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Deep Dive:
Searching for the Best Barossa Grenache

Wines Of Now
29 July 2021. Words by YGOW.

Grenache has been a bit-player in Australian wine since our earliest days of growing and making. It was a vital though anonymous cog in the powerhouse that was fortified wine production from the 19th and early 20th century, then later became a component in South Australia’s celebrated take on the wines of the Southern Rhône. But it is not until relatively recently that the grape has confidently stepped out on its own, emerging from shiraz’s long shadow to forge an identity that is as exciting as any grape in this country – red, white, old or emerging. The spotlight is often swung to McLaren Vale when the Grenache renaissance is discussed, but the revolution is no less vibrant in the Barossa. So much so that a Deep Dive was in order. We gathered eight of this country’s finest palates to taste through as many examples of Barossa grenache that we could lay our hands on. All wines were tasted blind.

The panel: Brett Hayes, owner/vigneron Hayes Family Wines; Hannah Day, Sommelier and Beverage Manager for Chancery Lane; Sacha Imrie, wine buyer/partner Daughter in Law group; Jaysen Collins owner/vigneron Massena and JC’s Own; Penny Vine, Head Wine Buyer for Cutler & Co and Marion; Patrick Dowling, On-Premise National Sales Manager for Domaine Wine Shippers; Abby Moret DipWSET, owner Atlas Vinifera; Adeline Zimmermann DipWset, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands Export Manager for Barton & Guestier, Listel and Patriarch. All wines were tasted blind.

We gathered every Barossa grenache we could find and set our expert panel the tasks of finding the wines that compelled the most. All wines were tasted blind, and each panellist named their top six wines. Below are the wines that made the panellists’ top six from the tasting.

The Top Grenache in Barossa

2020 Turkey Flat Grenache, Barossa Valley $40 RRP

This was picked by five tasters in their top-six lists. “Semi-carbonic cola nose paired with sweet spice and floral lift,” wrote Zimmermann, as she gave it second top spot. “Really powerful fresh red fruits, with elegant violet, cranberry, raspberry and fresh mulberry aromas. Velvety sandy tannins.” “Green, leafy perfume, with tight little red fruits,” wrote Day. “Further in is a menthol, almost eucalypt essence… Well-balanced on the palate, not too sickly fruited or weighty, despite a deep extract obvious in the glass. Some nice savoury elegance, a little sweet cinnamon and purple plum fruit.” “On the nose it’s almost Beaujolais-esque, displaying some hints of carbonic maceration with its Hubba Bubba notes, blue fruits, violets and red licorice,” noted Dowling. “This leads you into an uber-delicious and moreish wine, packed full of wild strawberries, pomegranate and some pleasing white spice notes. There’s also a hint of minerality here, speaking of site. Love the way this wine is devoid of too many winemaker additions. I don’t see oak here at all, the natural acidity is allowed to run free, providing a crunchy and clear glass of wine for the consumer, and it simply appears to be a well-made iteration of where it’s grown.” Hayes found it a “stalky, spicy, savoury style that is full of interest. Great persistence and already quite complex. Full of intrigue, each sip provides something new. Fantastic layering. A wine made with great thought, pushing some boundaries but it does so with great success. A wine that improved significantly with airing, which all goes well for the future.” “If I’m sitting near the wood fired pizza oven with no cares in the world,” wrote Collins, “I could smash down a fair bit of this, but it needs something foodwise to complete it for me.”

 

2021 Kalleske ‘Parallax’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $29 RRP

This took out top spot for both Moret and Imrie. “I loved the drinkability of this wine,” Imrie wrote. “The tannins were nice and powdery, the alcohol didn’t jump out, and the flavours lingered happily. This would be easy to drink a glass on its own, but I could also imagine it pairing well with a smoky tandoori lamb. Super fragrant, there was air-dried strawberry, red cherry, cranberry and orange fruits. Slightly creamy. The sense of sweetness from the fruit is balanced with a beautiful savoury oregano, dried herbal aroma. This was all mirrored in the flavours, which made for a seamless transition between the nose and the palate.” “Youthful and attractive nose of violets, lavender, raspberries, redskin lollies, warm rocks and garrigue/sage/pine needle on the nose, very lifted and bright,” noted Moret. “Silky texture with finely tuned, long tannins, red fruited and long on the palate, nose of salted and cured meats, mineral depth and length. Vibrant and vivacious expression, with an excellent balance of complexity and playfulness.”

 

2020 Head ‘Old Vine’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $38 RRP

This featured amongst the top-six selections for three tasters, with Dowling making it his wine of the day. “Beautifully bright eyed and clear, there’s so much I like about this wine,” he wrote. “The nose leaps from the glass with myriad complex notes, including jubey red fruits, a herbal edge (whole bunch?) and a distinct white spice, perhaps speaking of site? It’s sweet fruited through the middle in that classic Barossa grenache way, tasting of freshly picked strawberries and ripe cranberries, and at the same time quite savoury and earthy, possibly due to some classy use of older French oak? Love the way the medium-bodied weight of this wine sits with the silky tannins and fine-boned acid… To me, this wine sits on the equator, equal parts New World and Old World.” “I thought the nose on this wine was really attractive,” noted Imrie. “Dark chocolate, dried black cherry, plum, a fragrant rose petal character lifted out above the darker character aromas, and then there was a nice cracked black peppercorn that grounded the sweet aromas. Firm tannin structure, and the alcohol was balanced.”

