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Jancis Robinson.com reports on the Symposium…

G-Day at the Grenache Symposium
7 Jun 2010 by Julia Harding MW
The most astonishing part of this weekend’s Grenache Symposium, held at the remote and beautiful La Verrière property dentelles_de_montmirail.jpgin the southern Rhône, was the congregation who came to pay homage to Grenache, the grape which Jancis described five years ago as ‘ripe for re-evaluation’.

On Saturday, 270 delegates from 23 different countries sat for several hours in a very hot marquee under the beating sun (even hotter with a laptop on your lap) to hear the conclusions from the various panels of wine’s great and good  - scientists, viticulturists, winemakers, press, on-trade, retailers who had talked all day Friday - and then taste, in equally heated and crowded conditions, from among the 100 or so Grenache or Grenache-based wines selected from around the world. The list of delegates at the end of the article may not be complete as it was compiled a few days before the event but it gives a good idea of who was there.

Before all this, on the Friday evening at a small tasting and dinner at La Nerthe in Châteauneuf (a bonus for a lucky group of Symposium participants including me), hosted by the reserved but charming chief winemaker and director Christian Voeux, who was unphased by Torbreck’s Dave Powell’s brief display, towards the end of dinner, of the logo from a Scandinavian restaurant hot-iron-branded on his rear.* I was delighted to sit next to Telmo Rodriguez, who has recently returned to Rioja, where he and his sister have taken over the family domaine Remelluri from their father. There they have some fabulous old-vine Garnacha planted at 600 metres above sea level that has been harvested in some vintages as late as mid November. He talked with what I can only describe as affection about his Garnacha vineyards in Cebreros, in the southern part of the Castilla y Leon region. His two Pegaso wines, Granito and Barrancas de Pizarro, were some of the best examples of Garnacha that I tasted over the weekend. (Incidentally, Rodríguez has an excellent website - great information, succinct and well designed, great pictures.)

*It’s a long story, which I won’t go into, but suffice to say that Powell’s wines, notably Torbreck Les Amis 2001 Barossa and The Steading 1998 Barossa, were a much prettier sight, both were silky, fresh and still very youthful. (I remember being impressed by the subtlety of his Grenache-based reds and whites when I was there last year after the Landmark tutorial.)

It was a great pleasure to meet consultant winemaker Zelma Long, who was inducted into the US Hall of Fame earlier this year, along with Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, who was also at the Symposium, though I didn’t get a chance to talk to him until the security queue at Marseille airport. His presentation of the work done by the winemaking panel debating the art of good Grenache was characteristically articulate, urbane and witty. Soil scientists and terroir specialists Claude and Lydia Bourguignon introduced me to their son Emmanuel, not long back from a PhD in New Zealand and now working with them at LAMS, their soil analysis lab north of Dijon. He kindly and patiently allowed me to take him to a marginally quieter corner of the noisy and crowded lunch/tasting area to explain Grenache’s like and dislikes in the vineyard (future grape book always in mind), along with a much better understanding of subsoil structures. I loved his comment that vines with shallow roots simply ’surf the terroir’.

The noise just about defeated Rhône oenologist Georges Truc in his attempt to present the range of terroirs in Gigondas, though I did just have time to taste four 2006 examples from very different soils/subsoils and was particularly taken by La Bouissière 2006 Gigondas grown on the Cretaceous layers of limestone and calcareous clay - spicy, elegant and very finely textured tannins.

Montserrat Nadal Roquet-Jalmar, professor of viticulture at the University of Tarragona, graciously held back from lunch to talk to me about how and when tannins polymerise in the grape and how the climate affects those processes. Fiercely complicated but helped by a little diagram and the promise of some research papers to follow.

The early evening tasting was a physical challenge in the extreme - more than one hundred wines, including great examples from the Rhône and all around the world, not enough spittoons and about twice as many people as originally planned for. But the wines were kept cool by regular dips in the ice buckets. You just had to watch your feet and legs as the low-sided floor-spittoons started splashing back … (Very glad I was wearing a short skirt and flip-flops.)

Enthusiasm and noise levels were both extremely high. I didn’t get a chance to taste Eben Sadie’s wines from South Africa (they ran out on the Friday night) but Terroir al Limit, Les Manyes 2007 Priorat, his joint venture with Dominik Huber, was beautifully fresh and all the more attractive in not trying too hard to please. At the Saturday night dinner, the air cooling a little by 9 pm, I found myself on the same table as Sadie, Huber and Lionel Gauby (apperently overnighting under the stars in the grounds of La Verrière), who plied the table with a range of recent Domaine Gauby wines. Unfortunately I was driving so tasted rather than drank but the rest of the table became pretty raucous to match the frequency of the toasts. Terroir al Limit’s olive oil was also pretty special.

