Old-vine Grenache dominates in McLaren Vale
Here are some of the things I like about Australia: The vast distances between here and the horizon, the wide-open beaches and wave-pounding surf, native artists such as Stephen Hogarth of the Kamilaroi Tribe and, of course, given the scope of this blog, the wines.
My most-recent favorite is the Yangarra 2012 McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache ($24).
McLaren Vale officially is about 35 km (21 miles) south of Adelaide but you might not notice the distance because of the continuing encroachment on the area by Adelaide’s expanding suburbs.
In spite of increasing citification, the area is considered by many as the most-important wine-producing area in the Fleurieu Peninsula and certainly the Grenache stronghold of Australia.
Vines were first planted in the area in the early 1800s, shortly after Captain Arthur Phillip dropped anchor in 1788 in Sydney Cove with a ship carrying Australia’s first grape vines from Brazil and the Cape of Good Hope.
But while many wine regions around the world had an initial spurt of production but then saw the vines ripped out or starved by Prohibition, some of the McLaren Vale Grenache vines survived and today there are wines being made from vines more than 100 years old.
The Yangarra 2012 McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache comes from vines almost 70 years old, originally planted by Frederick Arthur Smart after returning from World War II.
On the surface, little has changed since Smart, who still lives in the area, first planted his early vineyards, with dry-farmed vines thriving on the deep sandy soils and Mediterranean climate at the foot of the Southern Mount Lofty Range.
To understand what has changed calls for a deeper look.
In 2000, Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke (proprietors of Jackson Family Wines) purchased Yangarra Estate and soon appointed Peter Fraser as the winemaker and Michael Lane as viticulturist.
In 2008, the Yangarra team began farming the estate organically and in 2012 the property, according to the Yangarra press information, was certified A-grade organic as well as biodynamic.
What difference did this make in the wine?
One of the precepts behind biodynamic farming is to enliven the soil and make the organic nutrients in the soil available to the plants living there.
A press release explains that in order to further that transfer of a sense of the land to his wines, winemaker Peter Fraser incorporates traditional and time-consuming winemaking methods in his wine-making.
These including pre-soaks, indigenous yeast, open-top fermentation, hand punch downs, barrel fermentations, and the two-stage rack-and-return process, all key to Fraser’s drive to create balanced wines reflecting the terroir of McLaren Vale.
“I’m not interested in numbers on a piece of laboratory paper,” Fraser is quoted on the Yangarra website. “I’m interested in flavor.”
The 2012 Old Vine Grenache easily delivers all the flavor you might want, this brightly elegant wine brimming with dried red cherries, leather, black fruit and hints of white pepper.
In addition to Grenache, Yangarra produces other southern Rhone varietals including Shiraz, Mataro, Cinsault, and Carignan among the reds; Roussanne and Viognier are the major whites.