 

2020 Running with Bulls Garnacha, Barossa Valley $23 RRP

This just missed out on top spot for Hayes, while it was Zimmermann’s wine of the day. “A more delicate yet powerful wine showing lifted floral notes of cherry blossom and violet,” she wrote. “This grenache offers a textural mid-palate coupled with hint of dill and earthy notes, paired with sandy almost terracotta-like tannins. A well balanced and pretty style dominated by cranberry and rapsberry notes, with a long and elegant finish. Perfect for drinking now. More please.” “Beautifully bright,” wrote Hayes, “ripeness clearly apparent, plummy fruit on the nose, earth on the palate, fine tannin with genuine length. Refined wine that has been beautifully made. Someone understands grenache!”

 

2020 Orlando ‘Cellar 13’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $35 RRP

This featured on three of the panellists top-six lists, just missing Dowling’s top selection. “It was hard to ignore the almost neon crystal bright purple colour of this wine, making it stand out from the crowd,” he wrote. “Super lifted and perfumed, love the jubey fruit character, wild strawberries, violet and whiter pepper notes. Outstanding. On the palate, it’s engaging and youthful, lots of red fruits, including raspberries and first of the season cherries, which are emphasised by some super-crunchy and wake-me-up acid. Clearly made to drink in its youth, it’s a smashable modern ‘bistro by the glass’ interpretation.” “I’d definitely be looking to eat when having this,” noted Imrie, “Maybe game? I found the fruit spectrum to be blue and dark red, with plum, blueberry, dark cherry, a bit of chocolate and black tea. There also seemed to be a bit of a dried floral character. Firm tannins and balanced alcohol.”

 

2020 Alkina ‘Kin’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $35 RRP

This took out the top spot for Hayes, while Vine had it towards the middle of her top six. “Bright mid-red,” wrote Hayes, “earth, spice and plummy fruit dominate the nose, some warmth, but adds positively to the wine. Fine tannin and impeccable balance with real potential. Great now and later, an each-way bet.” “Shiny, glossy, polished,” wrote Vine. “Good composure. Medium body. Full but fine chalky tannin. Fruit is diverse: strawberry/raspberry but also boysenberry/blackberry. Tannin persists. Fresh. Intensity has fallen a bit upon revisiting, but still looks quite shiny. Although it has quietened down over a few hours, I’ve come back around on it actually – it has like a red sherbet zesty vibrancy. Sour cherries. Very chalky, very fine tannin.”

 

2020 Greenock Creek ‘Moppa’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $30 RRP

This featured in the top-six for three tasters, just missing out on Imrie’s top spot. “This seemed like a bit of a slow burner, which really appealed to me,” she wrote. “It was a wine that I felt compelled to keep returning to. A concentrated youthful fruit character, a bit of both red and blue going on: strawberry, bramble, blueberry. A subtle kirsch character was present at one point. On one of my final visits to the wine, I started to get more spice and blackcurrant, blackcurrant leaf and slight eucalyptus.” “Black cherry sorbet, blackcurrant, dark chocolate, rose petals – a wild and pretty nose,” wrote Moret. “Core of cassis and raspberry fruit on a plump palate, soft and playful mouthfeel, sappy tannins. The smashable nature of the wine is what attracts me to it – it’s not super serious and that’s why I like it.” Zimmermann found it “multi-dimensional with cherry blossom, raspberry dark chocolate and vanilla. Earthy tannin with terracotta texture. An old-school style that will be great with charcuterie or venison.”

 

2020 Tim Smith Wines Grenache, Barossa Valley $42 RRP

This just missed out on Collins’ top spot, while it featured towards the middle of Hayes’ top-six selections. “Red fruited, crunchy, good acid, slightly warm but in check and feels like it’s a new version of an old style,” wrote Collins, “density and power without full heat, good tannin and a cooling menthol feel that suggests stalks with a slight reductive element that I like.” “Nice weight and volume,” noted Hayes, “clearly on the richer side, fruit weight and mouthfeel is a feature, but it has the structure and length to carry the bulk. Will improve with time in the right cellar.”

 

2020 Yelland & Papps ‘Second Take’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $45 RRP

This featured in the top-six selections of Zimmermann, Hayes, Imrie and Vine. “Violets and field flowers,” wrote Hayes, “bright and beautifully vibrant fruit-driven nose, fresh red cherry, touch of oak, picture perfect modern lighter style of Barossa grenache.” “A really interesting light and bright style of grenache,” noted Imrie. “If we are comparing, this reminded me of pinot noir. Lots of red fruit really lifted out of the glass. Strawberries, red cherries, a touch of mandarin rind. I also really enjoyed what seemed to be a smoky, bunchy element that I found to be a nice contrast from the fruit sweetness.” “Starts as all fresh fruit and then turns spicy/savoury,” wrote Vine. “Holding on well to its juiciness on second look. Still super bright with great vibrancy, but it’s not just a quaffer, there’s structure, energy and detail.”

 

2020 Tscharke ‘A Thing of Beauty’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $25 RRP

This was Vine’s top pick for the tasting, and it also featured on Dowling’s top-six list. “Very GRENACHE,” wrote Vine. “Pleasurable, bright and understated but acidity/tannin and fruit/savoury balance all working well together. Saying all the right things but not shoving it down your throat. I like how shiny it is, and the tannin is well put together and lasting. Pleasure still there on second look, but length and concentration still holding on too.” “Tonnes of spice and cherry cola notes on the nose, along with tell-tale strawberry notes and aniseed,” wrote Dowling. “There’s loads of white pepper/spice (cooler vintage?) here, which plays nicely into the open weave palate of raspberries, cherries and blood orange. Loads of grip and tannin, in balance with the medium to full-bodied weight of this wine, which finishes super generous and long after the first sip.”