D’Arenberg’s Chester Osborn was in fine form throughout the weekend (wild shirt company still gestating), as was his just-bottled, perfumed, fresh and juicy single-vineyard old-vine Blewitt Springs Grenache 2009 McLaren Vale. Nearby was Vincent Avril, whose Clos des Papes 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape was another one of my favourite wines of the tasting.

Shortly before leaving on Sunday morning (I had to miss the picnic/pizza lunch and relaxing round the pool that was tantalisingly in the programme for later in the day), I snuck back before official opening hours to the super-organised tasting store and managed, with the help of the tastings supremo Clive Barlow MW, to taste a few wines I had missed the night before, including Norrel Robertson MW’s lovely El Escocés Volante wines from Calatayud.

One last wine I must mention: Domaine Viret, Amfora, a 2009 100% Grenache vin de table, tasted with winemaker Philippe Viret just before I left on Sunday morning. Their other wines fall within the Côtes du Rhône-Villages St-Maurice appellation but this does not qualify because it is fermented and aged in clay amphorae, made locally to their own design and using mostly clay from their own estate. The fruit quality - intensity, purity, depth and freshness - was breathtaking. The white Grenache made in amphorae was lovely too, less astringent than some whites made with long skin maceration, but less concentrated than the red. See their website for more information.

One of the points emphasised again and again during the feedback from the panels was the versatility of Grenache, not least because it comes in three colours, Noir, Blanc and Gris, and also makes very good rosé while you are waiting for the vines to mature. And there were some excellent Grenache-based whites in the various tastings, notably Hervé Bizeul’s Cuvée des Fées, Vieilles Vignes Grenache Blanc 2009 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes and Gauby, Coume Gineste 2002 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes. I love the slightly grainy texture of the best whites that combine rather delicate aromas (pear, sometimes white blossom) and then more savoury, dry flavours with great depth and surprising freshness, making them such good food wines. At the La Nerthe dinner, their single-vineyard white La Nerthe, Clos de Beauvenir 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape was starting to show a lightly oxidative nutty character but was still fresh with flavours of pear and apricot. However, there was so much to say about the reds that I felt that whites and rosés got rather short shrift during the Symposium.

I hope to provide a bit more detail on the panel discussions and the action plans they came up with to turn the discussions into effective ways to value and promote this ‘girl next door’ variety (a phrase attributed to journalist Tim Atkin MW but much re-used, and no doubt re-tweeted, during the event). One thing that came up time and again was the need to serve the red wines at the right temperature. Vincent Avril suggested pouring at 15-16 °C, based on the likelihood that the wines will warm up in the glass. Certainly the wines in our tastings that had just been cooled showed best. I took various pictures of the panels but particularly liked this one of (left to right) UK journalist Sarah-Jane Evans MW, Chester (d’Arenberg) Osborn and Walter McKinlay of Domaine Mourchon (and co-organiser) because it gives an idea of the atmosphere of the weekend.

Interestingly the subject of high alcohol levels was often mentioned but generally not discussed in detail by the panels, or at least that was the impression from the feedback, almost as if they considered it a red herring. The consensus among producers seemed to be that since Grenache has naturally high sugar levels when picked fully ripe, when the aromas and flavours have developed to perfection and tannins are supple, Grenache wines are best at anywhere between 14 and 16%. If the wine is balanced, then the alcohol will not be an issue, and if you want to reduce the alcohol, then better to blend with another variety than to try to remove the alcohol artificially, eg by spinning cone or reverse osmosis. Professor of Oenology at Montpeller SupAgro Alain Razungles dazzled the audience with the science of aroma development in the grape and during fermentation but I’m not sure that his pragmatic suggestion of adding a little water to the glass to reduce the alcohol was quite so well received.

In the light of Jancis’s recent article on old vines and our first steps towards an old vine register, it was encouraging that several people pointed out what a high proportion of the world’s fine old vines are Grenache - partly explained by the fact that this vine variety has very tough wood and has good resistance to diseases of the wood as well as a naturally strong rooting system, as Emmanuel Bourguignon told me. And talking of old vines reminds me of the fabulous Hill of Grace vineyard in Eden Valley, so carefully stewarded by Prue and Stephen Henschke, who contributed their Grenache wisdom in characteristically modest but convincing style. Their Johann’s Garden 2005 Barossa was the first wine I tasted on arrival late Friday afternoon - rich, smooth, with lots of sweet red fruit, a juicy freshness and a spicy aftertaste that made me feel very welcome.

