Home News > September 2019 > GSM – a Grenache and Shiraz Masterclass

With an incredible 12 Gold medals, Aussie Shiraz (and Rhone blends) was one of the star categories from this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards.

We spoke to two experts - Barossa-based winemaker and Shiraz king Ben Glaetzer, and David Gleave, co-founder of Grenache-specialists Willunga in McLaren Vale - to find out how these two varieties have leaped to such a competition-dominating level down under.

Ben Glaetzer, Chairman & Chief Winemaker at Barossa Vintners

‘Please shoot me if I blend it with Viognier…’

Have there been any shifts in the way Shiraz is made over the last ten years?

Winemakers are recognising that Shiraz doesn’t need over-working during fermentation. As a variety it has an inherently high level of extractable colour and tannin, and as such benefits more from a cool, gentle fermentation rather than vigorous plunging/pumping-over etc. This is leading towards a fresher, slightly leaner style.

Are we seeing stronger regional expressions as a result?

Very much so and it’s good to hear that this message is slowly penetrating the Somms. The beauty of the variety is that it has depth of flavour but can be still made to be reserved and representative of the origin of the fruit. The true diversity of styles and expressions is becoming far more evident.

Where do you sit on multi-varietal blends?

I tend to be a bit of a purist with Shiraz as I believe that although it contributes body to a blend its aromatics can be easily dominated by more overtly fragranced varieties. An exception to this, which sounds counterintuitive, is that Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blends can often produce the pinnacle of Australian red wines. Some of the greatest wine produced in the 60’s and onwards from Australia were and still are blends of these two varieties.

And Viognier?

I have been quoted a few times saying that if I ever even consider blending Shiraz with Viognier then I am free to be shot immediately. There are only a couple of very good examples from Australia, the rest… no thanks!

Which, generally, do you think gives you the better wine – a warm vintage or a cooler one?

For Barossa and McLaren Vale I would say warmer provides the best true expression of the region. Canopy care and ensuring enough leaf cover to minimise the risk of sunburnt fruit is imperative though. Cooler vintages in these regions generally result in wines that can have a slightly weedy edge to them. Other regions vary greatly of course.

Are there any upcoming vintages we should look out for that are particularly good/interesting?

2016 and 2018 are standouts. 2017 reds will develop very well but were a little edgy when juvenile.

David Gleave, co-founder, Willunga Wines, McLaren Vale (and head of Liberty Wines)

‘Grenache is now being afforded the respect it deserves…’

Why did you decide to specialise in Grenache?

When we first started Willunga 100 in 2004, we visited lots of vineyards and enquired as to what the old vines were that nobody wanted to show us. ‘Oh, that’s Grenache, but nobody wants that,’ we were told. We decided it would be fun to work with such old vines, and the results spurred us on to take the variety as seriously as it deserves to be taken. 70% of the wines we produce are made from Grenache.

There seems to have been a shift in perception worldwide. Do you think more people are taking it seriously now?

Definitely. In Australia, Grenache is now being afforded the respect it deserves. But in the southern Rhone and Spain it is also being treated with respect due to a realisation that it can produce outstanding wines.

Have the wines changed stylistically, would you say?

Part of the increased popularity of Grenache is due to the fact that it is now being made in a fresher style. The grapes are being picked when they are ripe, but before they are over-ripe, so the aromatics of the variety shine through. And in order to protect these aromatics, producers are more careful about the oak they are using. Oh, and you can’t make good wines if you pick too late and crop too high.

Do you prefer it on its own or blended with Shiraz?

I think it is one of those varieties that can stand on its own, but in McLaren Vale it also works wonderfully with Shiraz. Steve Pannell’s ‘The Vale’ is an outstanding case in point. For me, McLaren Vale is the best region in Australia for Grenache, but certain producers in the Barossa can challenge the best from the Vale.

Click here for all the Aussie GSM medals, plus feedback from the judges.