It’s always good to have your predictions come true. Back in 2011 I wrote: “Let’s face it, grenache has had mixed press”. In hindsight, grenache was having very little press at all and yet this grape once made up the largest crop of all red varieties in Australia. I went on to say that sooner or later grenache’s day would come again. Now it seems it has.

Grenache is the last of the familiar red grapes to ripen and it thus favours warm to hot regions. The Riverland is by far the predominant geographical indication (GI), but the GIs you’re most likely to see on a label are the classics, the Barossa and McLaren Vale. 

Nevertheless, other regions for grenache are becoming better known, as you’ll find below.

Lemon, stone fruits and classic structure were the hallmarks of the most highly rated rieslings.

For many years my impression was that winemakers tried to force grenache into an uncomfortable copy of shiraz, by maximising body, tannin structure and supposedly ability to age. You need a top vineyard site to be able to do this successfully. Often the result was wines that missed grenache’s most important feature: a succulent, fleshy balance with the fresh flavours and soft tannins – ideal drinking at one-to-two years’ age. That style has now been emerging with winemakers taking a different attitude to extraction (and the use of whole bunches in the fermentation. Pinot noir technique influencing grenache! Who would have thought it?

With all of us aware of grenache’s resurgence, we had great anticipation as we assembled for this tasting. Regular tasters writer, retailer and self-confessed grenache tragic Mike Bennie, writer and educator Peter Bourne, restaurateur and sommelier Sophie Otton, wine judge and writer Toni Paterson MW and me, winemaking consultant Nick Bulleid MW, were joined by educator and founder of Wine Intuition Andrea Pritzker MW.

We were not disappointed. While the fuller-bodied, traditional wines were still well represented, there was a wonderful array of perfumed, juicy wines that were simply delicious. Our strike rate for reviews was high, at 71%. The wines received high praise, Bennie commenting that most wines were “not hot or jammy”, while Pritzker found them “retaining fresh flavours”. Paterson added “a good standard of winemaking”. I agreed with all.

It was curious that 12 of the 68 wines were cork-sealed, a relatively high proportion. These went across both expensive and cheaper wines but even more curious, corks were more frequent in the wines that we’ve not reviewed. What this proves I have no idea, other than they may have slightly lacked freshness.

Whatever your preferred style, you’ll find plenty to choose from below. And there will be more. We will be pairing this tasting with a look at wines from the Rhône Valley, mostly grenache predominant.

Toni Paterson MW.

Barossa Valley

★★★★★

2020 Tim Smith Barossa Grenache, A$42, has a beautifully fragrant nose showing sweet red fruits and subtle bunchy character. The flavours are fresh, matching the taut stem tannins and acidity. Bourne loved it, noting: “A good concentration – damson plum, mulberry and boysenberry. Juicy palate, fine-boned tannins and a graceful finale. It’s all in place here.”  (95)

2020 Torbreck Harris Vineyard Grenache, A$40, gained maximum points from Paterson, who told us, “The wine has impressive flow, with supple cherry and plum characters, and accents of liquorice and tar. Great depth and persistence to the flavours. I applaud the definition and flavour concentration in this wine. Seriously good.” Otton thought the tannins “too drying”, while I thought it a perfect contrast to the previous wine, with spices, chocolate and full body. (95)

★★★★

2015 Cirillo 1850 Ancestor Vine Grenache, A$70, had Paterson enthusiastic. “This wine is a standout in the line-up due to its freshness and focus. Aromatic strawberry and raspberry tones. Concentrated cherry flavours give a youthful air. The acidity is bright yet integrated. Still very youthful and taut with a long future ahead of it.” (94)

2020 Head Old Vine Grenache, A$39, has fresh, rich, berry flavours and a beautifully even balance and line through to lightly firm tannins. There’s good depth and length, too. Bourne told us: “Plums, boysenberry and star anise greet the nose. Lush spicy palate with lots of energy and drive. The hi-toned, acid-etched finish is a bonus.” (94)

2020 Spinifex Single Vineyard Moppa Grenache, A$45, found Otton enthusiastic. “Pure, aromatic fruit aromas. Fresh and punchy. Pomegranate jewels, puckering persimmon-like tannins. Juicy, mouth-coating. Exhilarating expression.” The combination of sweet cherry and plum with a nice savoury edge works beautifully. There’s good length, too. (94)