The congregation agreed that what really mattered was to find ways to help consumers recognise, enjoy and appreciate Grenache, by highlighting the quality and increasing the number of top-end wines, by revealing on labels its significance in wines of the southern Rhône, where it is hidden behind appellation names, and by generally talking it up for those qualities which are not combined in any other variety, for example: versatility, reliability, accessibility, ability to age, its complex and attractive aroma and flavour profile of red and dark fruit, supple tannins, silky texture. Not to mention it’s generally reasonable price, though perhaps that will change if the Symposium has its way.

Nicole Rolet, owner of La Verrière and director of the Symposium, was given a standing ovation at the end of the Saturday feedback sessions, a tribute to her dedication to the cause over the last nine months and the fabulous organisation and team that created the weekend. Such is the enthusiasm generated that there are plans for a website, a book, maybe even a screenplay …

Symposium participants

Tim Atkin …………………………………. Wine Critic and Columnist, The Times/UK
Vincent Avril……………………………….Producer/Clos de Papes/Châteauneuf-du-Pape/FR
Charles Back …………………………….. Producer/Fairview/SA
Eddie Cheung………………………………Wine critic and Importer / Winespace / CH
Marie-Louise Banyols ……………….. Group Head of Wines Selection - Lavinia /SP
Clive Barlow MW ………………………. Chairman/Education Committee IMW/UK
Hervé Bizeul ……………………………… Producer and Blogger /Clos des Feìes/ Roussillon/FR
Merete Bo …………………………………..Wine writer/National Newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv /NOR
Claude & Lydia Bourguignon ……. Terroir and Climate Warming Specialists - LAMS/FR
Emmanuel Bourguignon ……………… Soil microbiologist and Oenologist- LAMS/FR
Erik Brasher …………………………… Director of Winemaking/Owen Roe Winery/Oregon/US
Daniel Brunier…………………………..Producer/Vieux Télégraphe/CdP/FR
Bernard Burtschy ……………………… Wine writer/Le Figaro/FR
Philippe Cambie ……………………….. Oenologist and Wine Consultant- S Rhone & Priorat/FR
Pancho Campo ………………………….. President of Wine Academy of Spain/SP
Christopher Cannan …………………. Founder of Europvin Fine Wine and Producer Clos Figueras/SP
Michel Chapoutier ……………………. President & Winemaker/M Chapoutier/FR
Dr Isabelle Cutzach-Billard ……….. Dr of Oenology/Oenologue Conseil/Laboratoire Rière/FR
Rodolphe De Pins……………………… Producer/Château Montfaucon/FR
Thomas Dormegnies………………….Oenologist/Pépinières Viticoles Merciers/FR
Mary Dowey………………………….…Wine Writer/The Gloss Magazine/Decanter/IRE
Abi Duhr………………………………..Oenologist and Owner of Château Pauqué /Luxembourg
Bernard Duseigneur …………………… Producer/Domaine Duseigneur/Lirac/FR
Tomoko Ebisawa ………………………. Senior Editor, Vinotheque Wine & Food Magazine/JPN
Sarah Jane Evans MW ……………….. Wine writer/BBC Good Food/Decanter/UK
Philippe Faure-Brac …………………… Best sommelier of the world 1992/FR
Michael Fridjhon ………………………. Wine journalist and critic/SA
Ralph Garcin …………………………….. Oenologist/Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné/ Rhône/FR
Nancy Gilchrist MW ………………….. Christie’s Education and Leith’s School of Food & Wine/UK
Lisa Granik MW ………………………… Manager of Fine Wine / Charmer-Sunbelt/US
Randall Grahm ………………………….. Producer/Bonny Doon Vineyard/Santa Cruz/US
Philippe Guillon ………………………… Reidel Glasses/ AU
Jean-Michel Guiraud …………………… Director of Communications/Inter-Rhône/FR
Yair Haidu………………………………Wine writer and creator/Haidu.net /FR/EU
Julia Harding MW……………………..Editor/www.jancisrobinson.com/UK
Prue Henschke………………………..Viticulturist/Henschke/Eden Valley/ AU
