Neil Ellis Grenache and the Sweet Spot

A bunch of Grenache, a lifetime of joy.
A bunch of Grenache, a lifetime of joy.

I never set out to go bananas over Grenache. But perhaps that is what is so wonderful about the search for wine ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ you don’t so much as find great wine as what great wine finds you.
My introduction to Grenache came in the late 1970’s when Nico Myburgh used to serve his own – unlabelled and un-bottled Grenache as a Meerlust house-wine. Not to me, but to my parents, who would offer me the odd sip. I always liked the fact that it was spicy and not too daunting on my uninitiated teenage palate.
During a GAP year in Europe I obviously drank gallons of the stuff in the South of France. On one memorable occasion, whilst playing rugby in Marseilles, we mixed a 10 litre plastic drum of Grenache and Cinsaut with two bottles of gin on the night before a game against a British club and offered it to the Brits to drink during a bout of pre-match festivities. Next day, they were too hung-over to arrive for the game and forfeited.
But I digress. My wine wonderings led me to the Cabs of Simonsberg, Chardonnay of Robertson, Chenin of Stellenbosch and Paarl, as well as ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ when budget allows ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ dabbling in Bordeaux and Burgundy.
A few years ago Pieter de Waal, the Hermit on the Hill, introduced me to his Grenache. And the refreshing differentiation was immediately appealing. Breezy palate weight. Irony and lavender, and a bit of Bouillabaise spice. Something meaty, bloody. Exotically otherwise.
Subsequently I began buying a few Ch?+¦???+¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¬teaneufs from The Wine Cellar that provided great satisfaction.
And earlier this year La Motte’s Shiraz Grenache really blew me away, but did not prepare me for what was to follow.
Look, I know the Piekenierskloof outside Citrusdal well, and there was always something mystical about those gnarled bush-vines growing atop of the Pass. Legend also has it that, with Grenache being a scarce item, winemakers are willing to swop their first-born for a piece of the Piekenierskloof Grenache action.
That there really is something special going on there became apparent last week when I opened Neil Ellis’s Vineyard Selection Grenache (Piekenierskloof) from the 2007 vintage.
I am not talking about a nice wine. Neither one that is very good or, like many others, happened to find the sweet spot between a wine thirst and a good mood. Heck, there wasn’t even a Steely Dan song playing on the stereo when I poured the stuff into a glass the size of Minki van der Westhuizen’s left mammary.
The wine overpowered me on a multi-sensual level.
The beautiful bright garnet colour is ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ to quote Al Stewart ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ “like a water colour running in the rain”. The nose? Forget Chanel No. 5, DKNY or Issy-what’s-his-name. Any woman exuding even the slightest aroma of this Neil Ellis Grenache is in danger or creating near-harassing behaviour from any man worth his salted cashews. It smells of air, dried flowers, Provence herbs and salty suntanned skin.
Having gotten this far, it should come as no surprise to describe the taste as quite pleasant. Rather.
Once again, a breezy and shifty mouth-feel giving you a jaunty prick of tannin here and a sweet fruit core there. Incomparable to any other varietal, but a tip of Pinot Noir Strawberry, nip of Shiraz leather and bout of Cabernet Sauvignon earthiness.
It is delicious, enticing and ultimately drinkable in a dangerously more-ish sort of way. Dangerous only if you are cautious of wines of close on R200 a bottle, that is.
This splendid wine begged the question: what is South African’s Grenache potential? Sure, Neil Ellis is one of the most edgily brilliant wine-makers around whose wines always seem to bear his passion and personality. But with more of this terrific fruit going around, would the large Grenache spectrum not be something to send the industry stratospheric?
Where else in the New World can wines as equally brilliant but physically diverse such as Paul Sauer and Neil Ellis Grenache be made from grapes growing less than 200 km apart?
Questions, questions, but now use fretting over. Tasting wine like this makes you feel as you’ve got all the answers, anyway.

Neil Ellis
Neil Ellis

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3 thoughts on “Neil Ellis Grenache and the Sweet Spot

  1. At last, an ode to Grenache! Oz Clarke calls it “the sex on wheels of the wine world”. SAWIS says, I think, we have about 1000 ha planted, and few seems to know where. ..

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