 

2020 Tscharke ‘Stone Well’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $30 RRP

Both vine and Day had this amongst their top picks of the tasting. “Delicate and lifted,” wrote Vine. “More strawberry fruited than anything else. It’s restrained but still impactful. Acid is high but not aggressive; alcohol is in check and tannins are full but even and again, not aggressive. It’s sweet fruited really, but that’s appealing in this context. Delicacy is its appeal; tannin is fine and building.” “Bright on the nose, bundles of sour cherries and tiny pink flowers,” wrote Day. “Acid drives through the palate with intention, so fresh and delightful. Lots of crunch, a little bit of raspberry cordial, which reminds me of diving headfirst onto a plastic tarp with the sprinklers on!”

 

2019 Jacob’s Creek ‘A.J. Ann Jacob’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $30 RRP

This just missed Vine’s top spot, with Collins also including it in his top six. “Red-fruit, cherry, wildberry,” wrote Vine. “Focused on centre palate, tannins are composed. It has enough of that juicy fruit flesh to know you’re in grenache territory, but it’s bright and lifted, and tannins work to make you want more, rather than make it challenging to drink. Fruit starts red and then finishes black, has a good push, I like it. Polished. Slick but fresh, acidity is high, keeps the finish long.”

 

2019 Rusden ‘Christine’s Vineyard’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $49 RRP

Right out of the glass, I’m getting chinotto and burnt orange,” wrote Day, naing this as her top wine of the day. “As I dive in, it’s all warm nuttiness and a muscat-y characteristic. Then we head into Sultana Bran territory, which is both hilarious and delicious. This quality initially hides some of the perfume, but red fruits emerge on the back end. Over on the palate are strawberries and underripe raspberries, plump juicy oranges and almost mandarin. Definitely some bottle age on this, appearing as a charcuterie, savoury edge.”

 

2019 Thistledown ‘Advance Release’ Grenache, Eden Valley $65 RRP

This took out top position for Collins. “Nebbiolo-esque in colour and tannin structure, plus with a savoury profile, dried herbs, Old World, natural with a whole-cluster feel, cooling on the palate and again there’s power with restraint. For me, this is the best ageing candidate, the fruit profile steers away from sweet and suggests a cooler climate or soil.”

 

2021 Sparrow & Vine Grenache, Barossa Valley $35 RRP

“This wine is so, so pretty,” wrote Day, giving this her second top spot. “Lifted and ethereal, with pretty perfume and aromatics on the nose. There’s lots of delicate, sweet fruit, with a slightly green backbone. I love the brightness of this wine, the tartness, the light waft across the palate.”

 

2021 Rollick ‘Boot Full’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $28 RRP

This just missed out on top spot for Moret. “Aromatic core of red fruits, strawberries and redcurrant, strawberry gum, black peppercorn, rose petals, eucalypt,” she wrote. “Fleshy medium-weight palate with fine-boned tannins, dense and juicy blackberry and blackcurrant with a warm, welcoming finish. Bright and fresh with excellent palate weight and a long, persistent finish. Sweet fruited without being overdone.”

 

2018 Teusner ‘The G’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $32 RRP

This featured on the top-six lists of both Day and Moret. “Iodine, star anise, fennel seed, smoke and mace, dark chocolate, blackberry and raspberry,” wrote Moret. “A rich, beautifully weighted palate featuring charred barrels, blueberries, plum, vanilla pods. A big style of wine, a great wintry/campfire wine that keeps its balance while being a heavier style – good acid and diligent oak use nails the finish.” “There’s a bit of salty, savoury, olive brine,” wrote Day. “Way more luscious on the palate than I was expecting, given the nose. Fruit and spice and all things nice! Raspberries and blackberries mill about, a little bit savoury and a little bit sweet.”

 

2019 Sven Joschke ‘La Gilliana’ Grenache, Barossa Valley

This featured in the top half of Hayes’ top-six selections. “A pretty wine, with bright red fruits, strawberry spice and fine tannin,” he wrote. “Elegant and brilliantly so. Could easily be overlooked or misunderstood in this line-up. I am very happy I did not. Definitely a wine that you would go looking for a second glass.”

 

2019 Hayes Family Wines ‘Koonunga Creek Block North’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $40 RRP

“This has an autumn feel of fading light and falling leaves,” Collins wrote, giving this a top-three finish. “I think it’s classic in style, it but has one foot in the modern era, a good combo wine with slight choc-orange note, maybe from a whole-cluster ferment? It’s not perfect, which I like, and I’d have a second glass to work out what’s going on.”

 

2019 Head ‘Ancestor Vine’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $110 RRP

Zimmermann had this in the top half of her top-six selections. “Powerful, crunchy and vibrant, red and blue fruit: cranberry, fresh raspberry and blueberry. Earthy terracotta tannins with licorice – a vibrant finish. There are plenty of layers and volume with generous fruit, floral notes and tannin.”

 

2019 Yalumba Vine Vale Grenache, Barossa Valley $40 RRP

Zimmermann had this towards the middle of her top-six picks. “A more nouveau style of grenache, pretty and sexy nose showing candied strawberry and cranberry fruit. The palate is on a very floral side with fresh red fruits, light-bodied with creamy texture and supple tannins. YES please, chilled by the pool!”

 

2019 Hentley Farm ‘The Old Legend’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $65 RRP

“It’s incredibly floral; violets, rose petals and potpourri sitting alongside blood orange/negroni notes,” wrote Dowling, giving this a top-six spot. “It’s such a lovely aromatic grenache. The palate is pretty serious, too, exhibiting ripe strawberries and raspberries, some clove and aniseed, and just a hint of confectionary akin to Allen’s Killer Python’s. I love the verve of this wine – the acid is striking and pretty, crunchy, however I feel it works alongside the super-interesting medium to full-bodied palate… Its length is impressive, pleasing and thought provoking.”