2021 Yalumba Vine Vale Grenache, A$40, gained strong points from Paterson. “A well-made wine that respects the inherent characters of the variety without intrusive oak or sweetness. Pleasing palate weight and breadth without being thick or contrived. The wine has good softness, freshness and brightness. Subtle musk and flecks of green pepper spice on the close. I love this and would buy.” (94)

2021 Seppeltsfield Barossa Grenache, A$30, pleased Otton greatly. “Complex briary, dark fruit characters. Deliciously plush and mouth-filling. Excellent composure, weight, balance.” I thought it a bigger style, showing plum, cardamom and other spices. It has depth of flavour and finishes on the dry side. (93)

2019 Schild Estate Edgar Schild Reserve Old Bush Vine Grenache, A$40, had strong support from Paterson. “Ultra-sweet blackberry juice and dried cherry aromas. Full, sweet-fruited and generous. It is a wine for those who like their reds bold and ripe. Savoury oak nuances and good length.” A firmer style, but has depth of flavour and retains balance. (92)

Five-star wines from Tim Smith Wines, Torbreck and Clandestine.

McLaren Vale

★★★★★

2019 Yangarra High Sands Grenache, A$250, is youthful with red cherries and slight whole bunch fragrance. It’s supple with excellent balance and fine tannins. Pritzker noted: “An intriguing bouquet of dried roses, redcurrant, peppery spice and damp earth. Fresh, fruit driven and juicy, crunchy red fruit. Lively acidity. I love the buoyancy and freshness.” (96)

2021 Clandestine Hearts and Mind Grenache, A$60, gained top points from both Otton and me. “Aromatic expression,” she began. “Bursts of rich, riper fruit with savoury restraint. Svelte and toned with fresh vitality and tailored length. Beautifully resonant.” I loved its sweet fruit and hints of wine gums. It’s soft, with even, lightly chewy tannins. There’s good length, too. (95)

2021 Oliver’s Taranga Small Batch Grenache, A$32, was for Bennie a “tense and refreshing expression”. He went on: “Lean and racy, intense and driving with suppleness and silky draw. Skeletal in a way, but the wine packs in lots of red berry fruit and exotic spice. Feels pretty serious, also fresh, also delicious.” The wine glides through the mouth, with fresh, juicy raspberry flavours, ending with fine tannins. (95)

2019 Mr. Riggs The Magnet Grenache, A$30, is fragrant with red cherry and raspberry aromas. The palate’s richly flavoured and plump, with well-balanced, nicely firm tannins. Otton found it, “Fresh and bright in the glass. Deliciously soft shapely fruits with fine chalky tannins. A lighter, more subtle, style finishing on a juicy, succulent note.” (95)

2020 S.C. Pannell Clarendon Smart Grenache, A$70, appealed to Bourne, who reported, “Ripe raspberry, cranberry and exotic spices with a hint of olive tapenade. Purity and persistency define the finish. Better with some time in bottle.” I found plenty of red fruit with good flesh to support, but firmness from tannin and acidity suggests it would be even better with food. (95)

2021 Varney Grenache, A$35, combines sweet berries and black pepper on the nose. The palate’s fleshy, soft and juicy, with a brisk touch of acidity. Pritzker found, “A brooding bouquet of sun-warmed blackberry and blueberry. Bright and lively, with freshness and supple tannins and attractive minty, star jasmine overtones. Finishes with an intriguing hint of bergamot.” (95)

Often younger, the blanc de blancs were among our top-rated wines.

★★★★

2020 Willunga 100 The Hundred Blewitt Springs Grenache, A$45, shows cherry and spice aromas, followed by a firm palate, yet with enough middle to match. The tannins provide a distinct cut to the finish. Otton wrote: “Attractive, concentrated aromas. Structural tannin with fleshy fruit core. Nuanced fruit with excellent length.” (94)

2020 Wirra Wirra The Absconder Grenache, A$70, found Bennie enthusiastic. “Pepper-dusted redcurrants, raspberry liquorice, fennel. It's a fresh and fragrant style with vibrant, pure feel and lacy tannin. Energetic and delightful, with fruit sweetness, tartness and savouriness layered in well. Yes thanks!” The wine’s supple, a hint of vanilla adding complexity to red berries. A little stem tannin helps dry the finish. (94)

2019 Bekkers Grenache, A$90, has a perfumed nose of red cherries and a silky balance. It glides, before a light bite of acidity and tannin. Bennie thought it, “Tightly wound, refreshing and sinewy style with fine, Italianate tannins a feature. Sour-sweet cherry characters, whiffs of mint and fennel, with faint, hazelnut savouriness to close. Detailed, very good feel.” (93)

