Chateau Tanunda recently picked up the Single Estate Red Wine Trophy for The Everest Old Bushvine Grenache 2008 at the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) in London. The IWSC is one of the most prestigious competitions in the world, so the trophy represented a big win for Chateau Tanunda. Here’s what the judges had to say about the wine:

Dark crimson purple to rim. Wow! What a seductive nose! The characters are almost decadent in their exotic power. Old vine complexity shines through here. Crushed raspberry, asian spice, loganberries, sandlewood, lavendar, chocolate mints, fruitcake, framboise, ferrous earth, leather, coal, cocoa bean … the list could be endless. Full bodied, lavishly rich and compelling in the mouth, layers that wash again and again over the palate, changing in ever more complex ways. Well. This is one of the most thrilling wines I have ever tasted.

I was intrigued that a single variety grenache had won because on its own grenache doesn’t seem to be a popular wine style. In fact, Neal Martin of the Wine Advocate argues that “the absence of a global grenache icon is something that hampers respect and recognition of the variety.” Grenache is typically used as a blending variety, think Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but as Martin observes “pure grenache is more common in Australia where clusters of ancient vines provide more incentive to bottle the vineyard separately.” (The Unsung Chameleon Next Door: Grenache Symposium 2010, Grenache: Playboy Or Nobleman? by Neal Martin, eRobertParker.com, September 2010).

Even so, only a handful of Australian wine producers make a single variety grenache. d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale is unusual in the sense that it is somewhat of a grenache specialist. Its portfolio contains eight wines with a grenache component and two single variety labels, The Custodian and The Derelict Vineyard. At the inaugural Grenache Symposium at La Verrière in Provence, which Martin and over 50 delegates from 22 countries attended in June 2010, d’Arenberg winemaker Chester Osborne made the following observations about the grape.

Grenache is very sensitive and is diverse from one year to another. Any grape shrivel deters longevity and makes it age quicker. The tannins do soften in McLaren Vale and you are left with fine mineral tannins, which is what great wines are about.

At the Symposium, McLaren Vale and the Barossa were singled out as two of the great regions in the world for growing grenache. Other areas include Châteauneuf-du-Pape, parts of Languedoc, Priorat in South Africa and Rioja in Spain.

One of the advantages of  McLaren Vale and Barossa is that winemakers like Osborne and Stephen Pannell, of S.C.Pannell, have been able to rescue and then meticulously attend to old vine stock. The S.C. Pannell McLaren Vale Grenache, for example, is made from 67 year old dry grown bush vines that are hand-harvested. Other outstanding producers of grenache from old vines include Chapel Hill in McLaren Vale and Turkey Flat in the Barossa.

When managed properly these old low yielding vines produce concentrated, ripe berries that create complex, multi-layered wines. Berry and stone fruit aromas and flavours intermingled with savoury and spice overtones and fine tanins that impart elegance, structure and a polished texture are typical hallmarks of the best single variety grenache wines.

While many Australian winemakers are using grenache as a part of a blend for Châteauneuf-du-Pape style wines, the ability of some our top producers to create acclaimed examples of single variety grenache is a testament to their skills as both vigneron and winemaker!