Mark Davidson, that’s why. We taste Australian wines with thanks to the intrepid Wine Australia ambassador, traveller and purveyor of everything you could ever want to know about that country’s wine scene. Davidson passes through our Toronto parts on manifold missions each calendar year and graces our collective wine writer-meets sommelier soul with non bottle-o Aussie bounty, not oft tasted before. In mutual abide our local agents are always willing to throw some gems into Mark’s mix and our finest restos lay out the food-matching compliments to accede the most excellent of wine tasting gatherings.
The last three sessions took place in June 2018, February 2018 and September 2017. For that September get together we convened at Caplansky’s Deli for a Smoked Meat and Grenache Lunch. “Pastrami to me smells like grenache,” says Davidson in candid equation. “Drink some and eat some meat.” In 2015 there were 1500 hectares of the varietal under vine, this compared to 44,000 of shiraz. On its agriculture in Australia he added “if you leave it untended it will go blowsy and slutty.” What about wood? “I don’t think new oak works with grenache. It dominates it.” These are my notes on the eight wines.
There is nothing here to raise an eyebrow’s moment of a suspicious mind. What you taste is what you get. Pure grenache. Tangy and spicy, fresh and walking with an easy stride. The youngest vineyard is from 1972 so that explains the confidence and yes, you can call this old vine, said with a wry smile. Really smart and teachable wine. When it comes to grenache, “we can’t build our dreams, on suspicious minds.” Drink 2017-2020. Tasted September 2017 @yalumbawine breakthrubevcanada @yalumba @BreakthruBev yalumbawine @BreakthruBeverageCanada
Lighter style by way of a McLaren Vale mentality. Perhaps like somebody that I used to know the “death card” is a resurrective grenache to “chuck in the fridge and drink it,” as per the suggestion of Dylan Fairweather. But it’s really something else, comforting, helpful. Like Gotye, “a friendly face will bring you around and you’ll feel better.” This is a solidly pressed grenache with some cured, curative meaty notes, just where the varietal tendency should lead. “Better than before.” Drink 2017-2019. Tasted September 2017 alphaboxdice awsmwest @AlphaBoxDice @AuthenticWineON @alphaboxdice @awsmon
d’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (713040, $19.95, WineAlign)
This grenache may straight out remind “but what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.” Place, name and grape all combine for notoriety, perhaps controversy but certainly greatness. The iconic house of d’Arenberg is the grenache custodian for McLaren Vale, the keeper of nearly one third of the region’s varietal vines. The process includes foot-treading, which does not make it old school as much as it presses the idea that human intervention is very much a part of the wine. The basket press adds to the beggar’s banquet gentility of the Custodian’s mystery, a deeply satisfying grenache of wealth and place. This is the juiciest of juicy grenache vintages, perfectly tart and sweet like candy for the soul. At four years of age the balance is struck and the evolution just right for current enjoyment. A rolling stone that will stand the test of time, one plus one bottle at a time. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted August and September 2017 darenbergwine churchillcellars @darenbergwine @imbibersreport @darenbergwine @imbibersreport
Showing more than a major amount of fruit than most in a flight of eight grenache. Creamy, full of textured elements, tart and graced by a ying-yang of tenebrous-generous tannins. The ripeness is run through raised and chalky, like a mineral feel, searing at moments but mostly in a just so it happens or it happened way. Plenty of joy, curiosity and obfuscation. Give it a year or more to continue finding its course. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted September 2017 chapelhillwine chartonhobbs @chapelhillwine @ChartonHobbs @ChapelHillWine