2020 Ministry of Clouds Grenache, A$40, appealed to Otton, who noted, “Ripe fruit notes with deep-set savoury elements. Plush fruit depth with restrained leafy notes and dried herb edge. Balanced and streamlined, with focus.” Deftly combines cherry flavours and a little white pepper. It’s supple, with good flesh. Savoury flavours linger with a light cut of tannin. (93)

2020 Samuel’s Gorge Grenache, A$40, won top marks from Paterson. She recorded: “A generous, rounded, concentrated wine with fabulous vibrancy and energy. Hints of sweet musk and sour cherry; also impressive tension and freshness. The flavours are delicious. Beautifully balanced and well executed.” Otton disagreed, pointing to “disjointed acidity”. The wine certainly has firm structure, but I thought there was enough depth of red fruits to carry it. (93)

Nick Bulleid MW has been a member of our expert panel for over 20 years.

2021 Willunga 100 Grenache, A$25, won high points from Bourne, who commented: “Attractive bouquet of ripe plum and mulberries with a whiff of star anise. Juicy flavours, tight structure and a pleasingly energetic finish.” I was not far behind him, also noting rich sweet fruits with full body and depth of flavour. There’s plenty of mouth-coating tannin, suggesting the wine needs a little time to settle in. (93)

2020 Willunga 100 The Hundred Clarendon Grenache, A$45, has sweet cherry flavours. There’s good flesh, with alcohol giving weight without heat and the tannins are fine. Pritzker told us: “Opens with lifted redcurrant, cranberry aromas. Medium-bodied and savoury with a bright core of red plum and black cherry. Fresh and lively, with energy and drive. Finishes with a touch of vanilla.” (93)

2021 Gemtree Small Batch Egg SBE Grenache, A$50, pleased the panellists. It’s intensely fruited, showing fresh raspberries and a sense of purity. The palate has good flesh, with rich berry flavours and very good length. The slightly dry tannins suggest it needs food. Otton noted, “Floral aromas, red fruit characters, spice trove notes. Gentle earthy complexity, almost silky, pleasantly concentrated. Made like a pinot noir.” (92)

2020 Ox Hardy McLaren Vale Grenache, A$38. Pritzker noted, “A fragrant redcurrant, cranberry bouquet. Bright, lively and fruit-pure showing excellent concentration of ripe strawberry and red cherry leading to a long juicy finish.” I, too, loved the fresh berry flavours. The wine’s balanced and supple, with distinct acidity and tannins giving a brisk finish. (92)

2020 S.C. Pannell Blewitt Springs Old McDonald Grenache, A$70, appealed to Bourne, who reported, “Ripe raspberry, cranberry and exotic spices with a hint of olive tapenade. Purity and persistency define the finish. Better with some time in bottle.” I found plenty of red fruit and attractive savoury characters. (92)

The production of sparklings has gradually moved to the cooler south of the island.

Other Regions

★★★★★

2019 Mandoon Estate Old Vine Grenache, Swan Valley, A$30, impressed us all with its depth of red fruited flavour, rich, plump palate and balance. Paterson found, “Snappy pomegranate and dried cranberry flavours with a hint of lavender. Fabulous acidity which enlivens the palate. It has good concentration, palate definition and length. Juicy and bright.” (96)

★★★★

2020 Swinney Farvie Grenache, Frankland River, A$150, is dense and dark-fruited, with spices, full body and powerful drive. Paterson thought it “a full flavoured, generous, intensely flavoured wine and incredibly delicious. Gorgeous dried cherry flavours with fabulous framing tannins. A perfect blend of vibrancy and intensity. Seriously good.” (92)

2021 Tellurian Grenache, Heathcote, A$31, won Pritzker over. “Fragrant bouquet - cranberry, raspberry, strawberry and a hint of cracked pepper”, she said. “Fresh vibrant and juicy, with medium body and supple tannins showing lovely floral overtones, great intensity and freshness to the finish.” The wine shows great appeal and the benefits of youth. (92) 

Different flavour profiles appealed to some in the panel, making agreement hard.

