Clarendon Hills Kangarilla Grenache 2004 Tasting Notes
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Clarendon Hills Kangarilla Grenache 2004 Tasting Notes

Any New World winemaker who produces a Grenache-based wine (and this is 100%) is automatically on my radar. I adore the grape, in France or in Spain (as Garnacha), for its friendly fruitiness and ability to bring exotic places into my tasting room, but you just don't see much of it in either California or Australia. Trust a maverick like Roman Bratasiuk to produce a definitive Grenache in South Australia's McLaren Vale (an area better known for Cabernet and Syrah, which Bratasiuk also produces). The man's standards are exacting: hand-pruned dry-farmed bush vines, hand-picked single-vineyard grapes, wild yeast fermentation, extended maceration, no fining or filtering, maturation for 18 months in carefully culled French oak. These specifications may be formidable, but the wine itself exceeds them.

The $61 Kangarilla is one of five Grenache wines Bratasiuk produces at Clarendon Hills. They are all 100% varietals, as are the winery's Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah offerings. Bratasiuk's use of the term Syrah instead of the usual Australian term Shiraz reveals, in fact, a bit of his independent nature; he is also an admirer of things, and wines, French. As such, producing wines that may be termed “tannic New World fruit bombs” does not interest him. Eschewing the domestic Australian market, he exports most of his wines, with the United States a prime market. Australia's loss is our gain, of course; we get to divide about 500 cases of the Kangarilla.

Grenache is a wine you can truly enjoy, without the philosophical commitment demanded by a Cabernet or even a Syrah, and this wine fills the bill, although at rather a high level as vinous toys go. The wine is a deep, nearly opaque purple, bringing confident aromas of raspberry, strawberry and blackberry to the nose, with eucalyptus, black pepper, licorice and floral notes. This is deep, ripe, honest fruit, thick and concentrated, but far from jammy. The flavor notes are similar. You can actually get your teeth into just picked fruit, chew on the flesh, access the hard-working acidity. The tannins are firm, ripe, and well integrated. It all makes for delicious fun.

Though the Kangarilla is in all respects dry, it expresses sweet spice (something exotic, like cardamom) and the concentration you get in the best candied fruit, especially on the long finish. I was left with what I call a “summer feeling,” the result of a lazy walk, a chance encounter with a pristine berry bush, stained and sated lips and fingers. It takes dedication and probity on the part of the winemaker to allow the taster this sort of reverie. It all leaves me thankful Bratasiuk is an obvious believer in Grenache.

Verdict: An achievement
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In a world that tends to offer more of the same, I am always on the lookout for that fleeting dose of originality.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


Roman Bratasiuk
Winemaker Roman Bratasiuk of Clarendon Hills.

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