Current Issue #488

Hot 100 Wines:
Tomfoolery leads a grenache comeback

2018 Young Blood Grenache, Barossa Valley
Tomfoolery Wines’ 2018 Young Blood Grenache took out the #7 spot of Hot 100 Wines 2019/20 – its second entry in the Top 10

Grenache is a grape of many virtues, not least its versatility and its hardiness; it seems perverse that it has lingered on the margins of Australian wine consciousness for so long.

A presence in our vineyards since the early 19th century – hats off (again) to emigrant Scottish grape wrangler James Busby – the high yielding and virtually unkillable grenache became a staple in warmer regions, where it was primarily used to make fortified wine (what we used to call port) and also as shiraz extender in table wine.

Its emergence from anonymity began with the appearance of the so-called Rhone blends in the late 1980s, a middle-weight style modelled after the noble wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, in which grenache usually tops a triple bill with shiraz and mourvèdre/mataro. But it is really only within the last few years that grenache has started strutting its stuff as a single varietal. Suddenly, it seems we can’t get enough of it.

Ben Chipman, vigneron and winemaker at Tomfoolery Wines, a hop, skip and jump east of Nuriootpa in the Barossa, is a big fan. His 2018 Young Blood Grenache made the top ten of the most recent Hot 100 Wines SA.

A workhorse but never a hero, grenache’s luridly green foliage in the vineyard gives a clue to its durability, Chipman says. “They’re so healthy, no matter what Mother Nature throws at them – you can have five heatwaves in a row and they still look happy as Larry. It’s a variety that’s incredibly well-suited to our climate here in South Australia.”

As the label hints, Tomfoolery’s grenache is made in the “joven” style – that’s Spanish for young – and as such is lighter-bodied and intended for immediate drinking. The driving ethos is all about showing off the intrinsic fruit flavours and aromatics of the grape. As a red wine that is harvested and released within the same year, Young Blood Grenache is a Barossa rarity, Chipman says.

“I started making it in this style before grenache was really popular as a single varietal, and I wanted to show people how pretty and how aromatic it was, and how versatile it was,” he says. “By using a lot of whole bunch you can really bring out the lift and the ‘pop’ of the variety, which I think has been important. A lot of people like drinking those middleweighted wines, and grenache can be incredibly light on its feet and still show depth and flavour when drunk young.”

The fruit comes from 50-plus-yearold vines grown by Tomfoolery’s neighbours. Maturation time is kept short and much of it takes place in stainless steel to retain the brightness of the fruit. For structure and complexity, Chipman mixes batches of grenache of differing ripeness.

“I want those really pretty and aromatic flavours and smells, and I want a bit of depth there as well, and when you’ve got a bit of both I think that’s what makes a really great drink,” he says.

Chipman was, naturally, very relieved to reopen Tomfoolery’s cellar door for June, and the long weekend saw a welcome rush of customers to accompany a gradual revival of on premise restaurant sales. There was a weird feeling, he says, about working on a vintage which at times seemed as if it might never reach the drinker. Chipman reports that while the 2020 yields at Tomfoolery, as in the rest of the Barossa, were drastically down, the wine quality looks exemplary.

“There wasn’t much out there, but what there was is sensational across every variety.”

With grenache fruit fetching as little as $300 to $800 a tonne only five or six years ago, Chipman says many old vines were in serious danger of being replaced by shiraz. The new wave of popularity looks set to secure the variety’s future in both the Barossa and McLaren Vale.

“People are looking for it, they’re enjoying it and embracing it, the restaurants are wanting to pour it. Overall, it’s going to help support the variety and keep those old vines in the ground.” Where, I’d venture, they belong.

Charles Gent

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Hot 100 Wines:
The complete 2019/20 list


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