2020 Borsao Clásico Garnacha

November, another month and another six bottles from the empire of Dan. One old shop in the inner Melbourne suburb of Prahran that became a nationwide stupor market. Escaped this time with six bottles for $96. Immediately ready to go, nuts, spice and sweet cherry and berries with a swell of perfumed ripe fruit to finish. Just medium bodied and gently washy. Countered with a meaty and rocky drying skin tannin and firm acidity. Second day the meaty element becomes a more sulphide driven bitterness. Borsao have some great fruit of immense ripeness and a little sulphide can add a savoury note to stop the surge of sweet berries from overwhelming. Some will find this an attractive balance. For me just too bitter and recent Borsao bottles have just got more reductive over a couple of years. The sort of nitrogen deficit that can be fixed with a bit of winery fiddling. Or work in the vineyard a better option? It was a delicious drink when first opened and great value. Bit silly to over analyse such simple cheap pleasure at the table really.

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $8.95 in a six.

90 points day one, 88 day two.

2019 Pala i fiori Cannonau di Sardegna

A friend who’s much more energetic when it comes to battling those free retail tastings thoughtfully emailed his view of a Prince Wine Store event in deepest South Melbourne. The theme was wine from the European islands. What about Grenache from Sardinia I demanded? Seems there was some Cannonau as it is called thereabouts I was corrected. They included a not too bad one from a maker named Pala. New one for me I, my failing memory blanked. That’s two memory lapses about very important wine things. I should also pay more attention to bids at auction. Amongst them was this bottle from Pala, a welcome sort of coincidental memory fart for once. Just medium weight, a little developed, there were cherry syrup and red fruit things. A good clean crunch of, here we go again, rocky earthy minerals. I’m heartened proper describers of wine sometimes resort to those vague words. The earthy combination of flavour and texture seemed nicely sweet too. Lower acidity and glycerol smooth gave the feeling of gentle but still strong fruit quality. Nonetheless, a savoury tilt and those rocks made me think more of Spain than the Rhone or South Australia. Time for more Grenache journeys.

13.5% alcohol. Nomacorc sugar cane seeking closure. $22 at auction which is a bit less than retail. Phew.

91 points.

2029 Xavier Vignon Côtes du Rhône Grenache Vieilles Vignes

Say bonjour to M. Vignon from Avignon, maybe not from there really but close enough. There’s a natty photo of him on the web wearing a very stylish pink shirt with the classic French écharpe or foulard looped and the ends pushed through. Trés chic. Certainly a brand with an eye to self promotion. I do wonder which of those two words word do the French use most for scarf? Seems wearing one is de rigeur from September to June, so they must buy a lot of them. The label claims organic and vegan. Dead little yeast beasties and vineyard insects notwithstanding of course and by the look of him, I bet you M. Vignon’s not a vegan. The last of July’s Dan Murphy direct import random buy and again it’s no disaster. Spotlessly clean, fresh and bright. Lots of dried woody herbs, crunch of red berries and cherries, peanuts and that garrigue on a warm day thing. Second day and it’s a bit quieter but there’s good tart red fruit still, verging on rhubarb. The ripe stalks are more prominent, a touch of sourness rubbing up against the fruit well and carrying the end with a pleasant but firm astringency. Not quite a repeat buy but the bottle emptied at a steady rate with some good food. Didn’t wear my scarf though.

14.5% alcohol and not too prominent. Screw cap. $20.90.

90 points but probably 91 day two.

2020 Bodegas Borsao Vina Borgia Organic Garnacha

Another from the July Dan’s import selection. This one is first one on the left in the photo. Spanish Grenache is always a good place to find value but recently there’s been more sulphide reduction and this is already showing that box of spent matches smell. Hope it doesn’t go the way of Borsao’s recent vintage Tres Lagunas. If it does, it’ll be clearance special at a giveaway price too. Happily the reduction clears and it’s crisp Spanish Garnacha as we know it. Mid weight, tart dark berries and a rocky cut of fine skin tannin. The difference to good clean Rhône versions is noticeable. More sharp red fruit compôt, less Rhône sweet jammy berries. More austere cut, less soft chocolate tannin perhaps. Enjoy the freshness now maybe before it gets too volcanic? Nonetheless a sense of good fruit and place for not much, although there’s no reference to Borja on the label. A rebuy, maybe, probably not.

14.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $12.

88 points but needs air now.

2016 Domaine Leon Barral Faugères

The usual trawl of the auction website and a new producer, yet the label looks vaguely familiar. Maybe a memory nudge from times inhabiting those cavistes of baffling choices in Paris. It’s been a while since the last happy browse with data charged mobile google capabilities. There’s some good words about M. Barral. True artisan with old vines in places where they’re happy and no social media. Lots of old vine Carignan here, half the blend with the rest Grenache and Cinsault. It was a bit pongy to open. My first couple of sniffs had me thinking of the sweet earthy smell of well tended farmyard. In one of those lovely moments of shared olfactory recognition, my dearest reckoned, “this smells just like a farmyard but in a really good way”. Much cleaner to taste. High tones of lavender, Mediterranean scrubby bits, and very ripe, squished up berries. Powerful tug of fine limestone tannin. It’s odd how wine brings rocks to mind, it’s a struggle to put it any other way. As it airs, beguiled by cool sweet berries, sweet roast meat, dark but bright with mouthwatering acidity and more of that limestone tannin. A natural wine feel, close to the edge but no wobble, just standing with feet firmly planted in the soil.

