, and when doing the tasting exams for Spirits at the WSET you need to dilute them with water. This isn’t merely to stop you getting hilariously drunk in the exam, but is because the dilution effect of the water can bring out subtler tastes and aromas that you may not notice through the alcohol burn (which will occur in any alcoholic beverage with an abv of more than about 14%).

As always the best way is to find out for yourself, and so I popped to my wine rack and picked out the Heavyweight for a taste test.

The unadulterated wine was a youthful vibrant purple indicating a clean and fruit forward wine, with a clear view of the tears in the glass highlighting the alcohol level. The nose was of deep dark red cherry with jammy notes (from the high alcohol), a biting spice, and also floral notes, particularly vanilla. The palate was an initial huge warm fruit-bomb explosion, but then with nowhere else to go I was left with a hollow mid-palate. In addition, the initial fruit explosion meant that the palate quickly dissipated and I registered the length as medium (mostly made up of a sickly sweet taste and warmth from alcohol, as opposed to fruit). To be fair to this wine, I think it may have needed food (it is Australian, so a BBQ may not have been far from mind when creating the blend), but I tried both versions without.

For the second tasting I decanted the bottle contents with an additional 20% mineral water (Evian), taking the abv down by the same 20%, ergo 15% down to 12%. The colour of the wine was still a youthful purple with less visible tears and the rim clearly now water-white. The nose, instead of a fruit bomb, was more restrained with more tertiary characteristics coming through. In place of the overt fruit I was hit by black cherry mocha, cigar smoke and older spices (a varied combination) blending in to a warm whole. The palate was very smooth, if still a little sweet, but without the fruit bomb the length became at least twice as long and all about the warmth of the tertiary characters instead of the hit of primary fruit. Like the first wine the acidity is refreshing and carries the wine through the palate, and both had a hint of finer-grained tannins in the mix.

There’s no doubt that this is a well-made wine, but there is something fundamentally smoother and longer lasting about this ‘watered-down’ example, and something which pushes back the overt jammy fruits and draws towards tertiary characters of coffee, chocolate and wood. With a rising number of wines clocking in at more than the traditional norm of 12.5%, perhaps now is a good time to get familiar with the potential of adding water to wine?

My response to Professor Herbert can be found in the August 2015 edition of Decanter magazine.

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