 

2019 Schild ‘Edgar Schild Reserve’ Old Bush Vine Grenache, Barossa Valley $36 RRP

Collins had this towards the middle of his top six. “Modern yet traditional,” he wrote, “fresh but has some booze, but the style carries it with its energy – a firm and sincere expression that has an essence of the soil, a herbal edge in a Barossa way… the tannin fruit interplay works for me, showing some development which gives complexity.”

 

2020 First Drop ‘Matador’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $25 RRP

“Darker brooding plum colour, suggesting a bigger style,” wrote Dowling as he gave this a top-six finish. “Black spices and dark chocolate on the nose alongside cherry cola and black plums. On the palate the full throttle characters continue to show through – lots of super-sweet red and black fruits along with red licorice. It’s all tied together with some super-bright and upright acidity, providing verve and energy… Approachable and user friendly, I really liked the sense of place I got from this wine, closing my eyes when tasting it I’m only seeing Barossa! Lots of power and a great long length to round it out.”

2019 Brothers at War Single Vineyard Grenache, Eden Valley

Moret had this amongst her top selections for the tasting. “Bacon, chilli, redcurrants, raspberries, incense and tobacco, good acidity, silky fruit with long tannins,” she wrote. “Anise and blackcurrant, licorice, burnt wood, sandalwood and patchouli, warming but lively acidity keeps it fresh. Reminiscent of the Southern Rhône Valley, including a rocky minerality underpinning the fruit.”

2020 Harrison ‘Fleur de la Lune’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $35 RRP

Imrie had this amongst her top wines of the tasting. “This wine stood out to me in the line-up by way of refreshment,” she wrote. “It was really quite polar within the spectrum of wines we tasted through. Pale ruby, with a light haze. Wild red raspberry, cranberry juice, a hint of raspberry leaf. I can imagine this drinking well with a light chill. Fruity, uncomplicated glou glou. Perfect for a picnic.”

2020 Langmeil ‘Rough Diamond’ Grenache, Barossa Valley $25 RRP

“Great colour, jubey raspberries, chilli charcuterie, charred barrel, roasted beetroot, smoky oak, black peppercorn, fennel seed – a very savoury nose,” wrote Moret, including this amongst her top-six wines of the tasting. “Raspberry and blackberry fruit are wrapped in chewy tannins which provide great structure to the wine, briney/saline notes feature on both the nose and palate. Another Rhône Valley style with its foot firmly planted in Old World practices, great length, and would be a legendary food wine.”

Barossa Grenache – The Backstory

Grenache has had a stubborn hold on Australian vineyards since James Busby first imported it in the 1830s. Its ruggedness and adaptability to hot conditions made it ideal for the key historic zones of South Australia – McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley – and its suitability for fortified production saw it retain demand through the first half of the 20th century when table wines were shunned for the heavy stuff.

As table wines ascended and fortified sales spiralled terminally, grenache didn’t get the rebirth that shiraz did, becoming a notable victim of the infamous ‘vine pull scheme’ of the 1980s. Not that shiraz fared well initially, either, with both it and grenache, and the less acclaimed but important mataro/mourvèdre, all suffering the indignity of being rent from the ground by the bulldozer’s blade.

Given the kingship of shiraz now, it’s hard to imagine that it had become a liability by the 1980s, and grenache was about as economically viable as a weed. With a state-wide surplus of some 10,000 tonnes in 1982, a government sponsored scheme saw hundreds of hectares of the oldest, low-yielding vineyards returned to farmland – with much eyed for development – while hundreds more were grafted to other varieties.

“The big wineries had access to vineyards that had some grenache with loads of shiraz,” he says. “Then people came along, like me, and said I want that grenache. And the big companies were never interested in the grenache, so they let us have it.”

At the time, riesling and chardonnay were the stars of Australian wine, with the latter achieving more than double the price per tonne of grenache, while riesling was 40 per cent more valuable than shiraz. It was chardonnay, though, that accounted for much of the grafting in the Barossa, and grenache was often the host.

Thankfully, that program was arrested before all was lost, though the loss of those pioneer-planted vines and nearly 10 per cent of the region’s vineyards is still an open wound for Barossa growers. It’s no secret that Barossa chardonnay didn’t exactly take off, but the ascent of shiraz, and particularly old-vine shiraz was stratospheric in the 1990s – buoyed by an American market thirsty for powerful wines – with grenache catching enough of the tail of that comet to ensure survival.

With makers like Peter Lehmann, Turkey Flat, Rockford, Grant Burge, Charles Melton and their ilk setting to work celebrating and restoring the Barossa’s heritage, from its buildings to its traditions to its old vines, grenache was a part of their plan, albeit often in a blend with various amounts of shiraz and mataro. Those blends became a regional cornerstone, with wines such as Charlie Melton’s first ‘Nine Popes’ (a corruption of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where grenache leads the legendary Southern Rhône blend) in 1988, and Rockford’s ‘Moppa Springs’ (first made as ‘Dry Country Grenache’ as a varietal non-vintage wine from the 1989 and ’90 vintages, then ’90 and ’91, before being released as a vintage wine, then being blended with shiraz and mataro and renamed in 1998) becoming notable planks in the rehabilitation of grenache as a notable variety.