14% alcohol. Cork. $47 at auction.

94 points.

2018 Head Old Vine Grenache

Seems like this could be the best Barossa Grenache I’ve encountered. Depth, complexity and composure. Started a bit reserved and really needed its day of sucking in air. Nutty and twiggy with stalks perhaps? Haze of smoky reduction cleared to a sweep of ripe dark cherry, the Barossa carbon of a dusty coal cellar, sort of vermouth herb cut and fruit and nut chocolate. The more air and the more distinguished in its class it becomes. Beautiful fruit and sweet earth shaped by sweet skin tannin and just the right amount of refreshing acidity. Sinew and flesh. Would give the best CNdP a shove. Worthy.

14.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $38 at auction.

95 points.

2016 Domaine la Soumade Rasteau Cuvée Confiance

In the early 2000s, I fell for the warm, rich and fruity embrace of Grenache blends from the villages just east of Orange. The deeply ripe summer pudding fruit in Marcel Richaud’s Cairannes was love at first sniff thanks to a wine shop in Avignon not letting me leave without a 1998 version. An inevitable holiday pilgrimage luckily led to a pretty bed and breakfast in Rasteau, just up the road from M. Richaud. Soumade was a recommendation from the list in a local bistro. Too late sadly to fit in a visit but a lasting impression. When this came up at auction, a relatively modest bid led to a happy meander down the retronasal lane of memory. 80% Grenache, the rest Syrah. A little reduction was quick to clear, leaving fresh liqueur cherry, sappy mint to freshen with a dusting of fine cocoa dryness. Of a whole but many parts, fennel turning to aniseed anchored by carbon darkness and meaty pan juices. Traditionally dry tannin, just enough acid to balance and meticulously clean. Love the simple old elegance of the label too.

14.5% alcohol but not hot. Cork. About $40 at auction.

94 points.

2019 KÁRMÁN Rioja

A few weeks without a post. Laziness most likely but the release from pandemic lockdown was a curtain lifted on a forgotten world of friends across the table, modest travel and a bit of discombobulation with the whole thing. There was also an accumulation of bottles that were good enough the first time round to warrant a repeat, often just as good as the first review suggested. Maybe the best measure of how good something tastes is best calibrated by how keenly another bottle is sought. This one almost gets there. Well, it is mostly Grenache grown in Rioja of which there should be more. A bit of Tempranillo too. It’s fresh, bright and clean. Pot pourri, red fruits and peanuts. Rich but only medium bodied with whole berry brewing lift. Warming pepper, cut with a touch of meat and smoke reduction all nicely bound together with juicy acidity and fine grape skin texture. The Kármán line is the theoretical boundary between the earth’s atmosphere and space, funny what you learn on back labels these days. The front label cheerfully reminds me of the spaced out adventures available in Spain these days.

14.5% alcohol. Diam. Probably not stratospherically priced.

90 points but joyful.

2019 Aurkitu Garnacha Viñas Viejas Baja Montana Navarra DO

Just when I think I’ve exhausted the Spanish Grenache options on the shelves of Dan Murphy’s another one appears. This one’s a softly spoken but confident. Restrained aromas of clean fruit, kirsch, peanuts, roses, lipstick kiss, very ripe strawberries, carried by just so acidity and a lick of ripe tannin. Improved over a day or two, the rose perfume became a heady faded velvet red flower, the peanuts more of a wide umami, the red fruits richer but still composed. All sitting on a bed of wet slate, er…mineral, that word again. From a warmer part of Navarra it seems and not surprisingly sits comfortably between the grunt of Borja and the airiness of Gredos. These Garnachas must be selling well as Dan’s have quite a few; this better than most, albeit $10 more. Still great value. Viva Garnacha.

13.5% Diam. $26.99, $10 to $15 cheaper than an equivalent CdR Villages.

93 quite self possessed points.

2017 Celler Piñol Raig de Raïm Garnatxa Cariñena Terra Alta DO

Yet another one of those Catalan Grenaches with some Carignan from a DO close to the wonderful Priorat for a lot less. This was a staff pick at a good local wine shop I keep forgetting about. McCoppins on the traffic sewer that’s Johnston Street in old Fitzroy for those familiar with Melbourne. Extremely familiar for the moment due to lockdown walks with lots fewer motors clogging the asphalt. Breathe more easily. Developing smells of old leather furniture, dark cherries with a balsamic tang, roasting pan juices and, yes, the sooty old fireplace detail of that beautiful, rugged landscape. One day I’ll get there. There’s ripe plums and peanuts from Grenache to freshen a mouthful with well mingled very ripe tannin and just enough acidity. Probably as good as it will get with a little bottle age. Heartwarming wine for quiet times as we wait for better news. Went back for another masked browse and all gone. Time passes, shelves empty and fill with something new to enjoy.

14% alcohol. Cork. $20.

91 points, baby Priorat.

A quick note on the Piñol next level up 2017 Sa Natura Terra Alta. Sadly one of those more expensive bottles where oak means more money. Already of the view that Grenache and oak are unhappy together, the same seems to apply to Carignan. The fruit seems about the same quality as Raig de Raïm but as it’s subdued by sooty, nutty oak to smell and the palate’s splintered by wood tannin, I definitely prefer the cheaper option. Yet another where less in the making is more in the tasting. There’s half a bottle to go too.

87 points.