Thistledown Gorgeous Grenache 2020
Pipe Tobacco, Dried Cherries, Cinnamon, Thyme, Bay Leaf
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"To successfully work with and cultivate ancient vines is difficult, to say the least. To successfully complete the Master of Wine certification program is much, much harder. Having done both, which very few can boast, Giles Cooke MW and Fergal Tynan MW have carved out a pocket empire of unique vineyard sites against the backdrop of Australia’s McLaren Vale region. The duo have focused on older plantings of the Grenache grape, which although not as well-known as Shiraz has nevertheless benefited from McLaren Vale’s warm, dry climate and the coastal influence of the region.
The Gorgeous Grenache is sourced from both McLaren Vale and the inland growing region of Riverland, where several vineyards exist dating back to the 1920s. These “Soldier Vines,” as they are commonly known, were given as part of a land grant to returning veterans of World War I. This diversity of climates and altitudes gives complexity to the finished wine, with acidity and balance from McLaren Vale and ripeness and tannin from Riverland. In addition, numerous traditional techniques are utilized in the winery, such as whole-cluster fermentation in concrete vessels and exclusive use of wild yeasts. All of these factors combine to deliver a less overtly extracted, more elegant example of this noble grape."
"Australian Grenache is basically an unknown category in the US. Shiraz gets the lion’s share of the attention, but so often when I taste with Aussie winemakers it is their Grenache that they are most passionate about. There is also a lot of it too, as it was the favorite variety of winemakers for most of the 20th century. The reason is that it achieves a high level of ripeness relatively early in the fall. Remember that prior to the late 1970’s most of the wine produced in Australia was fortified, like Port, so varietal character was not important. When Shiraz took off after that, most wineries never pulled out or planted any new Grenache vines favoring Shiraz. Today there are thousands of acres of Grenache vines older than 50 years, which is when they start producing really interesting fruit. This is why dozens of wineries now put their Grenache wines forward as their flagship production, including the dynamic duo of Thistledown, Giles Cooke and Fergal Tynan, coincidentally both Masters of Wine.
One of the things about passion, which to me this is when interest in a subject becomes more of an obsession, is that you desire to understand it in fine detail. In the case of wine this almost always is a point where you pass through the desire of drinking “big” wines, and begin to seek out those of finesse and subtleness. In the case of Giles and Fergal, years of working in the trade, and tasting thousands of wines each year, led them to crave wines that were specific to varietal correctness and site specificity. Typically the red grape that defines these qualities is Pinot Noir, but that is not very common in Australia. However, there are thousands of acres of Grenache, most quite old, and it is a variety that can be made in a way that achieves the same goal. With this in mind they launched Thistledown Wine Company, which produces wines focused on site specific wines, or in the case of their entry level Gorgeous Grenache, examples of varietal purity.
Like me, the importer for Thistledown, Ken Onish, is an obsessive reader and probably receives dozens of email newsletters about wine. Often he forwards interesting articles to me and right before this wine arrived he sent me one entitled “Grenache, the poor man’s Pinot Noir.” The premise, of which I completely agree, is that both varieties are thin skinned and not known for deep color. In many parts of the world where Grenache is used, particularly the Rhone Valley of France and many parts of Spain, yields are very low and winemaking involves extended skin contact to extract maximum color. However, in Australia most winemakers, Thistledown included, produce lighter examples that are more articulate. To make this wine they actually use several sites across South Australia, fermenting each batch in small lots to maintain control over extraction. They also use a fair amount of whole clusters, meaning stems, and wild yeasts. After fermentation the wine is aged in larger, neutral oak barrels." - Tim Varan