“We’re on the edge of where shiraz can be grown, as it’s hot here,” he says, “but I was amazed at grenache’s ability to cope with the heat, as well as how well it shows the site, how it is grown, and the clone. It’s really crystalline in how it comes through in the wine.”

It’s worth noting that while the profile of Australian grenache was being raised from the 1990s on, this was not reflected in the volume of fruit harvested and wine made. Wine Australia reported that 72,000 tonnes of grenache were harvested in 1979 nationwide, while that number slumped to 15,000 tonnes in 2012, or about 21 per cent of the volume. Grenache remained on the downhill, with plantings decreasing, while the total vineyard area devoted to other grapes more than doubled.

For the Barossa and McLaren Vale, this not only translated to vines being removed, but also next to no grenache vines planted. The upshot is a lot less grenache, but also an unusually high average vine age across the country’s 1,500 hectares. It’s a curious upside to the decline, with many of even today’s more democratically priced wines coming from vines that are significantly old, if not ancient.

Old grenache vines and a bunch of grenache grapes. Image courtesy of Turkey Flat.

Modern Champions of Barossa Grenache

The bulk of Barossa vineyards aren’t too dissimilar in terms of plantings to McLaren Vale, with around 90 per cent red varieties in the ground. There’s a little more cabernet in McLaren Vale, a little more shiraz in Barossa, and around the same percentage of grenache. But when you look at the total area planted to grenache, Barossa edges McLaren Vale by over 100 hectares, or about 20 per cent. Barossa also lays claim to the oldest productive grenache wines in the world, planted at what is now Cirillo Estate in 1848.

Brett Hayes of Hayes Family Wines has invested heavily in grenache, making eight single-site wines from across the Barossa in the 2021 vintage. Hayes works both from his own vineyards, as well as through growers, and he notes that it wasn’t long ago that grenache was easy enough to source. “The big wineries had access to vineyards that had some grenache with loads of shiraz,” he says. “Then people came along, like me, and said I want that grenache. And the big companies were never interested in the grenache, so they let us have it.”

Barossa lays claim to the oldest productive grenache wines in the world, planted at what is now Cirillo Estate in 1848. Above: Vincent and Marco Cirillo and pruning vines. Vincent Cirillo bought the old vineyard in 1970, with neglected, gnarled old vines not quite as desirable as they are now. Since then, the vineyard has only ever been pruned by father and son, with the grenache woven into basket-like whorls.

Before he landed the winemaking gig at Turkey Flat, in Tanunda, in 2009, Mark Bulman’s background was in cool climate regions, so his experience with grenache was limited. “We’re on the edge of where shiraz can be grown, as it’s hot here,” he says, “but I was amazed at grenache’s ability to cope with the heat, as well as how well it shows the site, how it is grown, and the clone. It’s really crystalline in how it comes through in the wine.”

For Bulman, that grenache was generally regarded as second rate at the time was surprising given what he’d seen in their vineyards. “There was a stigma with grenache, a generation that thought grenache wasn’t good and shiraz was,” he says. “It used to be grown for fortifieds, for crop, for sugar. They generated vigour with a lot of water and fertiliser, and you get very light colour and very high alcohol. And if that’s how you’ve been doing it for 50 years, when you try and make a dry red, the results are lacklustre. But with what we’ve seen in the last ten years, that stigma shouldn’t be attached to grenache – it’s a beautiful variety, very well suited to where we are, and it makes a beautiful scope of styles, anything from rosé to a serious red and everything in between.”

That low regard was also accompanied by a lack of research into both sites and clones. “With shiraz, everyone knows where the best blocks are,” says Hayes, “but with grenache we’re only just working it all out. And those best blocks aren’t necessarily the same as the best shiraz blocks.”

Mark Bulman at Turkey Flat. “You simply can’t approach grenache winemaking like you would shiraz,” he says. “Shiraz handles oxygen. It almost needs it to be the soft luscious style that people like, whereas grenache and oxygen are the worst enemies. For me, coming from a cool climate background, working with pinot noir, they’re very similar. I had techniques that I knew from working with pinot that I applied to grenache, and we got a very bright, aromatic expression of grenache.”

“No-one cared about grenache,” agrees Bulman. “There was no money in it. Clones follow the money. People know a lot about shiraz clones. People know a lot about pinot noir clones. But because no-one’s been planting grenache, there’s been no investigation into it. Interestingly enough, you look around the Barossa and they are planting it now.”

Hayes notes there’s a general understanding that there are several clones of grenache in the Barossa. “Many of the old vines planted for fortifieds were considered big berried and high yielding,” he says. “This may have been the case, but with such a high average age – with little planted recently – old bush vines, often dry grown, yield quite low and thus it facilitates more intensity than otherwise might be possible.”

Sub regionality

With most Barossa grenache meaningfully mature, Hayes says that vine material and subregion/soil differences are often intertwined. “Often, cuttings were taken from a neighbour and hence you can have a similar clone in a district,” he says. “Flavour-wise, I have noticed that raspberry and cherry, even plum, dominate in the north vineyards, and more strawberry and jube in the valley floor and south, though this is obviously quite simplistic.”

“From the northern material you tend to get tannin, like you do with shiraz,” he continues. “You tend to find old vines, dry grown, and tough conditions. You find that if you crop grenache a bit heavier, which tends to happen on the valley floor, you get a juicier style. The southern wines can be very pretty, which is a really nice style. If you ignore winemaking, the subregions do have an impact.”

Brett Hayes and grenache vines at the Hayes Family Stone Well Vineyard in Barossa.
“With shiraz, everyone knows where the best blocks are,” says Hayes, “but with grenache we’re only just working it all out. And those best blocks aren’t necessarily the same as the best shiraz blocks.”

