Australia’s Best Pinot Meunier
Just a blending variety for Champagne they say… pfft! We took deep dive into varietal pinot meunier – yes, that’s pinot meunier as a red wine.
Although grenache has a long history in this country, it has never had much of a focus as a table wine until recently. As fortified wines declined from the 1960s to bottom out in the ’90s, grenache certainly made it to bottle as red wine, but the focus in its traditional growing areas was on shiraz and grenache took a distant backseat, with the picking and making decisions mirroring those of shiraz – a mostly unsuitable approach.
Arguably, grenache got the most attention in Southern Rhône blends, with GSMs getting some of the limelight towards the end of the 20th century. But it is only in the last little while that grenache is deservedly snatching that spotlight.
“Even my dad who has been a big, bold shiraz drinker all his life is enjoying the change to the more medium-bodied, fruit-driven grenache styles.”
“Grenache has seen a huge renaissance over the past five or so years,” says James Ellis of Ada Wine Co. “Having cut my teeth in the Barossa as a young winemaking graduate ten years ago, I’ve seen grenache go from being undervalued as a blending option and something used for fortified production to a hotly contested and highly valued variety that producers both big and small are now jumping over themselves to get their hands on.”
And that appeal is not so much wine drinkers warming to the styles that have persisted in places like the Barossa and McLaren Vale. Rather, it is very much due to a complete reinvention from big, brooding, confected wines layered with oak to ones that sing a more elegant tune.
“I think the shifting of drinking habits towards light to medium dry reds has helped drive the growth of grenache,” says Rollick’s Jack Weedon, who is based in the Barossa. “That light-medium dry red style of grenache works so well with our shared style of eating out where you can easily have a few glasses or a bottle over some food without feeling too knocked around.”
“I've seen grenache go from being undervalued as a blending option and something used for fortified production to a hotly contested and highly valued variety that producers both big and small are now jumping over themselves to get their hands on.”
Grenache is often referred to as warm climate pinot noir, but lovers of the latter grape would have traditionally been hard pressed to see the similarities. For Ellis, the connection between the grapes is in their heightened ability to convey expressions of site, and his methods shadow those of pinot noir makers.
“With a delicate hand in the winery, grenache can transport you straight to the vineyard in which it was grown,” says Ellis, who takes his grenache fruit from McLaren Vale. “For this reason, I make my single site grenache the same way I make pinot noir. I tend to keep temperatures low during fermentation to preserve aromatics, and cap management is done through gentle punch downs to limit excessive extraction, I only utilise wild yeast. I find this enables the natural tannin structure of the site to shine through.”
In the Barossa, White Gate Wine Co’s Chad Connolly focuses on picking early and limiting yields to build intensity earlier in the season, and he also uses a high percentage of whole bunches in the ferments. But he’s quick to emphasise that there are myriad valid styles, and his approach is personal. “Grenache in the Barossa is unbelievably versatile; we’re seeing bolder styles picked later and with extended skin time, and then we’re seeing refined light styles usually accompanied by an earlier pick and inclusion of whole bunches.”
It’s a diversity that Ellis also celebrates. “It is a resilient variety that comes in many shapes and forms,” he says.
“It’s awesome to see progressive new wave producers sitting alongside more traditional producers in this field. The quality and prestige for the variety is also continually increasing. Like all great wines, grenache when done well can evoke emotion in people, it can transport them to a special time and a place. It’s a special variety and a special time to be involved in the industry and its production.”
The iterations of grenache have expanded rapidly, from rosé through fresh, juicy low tannin, chillable affairs through midweight, complex structured wines to those more bruising. It’s a landscape that would have been unimaginable ten years ago.
In McLaren Vale Kyle Egel and Jonny Cook launched their Saltfleet label from the 2021 vintage. They source grenache from an old vineyard, and while they both engage with the increasingly common ‘fun’ expressions of the grape, their ambitions are somewhat different. “We do enjoy the lighter bodied, easy-drinking grenache,” says Cook, “although we are more focused on making a more serious wine with texture, and grippy, rounded tannins.”
That first wine may be more serious, but it leans on poise and grace more than it does raw power. “McLaren Vale has some of the oldest Grenache plantings in Australia and these old vines contribute largely to the natural fruit concentration and plush tannins,” adds Egel. “Our fruit is sourced from 120-year-old vines and it’s a great example of this.”
While both Barossa and McLaren Vale have amazing resources of old and ancient vine material, that fruit is being eagerly pursued. “The price per tonne for grenache has gone through the roof in recent years due to the rise in popularity and this has also created a competitive environment for sourcing fruit,” says Cook. “Most producers in McLaren Vale now have a single variety grenache on their wine list and the quality of these wines continues to improve.”
Weedon agrees that grenache is getting harder to source due to the increase in popularity of the grape, especially for “rosé and medium-bodied reds”, which in turn pushes fruit prices up. “However,” he says, “there’s been a lot put in the ground over the past few years with many bearing fruit in the next year or two. Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to have grenache in the ground – so I think pricing may stabilise a bit.”
Demand is naturally a key driver for a grower to plant a particular variety, but grenache’s suitability to warm climates is another key factor. And with temperatures trending upwards and water becoming scarcer, grenache is a good option alongside climate-apt emerging varieties that are gaining traction.
“Grenache is perfect for the Barossa, as it hangs so well through the warm summers,” says Weedon. “There’s a lot of dry grown grenache in the Barossa. You go out and look at the grenache blocks after a couple of 40-degree days and they still look so fresh. It requires very little water to survive and can still produce a wine that is bright and crunchy. It’s a win-win for the environment and our palates.”