Kilikanoon Prodigal Grenache 2013, Clare Valley, South Australia (482547, $20.95, WineAlign)
From 80-90 hectares in the Clare. Kevin Mitchell’s bigger style is evident but not compared to 10 years earlier. Now in control of tangy grace and tempered volume. Needed six months to continue its settling and will only continue to improve. Last tasted September 2017 kilikanoonwines chartonhobbs @kilikanoonwines @ChartonHobbs @KilikanoonWines
The fruit works well with the soil, sharing equal time in the sandbox and the acidity takes time to unfold but when it does, it comes smiling candid and sweet. A fine grenache and typically Clare Valley, perhaps more than what it offers in terms of varietal representation. Otherwise unexciting meaning easy to like and consume. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted February 2017
Australia’s oldest grenache vines provide the setting, architecture and unfathomable bestowal for a singular standard of grenache. So what does it all mean? First there is the lighter, cooler vintage setting the stage for this queued up, cued slice of Barossa history. In most respects this is grenache prone to and prepared for drought vintages, preserving a guarantee of tannic structure. Sure, it may be seen as well beyond perhaps but six years forward offers more than enough information and explanation. This is simply beautiful, just and enlightening. Flowing, plum ripe, melting, liquorice, smack piquant, mellowing and so bloody cool. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted September 2017 cirilloestatewines bokkewines @ @ Cirillo 1850 Estate Marco Cirillo @BokkeInc
This one’s for their kids’ grandfather, Grandpa Antony, a grenache sourced from the best corners of their McLaren Vale Foreman block and Blewitt Springs Genovese Vineyard. The James Erskine and Fiona Wood “keep me satisfied, please keep me calm, keep me pacified” grenache. Renders sulphur and volatility into must with magic and preservation. Old plantings (to the 1970s) offer the prospect of a whole cluster, 40 days on skins raising. It smells and tastes like the scrapings and peelings of plums, peaches, apples, cherry and cranberry. The concentration factor is spiked by anise and tonic bitters, working out the kinks and comfortably leaving an aftertaste of pure finessed liqueur. There is no question in my mind that of the two, Gramp Ant is not merely superior to Like Raindrops but is so much more fun to drink. From thirst to appetite. “Sitting by the riverside.” Drink 2019-2025. Tasted September 2017 jaumawines thelivingvine @JaumaWines @TheLivingVine James Danby Erskine The Living Vine inc.
A different look for Australian reds and connective with Tool’s James Maynard Keenan but if Post-Punk, Prog-Rock grenache is what you’re after than this Tolken Silmarillion Fugazi is the one for you. Its fruit spent 80 days on skins and the resulting whole bunch umami resides in an MDMA-Ecstasy-Fugazi realm. Clean, pure and of a transparency that speaks to the realism of the dream. It’s bloody juicy and anything but messed up beyond recognition. In fact it speaks to the opposite of the nomenclature. “Do you realize, this world is totally fugazi?” Great wines like these are the head, the voice and the heart. Maybe even the prophet, the visionary, the poet and the sentimental mercenary. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted September 2017 ochotabarrels thelivingvine
#OchotaBarrels @TheLivingVine @Ochota Barrels The Living Vine inc.
In February 2018 Mark hosted a tasting of 12 (mostly) alternative varietals at George Brown College. It began with the Clare Valley, once a massive mountain range, now an extension of the loft mountain ranges and just shy of a great outback. It’s an amazing micro-climate with huge diurnal temperature changes, It can be 40 degrees during the day in peak growing season and five at night. “There is dew and there is this revival process that happens with riesling.” Here are the notes.
