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Three masterly Grenache wines


Whitey likes the gringo Grenache of Thistledown.

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Two Masters of wine from the British Isles came to sit on my verandah yesterday to talk Grenache.

Giles Cooke and Fergal Tynan are among the Grenache winemakers who’ve emerged from the woodwork to make contact since I commenced my irregular series on this renascent variety. They comb this country for old vineyards to make their Thistledown Wines with former Nepenthe winemaker Peter Leske at his Lenswood winery.

Fermented slowly, naturally, in ceramic eggs with plenty of whole bunches and berries, these wines are made for both the Australian and UK markets. In the latter, they’re aimed fair-and-square at the shelves usually filled with Spaniards. Give ’em hell, lads!

Thistledown The Vagabond Blewett Springs McLaren Vale Grenache 2014 ($40; 15% alcohol; screw cap) is from the sandy-and-ironstone sub-region where they believe “Grenache is at its fragrant, textural best”. This baby’s right up that alley: oozing intense bergamot and stewed quince and clove aromas, among other tempting lovelies. All those alcohols don’t seem to bother it, instead helping smooth and harmonise the bouquet, perhaps at the risk of losing some of the variety’s cherries-and-roses typicity. They do similar work on the palate, without making it seem too hot or strong, but rendering more of a dining table wine than a casual patio tipple. Just about anything with aromatic mushrooms: morels, portobellos or shiitake – truffles, too – would set it up just schmick.

Thistledown The Vagabond Old Vine Blewett Springs Grenache 2015 ($50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) smells a little more intense and inky, with the sooty leanness I often associate more with Barossa Grenache. Once again, the bouquet offers a different range of pleasures to what I expect of standard Blewett Springs Grenache, if there is such a thing. The roses, cherries and blueberries here are perfectly alluring, but the wine proffers darker, deeper mysteries than those. Like soft fresh licorice and, again, cloves. There’s also some of leathery old harness characters I would normally associate with old Barossa, or indeed Spanish, Grenache. The flavours are tight and still suppressed by the confusion of youth, but they’re dead serious: they look you in the eye. They’re already harmonising beautifully, but building a surly, stroppy wine of certain attitude and direction rather than anything frivolous or effete. It’s fine as a young punk with black leather and ripple soles, but if you wait a few years, it’ll don a very cool suit and do better business. Which would tend to point me more at steak or duck right now. Save the truffles till it settles down.

Thistledown Gorgeous Thorny Devil Old Vine Barossa Grenache 2016 ($28; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) is from the northern flats of the Barossa. Very much after the same house style, this wine initially seems made for earlier drinking: as if to disprove my generalising about regional differences, it’s cheeky and fresh. Which is not to say it won’t grow and mellow: even with just a little time in the glass, the bouquet builds intensity and strength, and yep: there they are: those leathery, bone-dry lignin-deep whiffs of Barossa tradition. But then the palate’s silky-slick, and stacked with the sort of rosy florals I usually associate more with Blewett Springs! So here’s your patio/verandah schlück: try it with Woodside Cheese Wrights Lemon Myrtle Chevre and those tiny koroneiki olives from Coriole. Yum.

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