And those old vines are now generating significant demand, with Bulman noting that when he landed in the Barossa many growers were almost giving grenache away – some of it quality old material, and some only suitable for simpler wines – but today that market has all but dried up, with a premium starting to be attached to the grape as both maker and consumer interest swells.

Massena’s Jaysen Collins says holding onto a good grenache site is important to him, and he’s prepared to pay over the market for it. “I buy grenache from someone who used to sell to a big company, at $800 a tonne for 160-year-old grenache,” he says. “I was buying it with a friend, and we were offering $1,500, and this year we were offering $3,000 or thereabouts, plus the picking costs, and he’s been selling to the old-school guys for so long that he feels guilty taking more money for it.”

Collins points out that many Barossa growers have been burnt in the past. “they’ve seen people come in offer high prices when the market is booming then get cut right back in the downward cycle,” he says. For him, making sure the growers are profitable is a win-win situation, and it puts some value back into those venerable old grenache vines that are notoriously low yielding and inconsistent, with one season from the next varying dramatically in quantity.

The evolution of winemaking

In respect to winemaking, perhaps Bulman’s biggest revelation was to eschew the traditional practice of exposing the juice and wine to oxygen while making it. “You simply can’t approach grenache winemaking like you would shiraz,” he says. “Shiraz handles oxygen. It almost needs it to be the soft luscious style that people like, whereas grenache and oxygen are the worst enemies. For me, coming from a cool climate background, working with pinot noir, they’re very similar. I had techniques that I knew from working with pinot that I applied to grenache, and we got a very bright, aromatic expression of grenache.”

Above and opposite: winemaking at Hayes Family winery. “Particularly through [Robert] Parker times, everyone wanted a shiraz-like wine,” says Hayes. “Grenache as a light wine was never going to sell in the US, so put 15 per cent shiraz in there and it will look like heavy grenache, and that’s what most people did.”

The old tendency to make grenache like shiraz in the Barossa, as it was also in McLaren Vale, also runs deeper than that, says Hayes. “Particularly through [Robert] Parker times, everyone wanted a shiraz-like wine. Grenache as a light wine was never going to sell in the US, so put 15 per cent shiraz in there and it will look like heavy grenache, and that’s what most people did.”

The addition of up to 15 per cent also happens to sit within wine laws in this country, with anything more than that necessitating a declaration on the label. Bulman notes that this practice was also a way of making a decent wine from a lesser site, with not all grenache sites capable of producing complete, high-quality varietal wine. A small dose of shiraz papered over those cracks, sometimes making a better wine, but not a top grenache reflecting variety and site.

Thankfully, with a growing appreciation for pure grenache, that practice has mostly changed, except in declared blends. Moving away from that more brooding style has placed more emphasis on fragrance and fine detail, while still embracing the rugged minerality of place.

In the winery, Mark Bulman handles grenache more like pinot noir than shiraz. “If you look to the Old World, like Gigondas or Priorat, the tannin is almost like nebbiolo. But that’s just another version of grenache. There’s no one correct style. Grenache offers us diversity, and we should embrace that,” he says.

Another commonality with pinot noir is the increasing use of whole-bunch ferments, which Collins has increasingly moved towards, with 100 per cent now the norm for him. That’s very much site and vine/clone dependent, though, with Hayes noting that he’d be lucky to get ripe enough stems one year out of every five.

“Our highest cropping grenache vineyard is a tonne to the acre, most are at 500–600 kilos per acre, and we still can’t get ripe stems,” says Hayes. “And that’s in a decent year. We were at 100 kilos per acre in 2020. In some vineyards they do get nice ripe stems, but in ours we don’t.”

Today, Barossa grenache is undoubtedly an exciting category, with a rich resource of significantly old vine material and an ever-increasing understanding of both the best sites and clones. That is coupled with a renewed approach to making, which shows appreciation for grenache’s natural character, rather than being seen as a poor cousin to shiraz. And that natural character is seeing an incredible diversity of expressions, from the pretty and the fragrant to the mineral and brooding, and everything in between.

“There’s a misconception that grenache isn’t a tannic variety,” says Bulman. “That’s just the clones we mostly grow here. It can be a very tannic variety, when grown with the right clone in the right place. If you look to the Old World, like Gigondas or Priorat, the tannin is almost like nebbiolo. But that’s just another version of grenache. There’s no one correct style. Grenache offers us diversity, and we should embrace that.”

Our panel of experts gathered at Builders Arms Hotel, Fitzroy (Melbourne). Photo by: James Morgan.

Outtakes from the tasting

We gathered as many bottlings as we could find and enlisted the help of eight of this country’s finest palates to check in to see just where Barossa grenache is at.

The panel: Brett Hayes, owner/vigneron Hayes Family Wines; Hannah Day, Sommelier and Beverage Manager for Chancery Lane; Sacha Imrie, wine buyer/partner Daughter in Law group; Jaysen Collins owner/vigneron Massena and JC’s Own; Penny Vine, Head Wine Buyer for Cutler & Co and Marion; Patrick Dowling, On-Premise National Sales Manager for Domaine Wine Shippers; Abby Moret DipWSET, owner Atlas Vinifera; Adeline Zimmermann DipWset, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands Export Manager for Barton & Guestier, Listel and Patriarch. All wines were tasted blind.

All wines tasted 'blind'. Photos by: James Morgan. Location: Builders Arms Hotel, Fitzroy (Melbourne).