Grosset’s riesling at Polish Hill Vineyard was planted in 1981, young for Australia, on limestone, shale and clay, underneath of which is 10,000,000 year-old blue slate. Austere when young, usually, it’s fleshier and more floral than limey but as always, it acquiesces the crisp, clear and cut brilliance Jeffrey Grosset expects and suspects Clare Valley riesling just is, or at least must be. So the choice is yours, enjoy it now because it can be, wait on its sneaky persistence or wait 20 years after you’ve tired of imagining the possibilities. Wait at least five for the screwcap to loosen and the riesling to abide as if. It’s pretty clear this is a forbearer clarified by a crystalline vintage. Drink 2021-2036. Tasted February 2018 grossetwines @GrossetWines @GrossetWines
Originally planted in 1847, passed through challenges, purchased by the Hill-Smith family and re-planted in 1961. This includes fruit from that original block, the “contoured site,” hence the name. Here five years on with some first developed character, with the airy, gassy (or Rose’s lime marmalade to an Australian ambassador), lemon-lime citrus spray ringing the inside of the glass. It’s a salty gas-powered riesling with innate Barossa ability to move forward with deceptive speed. This fin-slicing vapour trail of tonic and fine bitters is a personality I would gladly draught in for a bottle or more. One of the finest acidities of any wine on the planet. This is still the current release and that’s just perfect. Drink 2018-2027. Last tasted February 2018
From vines originally planted in 1847, here is Riesling worthy of the longest run on sentence. Riesling of conventional wisdom from a cold, windy, chilly place, pricked with holes, atomized infiltrations, queued with basic intent, wise, driven, young, gaseous, of concentrated rage, bone dry and no, it does not feign sweetness, even if the texture makes nefarious attempts at confusing the palate. A decade on this will blow your mind, if you let it. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted at the Langton’s Classification Seminar, February 2016 pewseyvalevineyard breakthrubevcanada @PewseyVale @BreakthruBev @pewseyvalevineyard @pewseyvalevineyard @BreakthruBeverageCanada
Chardonnay out of the Stint Vineyard is from Lenswood in the hills in surround of Adelaide, up to elevations of almost 600 metres. It’s really about site exposure, and undulations, but to be honest it does little at first to tell me that is noses as chardonnay because there is a layer of impregnable wax and forest wall. Impenetrable because it’s so verdant, equally distributable and obscured by clouds. Picked on acid, as in profile, not elevation, cloudy because of no filtration. Likely 20 year-old fruit and if you consider this as funk you’ve not quite been listening to the right beats. The funk will only get better. Ochota Barrels repping the Basket Range Collective with a side of Rolling Stones. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted February 2018 ochotabarrels thelivingvine
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From winemaker Michael Downer the blend is riesling (50 per cent), sauvignon blanc (30) and pinot gris (20), left on skins, sent to barrel and also to tank. For an ambitious white it’s got remarkable entry-level gulpability. It’s an appellative blend built on acidity and so into the combinative texture. What you feel in the end is the alcohol, in a boozy warmth that hovers, broods and compresses climate like a rainforest village above the clouds. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February 2018 murdochhill_wines @Murdoch_Hill @murdochhillwine
Angove Family Vineyards Shiraz-Grenache Warboys Vineyard 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (537209, $46.00, WineAlign)
No matter where you are in the throes of this blend there is a maritime influence and in a way, a Mediterranean-like feeling, with plum, black olive and brine. It’s saltier and more ferric than a Rhône syrah-grenache (plus likely one with mourvèdre) and it feels more like shiraz than grenache because of the grip, vintage-driven or not. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2018 angovewine churchillcellars @AngoveWine @imbibersreport @AngoveWine @imbibersreport
Henschke Henry’s Seven 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (685578, $42.95, WineAlign)
