Wine Review: 2014 Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache

18 09 2015

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Raise a glass to Grenache!

Raise a glass to Grenache!

This is a bottle of eager-to-ripen Grenache from the scorching Barossa Valley in Australia.  This is a delicate, pretty, dainty, almost ethereal wine.  These sentences are both somehow true.  Happy International Grenache Day, everyone!

Yes, the third Friday of every September is set aside to celebrate the wonders of a grape that is prominent on the world wine scene, yet still strangely underrated, often anonymously doing the heavy lifting in a Rhone-style blend and only occasionally stepping out into the spotlight on its own.  This is my second time toasting the grape in September:  I revelled in the glory of the Okanagan’s first ever Grenache back in 2013.  I appear to have missed this global vinous holiday last year, but am now fully prepared to make up for lost time.

Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, founded 166 years ago in 1849 and still in the family today.  You may know them for their string of top notch value wines (the Y Series Viognier is particularly awesome for what it costs), but they have offerings all across the price spectrum, and their standing and longevity has given them access to the types of fruit sources necessary to put quality in the bottle.  With respect to Grenache in particular, Yalumba owns some of the oldest Grenache vineyards in the Barossa Valley; the fruit sourced for this bottle was planted between 1898 and 1973.  Vines that pre-date your great-grandparents used for a $22 wine!  Yalumba is also the only winery in the Southern Hemisphere to have their own cooperage, so they select and import oak and then toast it to their liking and make their own barrels.  Cool.

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This is an interesting one.  2014 wasn’t a particularly cold year in the Barossa, which earns its reputation as a hot-climate region and is the birthplace of some of the biggest, boldest, ripest, booziest Shiraz out there.  And yet the 2014 Yalumba OBV Grenache is only 13% alcohol, a full degree and a half down from the 2013’s 14.5%.  Vintage variation like that is also not something often seen in wines at this price level, and this massive change results in a whole new style of wine.  You may not be surprised to learn that the Old Bush Vines Grenache is grown on old bush vines, gnarled standalone plants untethered to any trellis, not set out nicely in rows but instead strewn haphazardly across the vineyard like miniature trees.  The wine is made in batches using wild yeasts; some batches see the stems left on the grapes for added texture, while some batches are given an extended 3+ month maceration on their skins after fermentation for extra complexity.

Stelvin Rating: 6.5/10 (I like the Y, and it's not black. Win.)

Stelvin Rating: 6.5/10 (I like the Y, and it’s not black. Win.)

Grenache doesn’t tend to be deep and dark in colour, but even taking that into account, this wine was still an amazingly pale pinkish ruby hue, fully transparent throughout and nearly rose-like at the faded rim.  The nose crosses New World/Old World lines, cutting Grenache’s trademark candied red fruit (strawberry, Grenadine, cherry Halls) with herbal and medicinal aromas (sage and menthol and liniment) and a touch of the exotic (incense and sandalwood).  The defining characteristic of the 2014 OBV is its light, cloudy, almost puffy texture, like drinking cotton balls.  The wine’s fairly understated acid and tannin levels make for an almost gravity-free drinking experience, turning this into an airy, pleasing red that goes down all too easily on its own.  The lower alcohol and resulting sense of restraint in this Grenache comes across clearly on the palate, where the cherry and raspberry fruit doesn’t dominate and secondary flavours like blood orange, rose petals, cinnamon and even a touch of rockiness carry the day.

I lose the wine a little bit on the finish, as it is lacking a bit of the structure needed to guide it home, but all told it is a highly enjoyable bottle, a by-the-glass aperitif winner, and a clear reminder not to judge a wine book by its cover (or the statement of provenance on its label).  This is a bold stylistic direction for Barossa Grenache, but it goes to show that wines from this area can be successful without being full throttle.  All hail Grenache!

87+ points

$20 to $25 CDN

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Not wholly accurate, as some even older vines find their way into this bottle too.

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