It’s dangerous to get too dogmatic in a revival crusade. About the nature of the message, I mean. If The Word is working, and the souls keep hitting the sawdust trail and coming to the front, it’s best to keep some unity in your movement, and arguments about the finer points of doctrine tend simply to lead to splinter groups.
Like you’ll soon have Foot-washin Baptists over there, the Snake-handlin Baptists up the front, and the Poison-swallerin mob yelling hallelujahs to attract more swallerers to their Amen Corner.
It’s been a bit like this since the commencement of the Grenache revival: sure, the flock’s on the move to the repentance front, and the preachers and stewards are fairly united, but few yet seem sure about the message, or the rules.
At the wine shows, you often have judges who’ve never made a good Grenache floundering to understand where they’re going to steer the faithful with their selections of whatever they think are best.
Personally, I see two major schools emerging thus far: there are the fragrant morello cherry fruitbombs of varying elegance, say of Blewett Springs, and then the more tannic ones, conventional, if you dare, made like standard Shiraz.
At the danger of confusing the issue, but improving it and honing it, there’s another move afoot as the elders of the movement, folks like Stephen Pannell at S.C. Pannell, and my landlord, Peter Fraser at Yangarra, are now making tighter, more serious versions of the wine.
S.C. Pannell McLaren Vale Old McDonald McLaren Vale Grenache 2017
($60; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap)
Seventy-five-year-old bush vines are a good start. Big oak vats rather than barrels and some whole berries in the ferment are the next step. Stephen thinks this could be the best Grenache he’s made.
As an intense baby trapped under the cool clean safety of the screw cap, this wine really behaves better with some air. This bottle has now been open three days and its little chest is still opening for song. Where at first it was a tight, mysterious, confounding drink of impenetrable, almost metallic intensity, it has now got its shoulders back and the music’s settled to a smoother, more fruitful melody. This wine will last and bloom for many years in a good cellar.
It smells now of berries more than it did: but in a complex chorus of leaf and other juices: tweaks of pomegranate and blood orange with laurel and maybe even a curry leaf. They’re enticing, welcoming, tantalising aromas unwinding and swirling and simmering.
The flavours are snaky slender, polished to black chrome, retaining some of that original sinister glower. As no harsh pressings were included, the wine tapers off to a long tendril of pure glistening fruit without much more than a gentle dusting of very fine tannin. It’s long and slow and teasing. At this early stage, it makes me reach for a piquant, crumbly, tart cheese like aged Blue Wensleydale.
S.C. Pannell Smart Clarendon Grenache 2017
($60; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap)
Made from Bernard Smart’s legendary south-facing vineyard atop the southern ridge of the Onkaparinga Gorge, this is another beast again. It seems to have references to all the insinuations and facets of the McDonald, but with extra flesh, like the paler charcuterie meats. And that blue-black gunbarrel glint is perhaps even more sinister, always there in the background.
While in this its callow yoof the wine seems a little shorter than the McDonald, with tannins perhaps a little more granular and drying, those extra components will need more time to properly harmonise, which will be well worth the wait.
In the meantime, this Grenache is better suited to harmonious food rather than the contrasting acid and fat of the cheese recommended above. So juicy veal, like saltimbocca, or smoky barbecued pork ribs glazed till they caramelise a little, or a stack of meaty mushrooms in butter will sit it up just dandy.
S.C. Pannell The Vale McLaren Vale Grenache Shiraz 2016
($40; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap)
Here we see why for years it was so easy for winemakers to hide their unpopular Grenache in Shiraz. The G-spot had no magic in those days when the vines were still being bulldozed. No more of that!
We also see how quickly Shiraz can dominate and cover the more elegant Grenache. The overt flesh and awkward big-boned, beefy nature of the Shiraz benefits from the more elegant, less tannic Grenache, but the balance is critical.
So whatter we got here? A slightly peppery, spicy wine that’s simpler and more immediate, for starters. Those piquant edges are quickly enveloped in a rise of simple comforting flesh that coddles and soothes and generally provides calm reassurance if you’re drinking rather than thinking.
In other words, it’s more typically the type of McLaren Vale red that in the ’70s and ’80s earned such wines the title “the middle palate of Australia”.
Which is never to suggest you can’t discuss it. In fact, there could be few better comparisons to sit and chew over if you found five or six friends, shared the cost of these three bottles and got those decanters humming. Give it a day, or even better, a whole weekend. It will be hard to avoid seeing just what sets the finest Grenache apart from the thick-set 24-stone tattooed bruiser called Shiraz. “Hullo,” it says, crushing your handbones in its great gentle paw, “the name’s Bubba. Welcome to the fold.” Still waters don’t always run deep.
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