Best of the Rest

2019 David Franz Grenache Noir, Barossa Valley, A$27. Beautifully fragrant, showing raspberry, redcurrant and floral perfume from careful use of whole bunches. “Pomegranate, redcurrant pastilles and chinotto with a whiff of old leather. Purity with a pinot-esque profile”. Bourne (91)

2021 Gemtree Small Batch Oak SBO Grenache, McLaren Vale, A$50. Juicy raspberries. Brisk flavours and tannins. Needs food. “Blood orange and amaro. Game meat, red cherry. Tart acidity, firm in tannin, lends good shape.” Bennie (91)

2020 Heirloom Vineyards Alcala Grenache, McLaren Vale, A$80. Sweet berry fragrance and herb garden. Brisk tannins and acidity. “Pomegranate, tea leaf and rose petal aromas. Energised and balanced, finishing clean and bright, with vibrancy and intensity.” Paterson (91)

2017 Hickinbotham Elder Hill Grenache, McLaren Vale, A$75. “Vibrant and hi-toned. Lots of red fruits (cherry, cranberry and raspberry) and a herbal note. Acidity and tannin extend the finish.” Bourne (91)

2020 Kalleske Old Vine Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$50. Concentrated, with fragrant red plum and spices. Good flesh, light, stalky tannins. “A traditional old-school style with rich, ripe fruit and assertive oak.” Paterson (91)

2020 Kalleske Old Vine Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$50. Concentrated, with fragrant red plum and spices. Good flesh, light, stalky tannins. “A traditional old-school style with rich, ripe fruit and assertive oak.” Paterson (91)

2020 Reed Wines Alexia Vine Vale Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$43. Moderately weighted, redcurrant and spice flavours, balanced, with the light brush of tannin. “Loose-knit with tart cherry fruitiness. Ultra-pure and really pleasing to drink. A cool wine.” Bennie (91)

2018 Torbreck Hillside Vineyard Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$80, is a further contrast – fragrant, fresh and supple. “Red plum, mulberry and boysenberry with a touch of stewed rhubarb. Old school style with mocha chocolate and sinewy tannins.” Bourne (91)

2017 Yalumba Homefullness Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$120 (12-pack). Graceful. “Pleasing, soft, supple red. Maturing older red wine characters. Delicious wine, in prime. Quietly complex and good.” Bennie (91)

Different flavour profiles appealed to some in the panel, making agreement hard.

2020 Yangarra Ovitelli Grenache, McLaren Vale, A$75. “Raspberry, redcurrant and toffee apple. Fine-boned and hi-toned with lush red fruits. Vibrant with a nice interplay of acid and tannin driving the finish.” Bourne (91)

2019 Head Ancestor Vine Grenache, Eden Valley, A$99. “Savoury, slightly brooding, black plum-scented. Fresh and juicy with excellent intensity and vibrancy. Chalky tannins to the finish.” Pritzker (90)

2020 Hentley Farm The Old Legend Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$62.
“Red cherry and pomegranate flavours. Excellent length. I applaud its flavour intensity. Good persistence.” Paterson (90)

2019 John Duval Annexus Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$70. “Brooding cherry and blackberry characters. Malt, game meat, clove, dark chocolate. Charisma in an old school kind of way.” Bennie (90)

2018 Langmeil The Fifth Wave Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$55. “Toasty vanilla marshmallow and plum jam bouquet. Fresh, fruit-pure and lively. Intense, crunchy red plum and cranberry. Lingering finish.” Bennie (90)

2020 Sittella Avant Garde Golden Mile Grenache, Swan Valley, A$40. “Appealing, rustic, with slight meaty characters. Plush, poached cherry flavours. A generous wine of great depth.” Paterson (90)

2020 Swinney Grenache, Great Southern, A$42. “Concentrated, with intense raspberry and Cherry Ripe aromas. Firmly structured. Traditional style but all the better for it.” Bourne (90)

2020 Tscharke A Thing of Beauty Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$25. “Lifted bouquet of fresh red plum and plum jam. Plush plummy fruit, juicy mid-palate and chalky tannins. Deceptively well-structured.” Pritzker (90)

2020 Tscharke Stone Well Grenache, Barossa Valley. A$30. “Lolly scents, strawberry, minty and fresh aromas, white pepper too. Crisp and refreshing with ultra-fine tannins. Alpine expression. Delightful, finer grenache.” Bennie (90) 

2020 Turkey Flat Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$45, “Peppery, herbal lift over raspberry and cranberry fruitiness. Lively, whole bunch and freshness. Fine, firming tannins. Excellent, vibrant feel.” Bennie (90) 

2019 Yalumba The Tri-Centenary Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$85. Fragrant, perhaps whole bunches? Supple. “Unusual, almost seaweed, saline, red currant aromas. Juicy and fruit-pure. Lively acidity, freshness and vibrancy. Distinctive, lighter weight style. Pritzker (90)