Stephen Henschke ……………………. Producer/Henschke/Eden Valley AU
Dean Hewitson …………………………. Producer/Hewitson/Barossa Valley/AU
Olivier Hickman……………………….. Wine Uncovered/FR
Huon Hooke …………………………Wine Writer,Judge; Winner 2007 Australian Wine Communicator Award (The Wine Press Club)/AU
Dominik Huber …………………………. Producer/Terroir Al Limit/Priorat/SP
Yukari Iwashiro ………………………… Wine Journalist and Educator/JPN
Robert Joseph …………………………… Winemaker/Consultant & Wine Writer/Meininger’s Wine Business Wine Writer/UK/GERM
Eugenia Keegan …………………………. Vigneron and Importer/Distributor/US
Rosa Kruger ……………………………… Viticulturist/Anthonij Rupert Wines/SA
Olivier Legrand ………………………….. General Marketing Manager/Inter-Rhône/FR
Amy Lillard……………………………… Producer/La Gramière/St. Quentin-la-Poterie/FR
Zelma Long ………………………………. Oenologist/US
Jorge Lucki ……………………………….. Wine journalist/ Jornal Valor /Brazil
Kelly McAuliffe …………………………. Sommelier/formerly Ducasse/Las Vagas/Christian Etienne/FR
Lisa McGovern……………………………. Wine Australia UK/EU/IRE Director/UK
Euan McKay ………………………………..Wine Merchant/AU
Doug Margerum ……………………….. Winemaker/Margerum Wines/The Wine Cask/Santa Barbara/US
François Mauss ………………………… Président and Founder of the Grand Jury Européen/CH
Walter McKinlay……………………….. Producer/Domaine de Mourchon/FR
Neal Martin ………………………………. Wine Writer/ eParker.com/UK
Debra Meiburg MW …………………… Wine Commentator and TV Presenter/HK
Charles Metcalfe ………………………. Wine writer & Co-Chairman IWC/UK
Prof Montse Nadal ……………………. Prof of Oenology/URV Tarragona/SP
Rebecca Murphy ……………………….. Freelance wine writer/The Dallas Morning News/US
Camille Nosworthy …………………….. Domaine St Amand/Suzette/FR
Ray O’Connor…………………………….. Wine Writer/IWC/UK
Chester Osborn……………………….Chief Winemaker/Viticulturalist/d’Arenberg/McLaren Vale/AU
Alvaro Palacios …………………………. Producer/ Bodegas Palacio et al/Priorat/SP
Pierre Perrin ……………………………… Chief Winemaker/Chateau de Beaucastel/ Perrins et Fils/FR
Alessio Planeta …………………………. Producer/Planeta/IT
Dave Powell ……………………………… Founder and Chief Winemaker/Torbeck/Barossa Valley/AU
Ed Proctor …………………………………. Rhone Wines Importer/La Cigale Wines/US
Prof Alain Razungles ………………… Oenology Prof/SupAgro Montpellier/FR
Georg Riedel …………………………….. Corporate Head/Reidel Glasses/AUSTRIA
Christophe Riou ……………………….. Dir. Scientifique/Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin/FR
Michel Richaud………………..…… Producer/Domaine Richaud/Cairanne/FR
Dale Robertson………………………. Wine writer/Houston Chronicle/US
Norrel Robertson MW……………….Consultant Winemaker/Denominacion de Origen Calatayud/SP
Nicole Rolet……………………………. Producer/Chêne Bleu Wines/FR
Telmo Rodriguez ……………………… Producer/ Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez/SP
Christophe Sabon …………………….. Producer/Domaine de la Janasse/CdP/FR
Eben Sadie ………………………………… Producer/The Sadie Family/SA
Mark Savage MW ………………………. Chief Executive / Savage Selection/Fine Wine Importer/UK
Peter Schulz………………………… Producer/Turkey Flat Vineyards/ Barossa Valley/AU
Julia Sevenich …………………………… Wine Journalist/AUSTRIA
Reva Singh ……………………………….. Owner & Publisher of Sommelier India/India
Doug Skopp ……………………………… Wine Importer/Dionysus/Texas/US
Vicki Stephens-Clarkson……………… Wine Buyer/Liberty Wines and IWC Judge/UK
Nick Thompson ………………………… Domaine de L’Ameillaud/Cairainne /FR
Georges Truc………………………….. .Terroirs Specialist/Université Lyon /FR
Quim Vila………………………………… Founder and CEO of Vila Viniteca/Fine Wine Distributor/SP
Christian Voeux……………………….. Producer/Château La Nerthe/CdP/FR
Michel Veyrier………………… Manager/ Vignobles Investissement/FR



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