3.26pm, Thursday 6th February, Eden Valley Road, Angaston, Barossa Valley, SA
Howdy folks, it’s getting really warm this afternoon in the Barossa Valley as we start to build into yet another heatwave of consecutive – starting tomorrow – 40+ degrees C (104 F) days. Fortunately for the grapes out there, we’ve had in the main part really cool nights, so it’s all still looking pretty promising for Vintage 2014 around here. Now i should get to what I’ve been up to the last couple of days. Old vine – and I mean really really old – Grenache. For those folks who haven’t had the chance to fossick about on the Barossa Valley floor off the main road, there’s a whole dose of vineyard planted on a strip of river sand about a mile wide and roughly 2 miles long, which sits between the hamlet of Vine Vale and the two spire township of Light Pass. I’ve been calling this 9 to 12 feet of river sand over red clay ‘the Sandbank’, and it more or less follows Nuraip Road……and looks like this……
So why am I interested in ‘the Sandbank’? Because planted within one mile of each other, theres three different vineyards of seriously old bush vine Grenache, all small blocks, and they’re made separately into single lot wines. And when you put all three single vineyard wines – made in the same vintage year – next to each other, you get three completely different expressions of Grenache…..and I think that goes a long way as just one example that proves without a doubt that the French concept of ‘terroir’ definitely applies to the Barossa.
Which 3 ‘Sandbank’ vineyards am I talking about here? In what I think is the increasing order of palate weight of the wines – firstly from Yalumba, we have a 2 acre block planted in 1889 that sits in the middle of about 42 acres total, called the Yalumba Tricentenary (into the ground in the 19th century, made it through the 20th and into the 21st) Grenache. Secondly, across the road from the Tricentenary is another acre and a half block, owned by our vineyard man Johnny Anderson, planted 1898 and made into the Yalumba ‘Anderson Vineyard’ Single Site Grenache. Thirdly, there’s our next door neighbours the Cirillo family, and they’ve got their ‘1850’ block of Grenache – unique in the Barossa for their traditional plaited cordon bush vines. So here they are – the Tricentenary 1889, the Anderson 1898, and the Cirillo 1850.
OK, so that’s the three old vine Grenache vineyards on the Sandbank, and as you can see, they’re all pretty well going through veraison (that’s colour change for the newer readers, and it’s also where the berry skins start to soften, and we go into that flavour and aroma accumulation part of ripening).
A couple of days ago, I took some of the – as yet unreleased – 2008 Yalumba Tricentenary and 2008 Yalumba ‘Anderson Vineyard’ wines around to the Cirillo family’s place for lunch. For the record, you would NEVER turn down an invitation to a meal in Lena Cirillos kitchen, she is a fabulous cook – proper old school Italian! The best! And, there’s also every chance that Vince will bring out one of his home made sticks of salami – worth stopping by on it’s own. So what we did was try these ‘ Sandbank’ Grenaches – Marco, Vince and Lena Cirillo and I – with home grown baked and basted goat cutlets, roasted potatoes and carrots, and nice thick slices of salami. Yes folks, it was a work day!
So to the wines. Grenache is one of the better kept secrets of the Barossa Valley, and these old vine wines are truly ‘middleweight’ in the boxing sense of the word – they’re not lacking in tone and muscle, it’s just a finer more elegant frame. The thing I’ve always liked about Barossa Grenache is the ‘red fruit over herbal’ thing that they do, plus they tend to ‘prop’ and age quite nicely. So with these three wines, the Tricentenary is more the ‘raspberry over rosemary’ end of the scale, and the Anderson and Cirillo 1850 wines have a bit more of the juicy rounded darker fruit ‘cherry over rosemary’. There’s also a spice component that creeps into the Cirillo 1850 aromatic – Marco calls it the ‘warm cinnamon toast’ thing. With all three wines stored in predominantly old French barriques – they’re a treble that are spot on for lamb – any which way you like it, anything Mediterranean from tomato based pasta dishes to Vinces salami or Spanish chorizo grilled off in chili laced olive oil.