“I think there were only one or two in the tasting that I would choose not to drink, and that’s a really positive sign,” said Hayes. “I think they were all ripe, which is good. Most were medium-bodied, with the odd full-bodied red. The good thing is there doesn’t taste like there’s a lot of shiraz in there, which I think’s a real positive. Most of these would be 100 per cent grenache.”

“I felt that the fruit-leading character was pretty much across the board, which was nice,” agreed Vine.

“The diversity of style was in about three factions, but I think the typicity across them was really well maintained. There were only a handful where I thought, ‘that could be shiraz… or something else’. Even the darker, fuller, more structured examples were led by that nice red berry fruit.

“For some of the bigger producers of grenache who have been making it for a long time,” added Hayes, “up until a few years ago everything had 10–12 per cent shiraz to fill the wine out. And that’s probably why the oak was less obvious today, because when you have shiraz there’s a tendency to use oak. But as soon as it’s 100 per cent grenache, you don’t.”

“There were some old school wines there, but overall, the oak was really well managed,” agreed Zimmerman. “It was more about the tannin structure and the terracotta, earthy character than the oak.”

Opposite: Hannah Day, Adeline Zimmermann, Brett Hayes. Above: Penny Vine. Photos by: James Morgan. Location: Builders Arms Hotel, Fitzroy (Melbourne).
“A lot of people that ask for grenache lately, it’s because it’s pinot noir adjacent,” said Vine, reflecting on customers in her venue. “You can find something that isn’t going to have the pinot markup, the ‘pinot tax’, but it’s going to offer people a similar experience. There were wines today that had tannin structure and acidity, and that ethereal… I won’t say pinot-like, because they’re quite different, but I can see the usefulness for people looking to drink wines in that vein.”

“I was expecting a lot more alcohol bombs, a lot more oak bombs,” said Moret. “I thought that most wines had great acid, great structure, and there wasn’t a lot of over-the-top winemaking, or over-the-top use of oak, which used to be a common hallmark of the region.”

“You come in with a preconceived notion of what Barossa is and what Barossa grenache is, and I was expecting more of that,” said Day, noting that the range of expressions was surprisingly broad.

“There were only one or two that showed a lot of ‘winemaking’, which I thought was good,” added Hayes. “Sometimes there can be a tendency to ‘over-make’ styles that are on the way up, because you want to show what you can do, but there were only a very small number where it felt the winemaking was overdone, and the rest of them just looked like the variety was coming though.”

‘What I really liked was that there was a style for every palate,” said Zimmerman. “There were light-bodied almost Beaujolais-like wines through to the more rich, dark chocolate and raspberry heavier wines. There was something there to suit any drinker.”

Above: Abby Moret. Opposite: Patrick Dowling and Sacha Imrie. Photos by: James Morgan. Location: Builders Arms Hotel, Fitzroy (Melbourne).

“It’s exciting to see so many bright, crunchy styles as well as those earthy, darker more classic Barossa expressions,” commented Dowling. “There were a whole bunch of styles, and I was really surprised. Excellent tasting.”

“I liked the lighter, brighter styles, but also I rated the later, fuller styles, and I guess my old-school Barossa comes into that,” laughed Collins. “Some of the wines I thought looked very sweet-fruited, but I know that if I was drinking them in a different context, and with food, they wouldn’t look that way. When you’re assessing wines in a tasting situation it completely changes how you feel about them.”

“In some of the later brackets,” noted Day, “some of the wines were like a meal to get through, but that being said, some of those wines made it into my final six, because they were balanced, and they were beautiful and had interesting characteristics.”

“A lot of people that ask for grenache lately, it’s because it’s pinot noir adjacent,” said Vine, reflecting on customers in her venue. “You can find something that isn’t going to have the pinot markup, the ‘pinot tax’, but it’s going to offer people a similar experience. There were wines today that had tannin structure and acidity, and that ethereal… I won’t say pinot-like, because they’re quite different, but I can see the usefulness for people looking to drink wines in that vein.”

Jaysen Collins. Photos by: James Morgan. Location: Builders Arms Hotel, Fitzroy (Melbourne).

“It just shows how different they can be,” added Collins. “That’s why I love grenache, because those wines in any situation, you’ll love them because they’re friendly. They’ve got personality, some are on steroids and juicy… some you might analyse and find a bit confected or the like, but have it with fried chicken across the road and you’ll love it.”

“Something that I really noticed in the tasting along with the tannin structure was the minerality,” said Moret. “I’ve always found grenache to be one of the red varieties that I get the most rockiness out of the wine… It’s like a riesling, for me. I thought that was really fascinating, that you could tell they were from different places.”

“I certainly think the different subregions did show out,” agreed Hayes, “and you can certainly see the northern fruit versus the eastern fruit versus the valley floor.”

“I was always taught grenache was low tannin,” added Vine, “but all of the wines I liked had a lovely fine tannin.”

“Grenache has fine tannin,” agreed Hayes. “When we’ve tested it, grenache has plenty of tannin but it’s fine tannin. Not to push the pinot analogy too much, but that has tannin, too, but it’s fine. Really good grenache has a fineness to the tannin that just means it’s not as obvious as a chunkier tannin.”

Opposite: Adeline Zimmermann. “What I really liked was that there was a style for every palate,” said Zimmerman. “There were light-bodied almost Beaujolais-like wines through to the more rich, dark chocolate and raspberry heavier wines. There was something there to suit any drinker.” Above: Brett Hayes. Photos by: James Morgan. Location: Builders Arms Hotel, Fitzroy (Melbourne).

“Despite being older vines, established in the Barossa for a long, long time, there’s a new way of winemaking that I can see coming through in the last five to ten years,” said Dowling, reflecting on lower alcohols and the use of different fermentation techniques evident in the tasting.

