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A Gem of a Grenache
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 28, 2016
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Yangarra Estate Vineyard, McLaren Vale (Australia), Old Vine Grenache, 2013 (Majestic Imports, $32):  One of the most memorable wine-tastings I have ever attended was a Grenache vertical conducted last year outdoors under a huge tent in the middle of Yangarra’s High Sands Grenache vineyard.  The occasion was a visit — maybe infestation is a more accurate word! — by more than 40 Masters of Wine who were making the rounds of the most important wineries in Australia.  Gnarly, head-trained vines surrounded us on all sides.  At the head table, winemaker Peter Fraser and vineyard manager Michael Lane sat with octogenarian Bernard Smart, the original owner of the site, who helped his father plant those very vines in 1946.  The takeaway was clear: Yangarra takes Grenache very, very seriously.

Yangarra Estate Vineyard is a 400-acre biodynamic wine farm situated in the northeastern corner of the McLaren Vale region of South Australia, at the base of the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges.  About 250 of those acres are devoted to vineyards divided into 35 individual blocks, at altitudes of 500 to 700 feet.  Yangarra specializes in grape varieties of the southern Rhone, and now grows eleven of the thirteen varieties approved in France’s Chateauneuf du Pape.  But Grenache is its pride.  The untrellised, ungrafted old Grenache vines sit low to the ground in sandy soil of ancient origins that reflects heat during the day and releases it at night, similarly to the stones in Chateauneuf du Pape.  Yields are low, about one ton per acre.

The winery’s portfolio includes three Grenache wines along with four Shirazes, a Mourvedre, a Roussanne, and a Viognier.  This particular Grenache is the junior wine in the Grenache trio, which also features a very limited production Small Pot Ceramic Egg Grenache (about $45 when available) and the flagship High Sands Grenache ($130), from vines at the top of the hill where the sandy soil is deepest.  All three wines are entirely Grenache, from those twisted old vines.  Winemaker Fraser explained that blending in even as little as three or five percent Syrah would “swamp” the Grenache.

Despite occupying the base of Yangarra’s Grenache pyramid, this Old Vine Grenache is a remarkable wine.  Its aroma is fragrant with floral notes and tangy red berry scents.  (Fraser says that 2013 is “one of the more perfumed vintages.”)  In your mouth, the wine bursts with fresh, bright, focused red fruit flavors, particularly cherry.  Delicious as this fruit is, the wine’s admirable structure prevents it from becoming exaggerated.  Very fine, almost lacy, tannins keep pace with the fruit across the entirety of the wine, not just on the rear palate as is too often the case with New World reds.  High acidity — an amazing 7.2 grams/liter, for those who care to know such stats — gives the wine lift and obscures the 14.5 percent alcohol.  The wine is flavorful, characterful and brilliantly balanced.  Its freshness and vitality belies Grenache’s reputation as a grape that delivers overly high alcohol, pale color, and easily-oxidized, baked fruit flavors.

Winemaking for this wine involved destemming and sorting to achieve perfectly whole berries and eliminate raisined berries that are a risk with old bush vines; a cold soak and initial, ambient-yeast fermentation for five to seven days followed by another seven days of cool fermentation in open-top fermenters; and about nine months of aging in French oak barrels that were three to four years old.  At the end of this winemaking, the grapes sing.

The 2013 Old Vine Grenache is quite youthful now and can surely sustain cellaring for a few years.  But immediate consumption is completely understandable, given the wine’s inviting fresh-fruitiness and its very reasonable price.

93 points.