Shiraz is co-fermented with viognier, deciding the direction with holes and angles filled then lined by the grenache and the mataro. It’s floral, by flowers but also the leafiness that comes from raspberry and strawberry plants. Smells like fruit compost, sweet and savoury, Great acids and fine tannins. Really composed and grippy to delicious pile to be happy having consumed. Will be ideal in 18 months, give or take no time at all. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted February 2018 henschke breakthrubevcanada @henschkewine @BreakthruBev @HenschkeWine @BreakthruBeverageCanada
If there is a juicier, riper or more gregarious nose on a grenache anywhere I’d like to know. Which is all the more surprising considering the level of grippy tannin that comes around to knock you upside the cerebral cortex. Fascinating wine, always and with perpetual craziness. The old derelict vineyard strikes again. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted February 2018 darenbergwine churchillcellars @darenbergwine @imbibersreport @darenbergwine @imbibersreport
There is certainly less immediacy and perhaps generosity but in its taut aromatic quietude there is this dusty, savoury fennel feeling going on. It is very much a grenache expressed in a vein like pinot noir, then again not really, but there is a skin-rubbed, umami quality about how it develops in the glass. It’s both forceful and virile. Duval does grenache in Barossa like Pommard in the Beaune. Warm climate and litheness get together at a grenache crossroads for firm if wonderful balance. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted February 2018 johnduvalwines breakthrubevcanada @JohnDuvalWines @BreakthruBev @johnduvalwinesbarossa @BreakthruBeverageCanada
It’s by now safe to call vermentino an “emerging variety” for South Australia, here from Riverland off some of the 120 total hectares planted. You just know it’s vermentino but you also know it’s not grown along the Ligurian coast. It’s so bloody big, aromatically fruity and full of dry extract, wants to be savoury, but it’s more of a light charcoal sensation. That and an essential oil distilled through cookie dough, with white chocolate and peach. It’s tannic without being grippy and in the end, dry as the desert. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February 2018 delinquentewineco bespokewineandspirits @BespokeWines @delinquentewineco Matt Wolman
Rarely does an Australian red climb up to the tonal heights of this McLaren Vale graciano but there it is in the rare, aerified air, with red berries and their leaves. Steps into the Riverland, light, gives away this gulpable Kombucha in a flat out tart and quenching drink. Lovely at 11 per cent alcohol, high acidity and a pinch of residual sugar. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted February 2018 paxtonwines noble_estates @paxtonwines @Noble_Estates @PaxtonWines @NobleEstates
Part of the amphoric project of Brad Hickey, raised in 200L amphorae, the volatility is but a whisper, way more calculated than careless. A full come about turn away from the previous Riverland Graciano this digs deep into the soil for a funky nero d’avola, far away from the caky Sicilian style and now under the auspices of perspiring glands. It’s not nearly as dense and intense you’d think it might be, nor is it so very varietally obvious, but it’s level of intrigue meeting with the need to get in my mouth is the stuff of lyrical innocence inspiration. Nero, nero on the wall, who’s the coolest Vale of all? Drink 2019-2026. Tasted February 2018 brashhiggins thelivingvine @BrashHiggins @TheLivingVine @BrashHigginsWine The Living Vine inc.
The name refers to an industry drinking session where you bring a wine made by a winemaker no longer alive and who was influential on you. From two vineyards (Paddock and Christmas Hill), southeast facing, 50-50 pick, fermented separately, all in old oak (as opposed to the 50 per cent in stainless from 2015). A much fresher vintage so thus the decision making. Such a ripe and joyful dolcetto should be every winemaker’s dream and it shows where the area first settled by Italians this variety and others like it would have been in the ground from the get go. Sour cherry and pomegranate, currants and all things citrus, red and ripping gather for great light possibilities. Surprisingly dry and tannic at the finish. Really just a joy. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February 2018 alphaboxdice awsmwest @AlphaBoxDice @AuthenticWineON @alphaboxdice @awsmon
In June of 2018 we connected with Mark once again, this time at Archive Wine Bar for pinot noir and porchetta. We travelled through eight from the 2015 and 2016 vintages.
