Biochemistry and "dodgy bros": How I came to love a new wine

In Australia, good winemakers find something in Grenache that just doesn’t seem to show in any other part of the world
August 15, 2017

I’ve never really liked Grenache. Wines made from this grape typically combine a sweetly floral aroma with a juicy tartness that is just on the edge for me. Nothing seems to bridge the heady aroma and the crunchy strawberry fruit.

But then I discovered what could be done with this variety. After recent tastings in McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, I now believe that it could be Australia’s best grape. There, good winemakers find something in Grenache that just doesn’t seem to show in any other part of the world.

I learned this from Wes Pearson, a maverick Canadian now settled in the soils of South Australia. By day, he is a biochemist at the Australian Wine Research Institute, and at other times he makes wine. He buys in grapes, picked just ahead of ripeness to avoid that jammy character found in some Australian reds. His entry-level wines are bottled under his “Juxtaposed” labels with cinematic characters portrayed in lurid colours. These include a Fiano white wine, called “Bigger boat” after Roy Scheider’s famous line from Jaws. There’s a Pinot Meunier rosé, with bite and character. In the reds there are Sangioveses Grenaches and Shirazes as well as unfamiliar blends such as that of Grenache and Tempranillo. The finer wines are under the label of “Dodgy Bros.” Despite the name, they are poised wines with depth, and the best of them was the 2014 Archetype Grenache. An almost old world nose, rich in the mouth, balanced, with a cherry-like finish restrained by fine bitterness. Fine, opulent and utterly delicious.

Pete Fraser, a wine maker at the Australian Yangarra estate, runs a Rhône inspired winery that makes fine, waxy Roussanes and aromatic Viogniers. But it is the red wines, including Shiraz and Grenache, which are exceptional and rare. The elevated vineyards enjoy a cooling wind to meet the colder air from the sea. The large estate has sheep grazing between the vines to keep down the grasses and from the separately vinified parcels of 70 year old vines comes one of Australia’s finest wines. It is the 2014 single vineyard High Sands Grenache and it is a glory. A pale crimson colour, translucent like the finest red Burgundy, the nose is of rose petals, violets and strawberry. It’s a big wine, over 14 per cent alcohol, yet there is a coolness in the mouth and it is perfectly balanced. The Grenache notes are there but off-set with others that rein in the juiciness of lesser wines. Each characteristic flavour heads in one direction only to be counter-balanced by another. The sweet strawberry fruit is finished by a gentle hint of bitter complexity. There is grace and elegance here, and life; power with restraint.

Fraser told me that he always looked for three elements in particular: the freshness and fruitiness, the depth and weight in the mid-palate and the aromatic complexity in the finish, and timed the picking of the grapes from each parcel accordingly. He has found a fine line between the extremes all too evident in lesser Grenache. He acknowledged that there was a very narrow window to reach just what he was looking for. This is a real achievement of viticulture and viniculture; something to celebrate. It was easy conclude as I nursed the remainder of my glass, I really love good Grenache.