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JAMES SUCKLING

“ALKINA GRENACHE ASSEMBLY TASTING: BEYHOND THE POOR MANS SHIRAZ"

Ned Goodwin MW | October 19, 2023

 


“Grenache is the most exciting thing that has happened to Australian wine culture in a lifetime, at least mine. So, I jumped at the opportunity to attend the second “Grenache Assembly,” as it is dubbed, held at Alkina Wine Estate in the Barossa Valley last month. A bunch of journalists, sommeliers and another Master of Wine were alongside.

Alkina’s wines are firmly established amid the firmament of top Australian producers of grenache, of which I personally count fewer than a dozen. The reality is there are those who farm with integrity and craft their wines with an assiduous attention to detail, while there are also those, still the majority, who treat grenache like poor man’s shiraz, as if to spite grenache’s very different physiognomy and behavior patterns. Perhaps I am speaking of an elite group of grenache producers such as Yangarra, Thistledown, Aphelion, Bondar, Paralian, S.C. Pannell, Thomas St Vincent and Bekkers, as well as Alkina, who all share the very top drawer.

Grenache is well suited to a warm climate as a late ripener, while shiraz is better in a temperate one. Grenache is oxidative; shiraz is inherently reductive. It stands to reason, then, that grenache does not like small-format wood very much and little, to zero, new oak. Grenache is also moderate of acidity and yet, paradoxically, much like assrytiko in Santorini, low in pH. As a result, when extracted courageously its tannins are more assertive with a grittier feel than analysis suggests. The pH is “a tannin trigger,” said Steve Pannell, the winemaker-owner of S.C. Pannell. Pete Fraser of Yangarra believes that grenache is at its best in cooler, prolonged vintages in warm regions where those tannins can ripen to perfection.

Indeed, the best Australian examples “feel almost like nebbiolo,” according to Langhe specialist and importer David Ridge, who was also in attendance. Aromas range from kirsch and rose hip to bergamot and dried thyme, at least in simple terms. But there is so much more! The best, too, boast a pinoté, manifest as lightness of being, transparency and versatility at the table.

In essence, grenache feels right in most of Australia, particularly in McLaren Vale but increasingly too in Barossa, the Swan, Margaret River and Great Southern. It feels intuitive and seldom forced in good hands. While the Vine Pull Scheme robbed Australia of many old vines and an even richer patrimony, leaving a mere 1,500 hectares of grenache today (versus shiraz’s 40,000-plus hectares), the country’s top sites and their gnarled bush vines are awe-inspiring. Grenache catapults Australia’s best iterations into the pantheon of top wines from around the world, something that is not as easily said when it comes to other varietal expressions. Australia’s best grenache readily equals and often exceeds top examples from more established regions, as the tasting demonstrated.

For the Grenache Assembly, there were three flights of eight wines. Notes and scores may differ slightly from the originals in our database due to additional time in boter or otherwise. Wine, after all, is a living thing. It changes!” – NED GOODWIN


POLYGONS

2020 ALKINA POLYGON NO. 3 GRENACHE - 96 points
Stretched tannins bound to sweet cherry, raspberry fruit and dried garrigue. Fullish weight and density. Tactile, strident tannins, with such exactitude and propulsion through the mouth that it is very difficult not to be impressed. Superb! Drinkable now, but best after 2025.

 

2020 ALKINA POLYGON NO. 5 GRENACHE – 96 points
Very good domestic expression. Sweet red fruit and orange pastille a la pinot, mitigated by dried thyme, lavender and a clench of Nebbiolo-like tannins drawing the finish long and taut. Excellent grenache. Drink after 2025

 

OLD QUARTER

2022 ALKINA OLD QUARTER GRENACHE SHIRAZ MATARO - 95 points
An exceptional wine, mid-weighted of feel, shedding the gristle of youth. Very young. Firm. Sinewy, beautifully wrought tannins. A clench of reduction to tame the fruit sweetness. This wine is so tense – mourvedre plays a part here – marauding across a force-field of dark fruit, leather and smoked meat. Best after 2026.

 

EX-LIBRIS PROJECT

Meaning ‘from the library’ this set of wines, which we now produce in tiny quantities each year, records each individual Polygon, each vintage. Some are ultimately bottled as single polygon wines (e.g. Polygon No. 3 andNo. 5) while others form parts of blends. We’re left with an amazing learning resource that we can use for educational and tasting purposes to help tell the story of soil, rocks and wines over time.

 

2022 ALKINA EX LIBRIS POLYGON NO. 22 GRENACHE - 95 POINTS
Pallid, transparent ruby. The tannins feel sandy, rocky and rather hard in the mouth, but offset by pomegranate, rose water and semi-carbonic orange-pastille sweetness. Lovely, refreshing and tactile, mid-weighted wine. The tannins are just a little hard at present. Youthful and a touch abrasive. Needs time. Best after 2028.