A steeped black meets rooibos tea enters and opens before black cherry, orange and marmalade deliver the message of a three-fold schist-clay-volcanic earthiness. It’s a full combing in 2016, valley floor, lower and upper slope all contributing to character, structure and acidity. Bigger vintage than 2015 with a wealth of fruit and it will improve in a year. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted June 2018 #coldstreamhills markanthonyon
#ColdstreamHills @ @coldstreamhillswinery Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits
Lifted, higher and higher, sitting on a plateau built upon an acid structure squeezed from red currants and bled from stone. Also a slight cured salumi note mixed with wet concrete. Great palate presence and persistence, repeatable, replaying phenolics purely currant and with more electric current from leafy savour. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted June 2018 montaltovineyardandolivegrove @montaltowine @montaltovineyard
Tougher nut to crack with a bit of a muted nose. Dalrymple is a Yalumba property in cool Tasmania and when this airs it brings spice first and foremost. Add to that some garrigue, fresh tea leaf and salumi savour. Sweeter fruit to taste, of watermelon and red apple plus cherry fruit and a slight pith. Pretty intense, inward and impressionistic pinot noir. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted June 2018 dalrymplevineyards breakthrubevcanada @DalrympleWine @BreakthruBev @DalrympleVineyards @BreakthruBeverageCanada
The Bindi Dixon Pinot Noir is based upon declassified grapes from the Original Vineyard planted in 1988 and grapes from the new Block K, planted in 2001. Crazy horse nose in the way that other varieties of the world will do, or at least try and simulate when they want to be pinot noir. Especially Italian varieties, like nerello mascalese, dolcetto, perricone and montepulciano. This is a natural leader for grape wishes like those of the lesser known. Very wise from the start, from birth, from creation with more savour and salumi then so many wannabe realists. There is a beautiful raw pasta dough note and then an exotica by fruit that isn’t really nameable. If this is the de-class from Michael Dhillon I’d like to meet the classified. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted June 2018 bindiwines @Bindiwines Michael Dhillon
Lovely balance from the word yes by Wicks in a straightforward pinot noir expression with no agenda and no ulterior motive. It’s very forward, outwardly fruity and if basic, so be it because it really works. Some elevation (450-500m) makes a difference, bringing lift and cool tones to the ripe, sweeter and weighty warmth of magnanimous fruit. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted June 2018 wicksestate azureau
#wicksestate @azureau @wicksestate @azureauwinesandspirits
Yering Station Village Pinot Noir 2015, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia (552166, $24.95, WineAlign)
Lifted into appropriate levels of volatility and ripe acidity the balance is struck by wide-ranging Yarra Valley fruit layering away and tempering the tonic coming from the tannin. Big bones and spirit for so little is quite the combination. Last tasted May 2018
The Yarra Valley is pinot noir, for so many great reasons and Yering Station knows a thing or two about the connection. The brightness of acidity and tart cherry fruit meet with a sour edginess and sweet textural coverings to bring some sunshine to a dreary day. This is Victoria, cool and edgy in the grand scheme of Aussie reds but in the end, very true and correct for varietal and place. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted June 2018 yeringstation noble_estates @yeringstn @Noble_Estates @YeringStation @NobleEstates
Woodside Park Pinot Noir 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (47828, $20.95, WineAlign)
A rush of the juiciest Adelaide Hills pinot noir red fruit plays from the Woodside Park, a wine of breeze and potentially, so many memories. There is an early note of understanding, like a riff that reminds of childhood and in a way how wine knows how it will come to eventually be, even when its still so young. It’s this rustic, old world sensibility, with dried fruit, leathery to cedar forest feelings and a rustic cure. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted August 2017 and June 2018 #woodsidepark nicholaspearcewines @Nicholaspearce_ Nicholas Pearce
Impeccable disorder or as I like to call it conventional dysfunction. It’s a late picked pinot noir from one of winemaker Taras’ cooler sights, not so much a regional Piccadilly snapshot as much as realistic dystopian universality. Lifted volatility, pure orange juice and whole bunch pressing add up to wild rides through a flat earth. It’s like seeing things in 3D without glasses or drugs. It’s filmmaking in a glass and it tastes like pinot noir should, not as it does. Wrapped so tight, chewy, chalky and its own tonic-twisted, shaken and stirred cocktail in a glass. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted June 2018 ochotabarrels thelivingvine
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Good to go!