“There's a lot of dry grown grenache in the Barossa. You go out and look at the grenache blocks after a couple of 40-degree days and they still look so fresh. It requires very little water to survive and can still produce a wine that is bright and crunchy. It's a win-win for the environment and our palates.”
It’s a view shared by Kimberley Cooter of Cooter and Cooter and Hedonist Wines. “Grenache flourishes in McLaren Vale’s warm Mediterranean climate,” she says. “We don’t have an abundance of water, and grenache is tough enough to survive, and thrive, through our heatwaves and droughts. It’s a true champion of McLaren Vale.”
Indeed, grenache now has a big reputation in the Vale, but it is still very much in the minority in terms of plantings, with 5 per cent of vineyard land devoted to it, as compared to 59 per cent for shiraz. It’s quite a gulf, but Cooter is a big believer. “Grenache has a strong future,” she says. “It’s not going anywhere. Stylistically, it will continue to forge its way ahead at midweight, with structure and texture, and some intrigue, rather than the sweet, jubey grenache of the past.”
Like Ellis, she is also compelled by its ability to express site, which will only be enhanced by more plantings in diverse geologies and macroclimates. While she has access to the two home sites that the family farm biodynamically (one certified, and one in conversion), this quest to highlight different expressions saw her and her husband, James, source fruit from a third vineyard.
“Our Cooter and Cooter Grenache comes from more alluvial soils, giving us more structure and concentration,” says Cooter, “as opposed to ‘Hedonist’ Grenache, which comes from a sandy, relatively cooler site, making it a lighter composition. Both have a savoury element with texture, but they present quite distinctively, reflecting their sites.”
That sourced fruit comes from Yangarra, with the vineyard certified biodynamic. That’s an important element for Cooter, who credits their own farming with better expressing grape and site. “Farming our own site has given us complete control and, importantly flexibility – from irrigation to pruning, through to the picking window. This is extremely beneficial to reach our desired outcome.”
That focus on viticulture and fruit quality is an area that Weedon is seeing across the board. “As the demand for grenache has and continues to grow, there has been and will continue to be a larger focus on the vineyards and improving the overall fruit quality,” he says. “We rely on relationships with our growers that we’ve built over a period of time. They’re integral to what we do. This allows us to continually refine what we do and better understand the blocks that we’re working with.”
Whether working with own vines are in lock step with growers, that refinement of processes and ever-Improving viticultural practices translates to the glass, with better and more sensitive making coupled with pristine fruit only enhancing the grenache revolution. Things are only looking up.
“There’s some banging grenaches at sub-$40 price points, and that suits the current desire for the fresh, drink-now style that is popular,” says Weedon. “Prestige is built over time with a commitment to quality, consistency and complexity of the wine you’re producing – it has to be interesting. There’s no doubt that the grenache that is being produced is getting better and is here to stay. Even my dad who has been a big, bold shiraz drinker all his life is enjoying the change to the more medium-bodied, fruit-driven grenache styles.”
This is bright and lifted, but it’s not one of your confected, gluggable affairs – there’s a bit more going on than that. Salted plum, sour forest berries, goji berries, cranberry and some leathery and spicy notes lead the way on the nose. The palate echoes that, with a tight grapey tannin pulling in the bright but savoury tumble of fruits and spices, a saline ferrous note closing out.
See Ada Wine Co. for purchase enquiries.
A super-bright but intense expression, this bursts with ripe summer berries, with a gentle dusting of warm spices and white pepper, along with a hint of woodsy herbs and a ferrous minerality. The palate plays down a silky and supple line, with super-fine tannin providing guidance, an extra burst of wild raspberry expanding through the finish.
See Cooter & Cooter for purchase enquiries.
This is bright and lifted, but there’s a savoury brooding quality to it, too, with salted spiced plums, tart cherries and wild berries to the fore, tar and leather notes overlaying. There’s a tart whip of acid to this, giving the finish a crackling freshness, with fine tannins knitting in, making for a wine of real verve and depth.
See Saltfleet for purchase enquiries.
This is a very modern style of grenache, poised and fragrant, with a tangle of red fruits, raspberries, cranberries, pomegranate and tart plums, with red floral and rosehip notes accenting, some dusty spice overlaying. There’s zip and freshness here, with cool pithy tannins, but it’s no simple affair, rather its gentle poised charm ripples with complexity.
See Sven Joschke for purchase enquiries.
This is intense, but it’s very much in the modern mould of grenache, with wild raspberries, cranberries and pomegranate accented with pink peppercorns, rose petals, orange peel and some amaro spice. This sits towards the top side of midweight, but it feels much lighter, brighter and fresher than that, with a vibrancy to the structure that gives it real energy, a gentle web of tannins and acidity supporting.
See Hedonist Wines for purchase enquiries.
There’s a term often used about grenache in the Barossa that it’s warm-climate pinot noir, and this makes some sense of the analogy. This is lifted and fragrant with notes of wild raspberry, sour cherries, rosehip rose petals and redcurrants with a dusting of spice. The palate is both lithe and supple, with gentle grapey tannins and a textural flex. This is not pinot, of course, rather resolutely grenache, and a definitively modern expression at that.
See White Gate Wine co. for purchase enquiries.
A vibrant lift of red fruit is first up in this bright expression of grenache, with cranberries, redcurrant jelly, raspberries and marasca cherries, which are accented with spice and earth notes adding complexity to the brightness. This continues on its buoyant way on the palate, a red floral lift coming across in the mouth, gentle grapey tannins cinching the fruit in to leave this with a savoury, food-apt feel.
See Rollick for purchase enquiries.