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What our expert thought of Bethany, 'g6', old-vine Grenache

about this wine About this wine
South Australia's famous Barossa Valley is home to some of the oldest vines in the world. Some date back to 1857 and many are over a century old. Although the ancient Shiraz vines get most of the attention, those early settlers planted just as much Grenache and a lot of it is still there.
Old vines are more drought-resistant and less productive, producing fewer but more concentrated grapes that ripen earlier and more reliably. Grenache has a tendency to overcrop, which the reduced yields from old vines naturally counteracts.
The Schrapel family arrived in the Barossa in the 1840s and settled in Bethany, then the region's only settlement. In 1852 they planted their first vineyard. Today Bethany Wines is owned and run by the 5th and 6th generation of the family (that's what the g6 in the name means.)
The gnarled old bush vines used to produce this wine are between 50 and 120 years old, and are all grown on their own roots. The root-eating Phylloxera louse never reached the Barossa, which is a major reason why the vines here are so old. In most of the rest of the world, the solution to the Phylloxera epidemic that started in the mid-19th century was (and still is) to graft cuttings of classic European vines onto the roots of American vine species which are naturally resistant to the pest. The sick old vines were grubbed up and the vineyards replanted with grafted vines, or just abandoned to die.
So here we get to taste a piece of history: wine made from ancient vines grown the same way as Europe's vines were 200 years ago, before the advent of Phylloxera.
the tasting The Tasting
The first thing that strikes me about this wine is how pale it is! It's a lovely pale garnet colour. Swirling it shows up obvious "legs" clinging to the glass - a sign of its high 14.5% alcohol.
There's a beguiling nose of old polished leather, dried fruit, nuts, and sweet spice. There's also quite a lot of smoky, resinous oak, but it isn't the vanilla and coconut usually found on oaked reds. Instead this reminds me of the classy and more subtle oak found on high-end white burgundies.
In fact, this looks and smells a lot like a 10-yr-old tawny port or a fortified Vin Doux Naturel from France's Roussillon - a Banyuls or a Maury - which are also based on Grenache. But it doesn't taste like one. The palate is completely dry, which comes as a surprise after the nose. There's low-to-medium acidity, very soft tannins and a full body, with warm, mouth-filling flavours of dried fruit (figs and raisins) and walnuts, leading to a long, smoky finish. Unusual, but lovely.
The thin-skinned Grenache produces pale wine with a tendency to oxidise. Pale reds are - unfairly - harder to sell, so winemakers typically try to overcome that with long macerations to extract more colour, and by blending in a bit of something really dark. (In much of the wine world, the law allows a 'single varietal' to contain up to 10% of other grape varieties without having to declare them on the label.) Those winemakers would then practise rigid exclusion of air during the aging process, to preserve that colour and to prevent any oxidised flavours from developing.
Bethany have instead chosen the celebrate this grape's unique character by using 100% Grenache fruit and a moderate 5-day maceration, followed by long barrel-aging in older oak barrels, to produce this pale, oxidative style that stays true to the grape. The cold 2011 vintage has kept the alcohol in check (below 15% is good for old-vine Barossa Grenache!) and retained reasonable acidity. It's rather an old-fashioned style but very appropriate for these extremely old-fashioned vines!

Tasting notes

pale garnet, with obvious legs

Intensity medium+

Aromas old polished leather, dried fruit, nuts and sweet spice, with smoky white-burgundy-style oak

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium-

Body full

Tannin low

Flavours dried fruit (figs and raisins) and walnuts

Length long

Flavours dried fruits, smoke
Other notes
Colour & nose suggest a 10-yr-old Tawny port or a VDN

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