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A new direction for McLaren Vale wine


Whitey jumps the vineyard fence to try two brave pales that are new to McLaren Vale – and Australia.

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It is no secret that I live like a crofter hermit with a pen on the back block verge of Yangarra. Neither is it an accident: for many years I’ve been fascinated by this unique slice of terroir, and how its manager/winemaker, Peter Fraser, respects it and reads its best potential. With these two new wines, he’s raised the Yangarra bar, but also opened a new gastronomic track for McLaren Vale.

Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Grenache Rosé 2018
$25; 13% alcohol; screw cap

A few decades back, a great deal of the grand old vine Grenache that South Australia grew went into sweet lollypop pink rosés. The Tollana version was a fine example, coming in its flattened pear-shaped bocksbeutel after the Mateus style. This ancient shape was developed to prevent bottles rolling away from the drinker but became very handy with the invention of the fridge: you could slide ’em in the door rack where they looked extra neat and tidy and wouldn’t fall over if you slammed it.

In recent years, winemakers have learned to make very fine red wines from the Grenache that survived, inspired in some cellars by the style of Pinot noir perfected in Burgundy. But still a determined few have been honing more adult styles of rosé, reaching past the red skins into the berries for their most fragrant, elegant heart juice.

In the case of this svelte delight, the winemaker has preferred to keep that pale blanc-de-noir hue by rigidly limiting the duration of skin contact, a method which also stops short of extracting much phenolic tannin from the skins, keeping that juice as fresh and fine as possible. This is assisted by picking early, before the skins ripen fully.

 The result is an alluring aroma that avoids the usual overt, even brash   raspberry/redcurrant/cranberry characters. Instead it offers a distinctive agave/prickly-pear juice finesse after that delicious cactus fruit adored as the heart flavour of spring and summer by the Maltese since they were Phoenicians.

 So we have a wine that’s pretty much along the lines of a white Grenache. The curious side of me would be tempted to pick some even earlier and make a serious sparkling wine after the methode Champenoise. In either case, I suspect it would attract the sort of drinker much less likely to let the bottle roll away or kick a fridge door shut.

 I’m very happy indeed to sit toying with this mischievous wine, sans suds.

 Speaking Mediterranean, it does a proper job with most of the snacky platter cuisines from Lebanon to Morocco. Very old ideas in a new style; a new direction. Get down.

 Yangarra Vine Estate McLaren Vale Blanc 2018
$25; 13% alcohol; screw cap

Here’s a brand new blend for Australia: a push into realms paler than that posh pink above.

 Convinced that his upland old vine Grenache indicated a very special affinity between Yangarra and the north-west Mediterranean, winemaker Peter Fraser has spent 10 years importing the white varieties of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

This wine is a certified biodynamic/organic blend of Grenache Blanc (35 per cent), Clairette (30 per cent), Roussanne (20 per cent), Picpoul (10 per cent) and Bourboulenc (5 per cent). It was made with indigenous yeast in 675-litre ceramic fermenting eggs.

“Back in 2009 we had an attempt to first bring in Grenache Blanc,” Fraser says, “but it was rejected in quarantine. It had corky bark virus. When a variety is first imported, it is only in very small quantities. It takes time to pass quarantine, and then some years to populate the planting material to have enough for commercial plantings.”

As it’s a first on many levels, it’s not surprising that this Blanc doesn’t remind me much of other Australian wine. Nor for that matter, even the whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They tend to have a more rural/rustic approach than Fraser’s measured blend of science and nature. He gets more precision in his chaos.

It is a reassuring, wholesome wine of a special finesse. Its fragrance is once again after the cactus flower and the juice of the agave, alo and prickly pear, with the accent on streamlining all that into a tight chrome sheen. It’s polished; seamless. It has a tad more tannin than the Grenache Rosé, giving it more authority, but overall it’s a smooth and shiny thing. It needs no oak.

In the 170 years since white boozers pushed into the embayment and uplands of McLaren Vale, Bacchus only knows how many white varieties they’ve tried here, but it’s pretty much everything from Sauvignon blanc to Savignin; Chardonnay to Chenin.

Dare I suggest this new selection of ancient Mediterranean types offers better hope, in these days of new heat, less water, and a much more discerning drinker. Funny that it took us so long.

Try it with a cool bean and pork belly stew.


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