Yalumba’s Grenache

Winemaker Kevin Glastonbury and Jessica Hill-Smith led this tasting of Grenache wines from Yalumba’s Barossa vineyards. Australia has some of the oldest grape vines in the world, and this tasting would focus on three wines made from Yalumba’s bush vine Grenache. These very old, gnarled bush vines produce low yields, the Tri-Centenary Grenache 2015 which we would taste is from a single vineyard aged over 130 years old,  planted in 1889. Even the more affordable Bush Vine Grenache is made from vineswhere some components are up to 125 years old.

Kevin, right, has been at Yalumba for 25 years and has seen Grenache wines change dramatically, from a big, powerful and high-alcohol style, to something with more finesse. He explained that for more than a century it was primarily used as a base for fortified wines, or blended anonymously with other grapes, so says he is delighted the variety is now “getting its turn in the spotlight.” Today’s Grenache is made with less extraction, possibly with whole bunches and open-top fermenters, in a more Burgundian winemaking style.

In the early 80’s a government ‘vine pull’ programme encouraged growers to uproot their Grenache, leaving only 1,800 hectares intact. In 1999 Yalumba purchased a 20-hectare vineyard, the Tri-Centenary Vineyard, with over eight hectares of very old vines. The wine from the vineyard is obviously a passionate project for Kevin, who explained some of the experiments and trials he carried out to try to make something special from this vineyard, initially adding some dried vine cuttings into the ferment to add spice and savouriness.

Kevin’s next experiment was much longer cold maceration and skin contact in search of complexity, beginning with around 40 days on skins a few years ago. The most recent 2019 vintage spent 240 days macerating on the skins.

These are three lovely examples of ‘the new Grenache’ from Australia, and indeed the sometimes-made comparison with Pinot Noir is evident in tasting, particularly in the extraordinary Tri-Centenary bottling with its pale colour, fragrance and delicate but powerful balance.

The Wines

(2020) Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre is the trio of Rhône grapes on which Barossa’s reputation was partly founded. This wine was first made in 2010, and the 2016 is led by 55% Grenache (a similar blend having previously been led by Mourvèdre ). A nice, quite transparent ruby colour, there’s loads of juicy, summery fruit and spice on the nose, a little slick of vanilla smoothing things out. In the mouth there is grip here, a bit of basil and leafiness as well as a savoury fruit character, quite a creamy texture. Keen acidity and a rustic, savoury bite of tannin gives great gastronomic possibilities. This sees a mix of barrels for ageing, from barriques to large oak vats, but overall only around 15% of oak is new.
(2020) Made by Yalumba since the early 1990s, and one of the most popular wines among the Yalumba staff. There are vine components here from plantings that span the 1890s through to the 1970s, the average age of vines for the wine has been calculated as 75 years old. A hugely juicy, again leafy and earthy style, that basil or curry-leaf component is there again, and that fairly striking tart raspberry juiciness with an axis of red fruit and acid. Tannins are a little smoother than the GSM, but it still grips the finish giving that savoury appeal.
(2020) Fruit for this wine comes from just 820 "gnarly, very old bush vines," planted in 1889. Winemaker Kevin Glastonbury says that despite now being more than 130 years old, the vines continue to produce small quantities of exceptional grapes. The vineyard has deep sandy soils with red clay layers and the vines draw moisture from the underlying clay. Wild yeast starts the fermentation process and the wine spends fully 41 days on the skins. There must be minimal extraction used however, as it has such a pale and transparent colour, and such a gentle nose, walnut and coffee cake, autumnal dry leaves and soft red berry fruit. It is very charming. In the mouth that cranberry and redcurrant fruit continues, but it is really quite delicate with lacey tannins and gently insistent acidity, giving this lots of elegance and prettiness, but with a freshness and little hint of biting austerity too. Lovely.  Kevin describes it as 'still a baby', with the ability to age for several years. Price and stockist at time of review is for the previous vintage.

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