“As a non-interventionalist winemaker,” said Colins, “I can make a lot of decisions to make say four different styles of grenache but still not really touch them, starting with harvest dates… Picked early, grenache is peppery and spicy, picked later it gets kirschy… I use stalks with all my grenache… if you did that with a high tannin, small-berried variety it would be unbalanced.”

“We don’t use any stem in our grenache,” said Hayes, “but the issue for us is that in most years the stems aren’t ripe. If our stems were ripe in our vineyards, I might do things differently.”

“The thing is finding the balance,” agreed Collins, noting that there is no single recipe. “When you ferment with stalks your pH shoots up [and acid drops], so you have to pick earlier, but then your stalks can be green… it’s a fine balance… maybe you get the stalks out and do extended contact with the skins… The positivity is the fact that in the tasting there’s difference, there’s minerality, there’s tannin, there’s diversity… but they were just generally really good wines,”

“I was really impressed how structural many of the wines were,” concluded Moret, “not the jammy numbers of the past. It really gave me a great deal of enthusiasm for the variety – which I already love – in the Barossa. That resource of old vine material in the region, coupled with more tempered winemaking styles, gives grenache the potential to be one of the region’s star exports, and one of Australia’s greatest varieties.”

Photos by: James Morgan. Location: Builders Arms Hotel, Fitzroy (Melbourne).
“I was really impressed how structural many of the wines were,” concluded Moret, “not the jammy numbers of the past. It really gave me a great deal of enthusiasm for the variety – which I already love – in the Barossa. That resource of old vine material in the region, coupled with more tempered winemaking styles, gives grenache the potential to be one of the region's star exports, and one of Australia's greatest varieties.”

The Panel

Brett Hayes started Hayes Family Wine in 2014 after a 25-year career in international business. He purchased the old vine Estate Vineyard, the centrepiece of the operation, in 2016, immediately beginning the conversion to organics (now ACO certified). In addition to the Estate Vineyard, he works with seven other grenache plots from across the Barossa. In 2021 Hayes made eight different batches of grenache, many destined for single vineyard selections. He is currently writing a book on Barossa Grenache.

Adeline Zimmermann has been immersed in the wine industry from an early age, learning integral aspects of the business at her family’s Domaine (est. 1693), in Alsace. After working in Burgundy, Adeline moved to London to work for Wine Australia. She completed her Masters of International Business in China, where she focused on the Chinese perception of French wines. Adeline is a WSET Diploma holder and a WSET educator. She is currently a Master of Wine student. Adeline is the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands Export Manager for Barton & Guestier, Listel and Patriarch.

Hannah Day’s entry into hospitality was a means to prop up a nascent musical theatre career, which took her to Berlin and a stint at the “busiest pork knuckle restaurant in the city”. On her return to Melbourne, Day completed her WSET Level 3 qualification. She has worked for Rockpool Dining Group, firstly at Rosetta, then at Rockpool Bar & Grill. Mentored by Jonathan Ross MS and Jane Lopes, she completed her Certified Exams with the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2019. Day was awarded an Education Scholarship with Sommeliers Australia and a place on Wine Australia’s Sommelier Immersion Program. She is currently the Sommelier and Beverage Manager for Chancery Lane.

Patrick Dowling has had a successful career in the wine industry at state, national and international level, incorporating selling, sales team management, marketing, brand management, distributor management, vintage work, judging and ambassadorial work. Dowling has a wine marketing degree from Adelaide University, has managed a portfolio of brands for the Joval Wine Group, and been an ambassador for Penfolds in South-East Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He is currently the On-Premise National Sales Manager for Domaine Wine Shippers.

Sacha Imrie moved to Melbourne in 2012 from her native Scotland with both a BA (honours) in Sculpture from Edinburgh College of Art and her WSET 3 qualification, having worked in hospitality since the age of 15. Imrie has been a wine buyer for Bomba and Añada, as well as for Andrew McConnell’s Trader House group at Builders Arms/Ricky & Pinky and Marion. She is currently the wine buyer, as well as a partner, with the Daughter in Law group, and a co-partner in Hey Tomorrow, which puts fine wine in casks. Imrie is also one exam away from completing her WSET Diploma.

Jaysen Collins started in the wine industry at Barossa’s St Hallett in 1996, working his way through various roles before becoming the General Manager at Turkey Flat, a role he held from 1999 to 2007. He started his own grenache-focused brand, Massena, in 2000, which he left Turkey Flat to concentrate on. Collins also launched JC’s Own in 2015, as an experimental project to branch outside the Massena suite of wines. That year, he also began working harvest with Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, USA, making his first wine there in 2016 – a project that will continue when travel allows.

Penny Vine is a long-term hospitality worker, with a love of wine cohering at Newtown’s Bloodwood in 2010. She spent three years at Marion on the wine team, completing WSET 3 internally with group Sommelier/Buyer Leanne Altmann. In 2018, Vine stepped through the connecting door to join the wine team as Assistant Sommelier to Liam O’Brien at Cutler & Co, before taking on the overarching role as Head Wine Buyer for Cutler & Co and Marion in 2021.

Abby Moret has been working in the retail wine industry since she was 18, including working in London for Majestic Wine, gaining her WSET Level 3 Certificate while there. She was the Promotional Manager of Vintage Cellars, before moving into buying and product development for the national chains. After gaining her WSET Diploma, Abby founded Atlas Vinifera in 2017, an independent, boutique wine bar and wine store in Richmond that specialises in small-batch, interesting, hand-crafted and cult wines from all over the world.