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.

2017 Navaherreros Garnacha de Bernabeleva San Martín de Valdeiglesias Vinos de Madrid DO

Well, that’s what’s on the label. My attempt at understanding is it’s Grenache made by the Bodegas Bernabeleva winery in the village of San Martín of the churches from vines along the Navaherreros road or something like that. Definitely old vines in the Madrid mountains rescued from decrepitude in the mid two thousands and yes, yet another Spanish Garnacha. And, yes, another from the mountains. A wild but pretty perfume of musky red fruits, some very low volume feral notes and some spicy stem lift. Sitting high in the palate, fragrant full flavours of more musk, roses, raspberries and general red fruitiness. Fine drying tannins of bloody stones and filigreed ripe acidity. A final goodbye of a texture that makes me think of pencil shaving grey graphite. Lots of red perfumed fruit and lots of mouth coating fine dusty but sweet astringency. Without the benefit of the label, I may have guessed somewhere between Volnay and Corton, perfume and stoney grip, or maybe Etna, or just wild mountainous Garnacha? Teetering on the precipice but hanging on by sheer fruit quality.

14% alcohol. Cork. $41.

93 points but some technocrats may baulk.

2018 Península Vinicultores Cebreros DOP Sierra de Gredos Garnacha

Seems Cebreros has only been a DOP for a few years such is the very recent appreciation of some old vineyards with altitude. I must admit to a fascination with these almost Pinot Noir like versions of good old reliable Grenache. This one is an absolute winner if you’re finding the Côte d’Or or even Mount Etna are beyond a quotidian pleasure. Light weight in appearance and oddly green, almost Sauv Blanc smelling on opening. Happily the green turns into the fragrant pine needle and menthol fresh air of those Gredos mountains. It really takes two days for the truth to emerge. The stemmy framework persists but a depth of just so ripe fruit floats like a sweet melody. There’s just picked cherries, strawberries and brown spices served as a picnic in a fresh pine forest. A good glug of blood orange juice flavour and acidity to freshen, gripped tight in granite stem tannin. Great wine, beautiful grapes squashed into a Norsca advert in the best possible way. Pure, delicious and so well made it avoids some of the more feral elements of the Gredos natural wine movement. Probably my favourite version so far and one of the best priced. Enjoy the bargain now. Didn’t take long for Etna to find its place on the wine fashion catwalk. Wine so particular to place this good are rare. There again I really like proper Lambrusco, what do I know?

14.5% alcohol and no hint of warmth. Diam, bravo. $32.

94 points.

2020 Bodegas Monte Ory Garnacha Navarra

There’s a few new French, Italian and in this case Spanish direct imports on the shelves of Dan Murphy’s barns at tempting prices. So far about one in three has been interesting and good enough to consider a review and more importantly a rebuy. Unsurprisingly Grenache has featured strongly and when it comes from Navarra it tickles my fancy. This took a while to open up, a bit surly from both recent bottling and shook up after a long sea voyage? With a little patience, smells of musk, roses, strawberries, cherries, nut paste and sweet green herbs emerge. The same sort of light to just medium bodied flavours are cinched by clean fine and ripe acidity with a lovely tug of minerality. Not the most concentrated but delicious fruit for $13. Sort of resembles a basic Gredos altitude Garnacha, no bad thing.

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $12.40 in a six bottle purchase.

90 points, bonus for style and grace.

End of February 2022 and it’s a Dan’s member special, two for $13. Probably the best $6.50 bottle I’ve had for a long time, possibly the only one too. Still pretty brisk with a green edge but tart fresh fruit elbows its way through. Bit of meaty reduction in some bottles but as close to what I like in young Spanish Garnacha as you’ll get for not much. Seems Spain may have been into good Garnacha for a while? Think this sort is best cool and young, like we all were once. Goes extremely well from the fridge with a Sunday night pizza.

Now 91 points

2020 Vinatero Old Vine McLaren Vale Grenache

At the prices Aldi sell their wine, this is indeed a pauper’s Pinot. Initially shows that bubblegum like whole berry carbonic ferment thing, roses, lipstick, cherry juice heading toward kirsch, maybe some sappy stem to cut the fruit sweetness. Grenache suits the Vale so well, naturally hanging onto mouthwatering ripe acidity and a brush of tannin to slice the sweet fruit. Light to barely medium bodied. Really nicely made, a cute wine! Does get a little washy and dilute through the mouth but the perfume resonates and it did hang on over a couple of days without falling apart. Does make you wonder how long bargains like this will continue as McLaren Vale Grenache gets increasingly popular? These relatively small makes of regional specialties may not build a long term brand but they do suit the Aldi way, opportunistically snaffling and putting on the shelf at a price until all gone. Just don’t expect it to be there next time. Good fun for the jaded wine nut.

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $11.99.

90 points.