2023 Thistledown This Charming Man Grenache

I was at a trade tasting recently… a room full of open wines and bright banter. Strategic elbow calibration was required to manoeuvre the room, there was one assignment … to taste all the Chardonnay, Pinot and Grenache in the place. On said journey, one producer stood out, and it wasn’t just the cool labels. These Grenache were stunning, varied and spoke of place.

Thistledown Wines was founded by Giles Cooke MW and Fergal Tynan MW, whose passion is crafting exceptional wines that reflect the unique terroir of McLaren Vale and the varying sub-regions.

These single-site wines are getting a great deal of attention from reviewers, judges and critics alike. I can see why, my suggestion? Grab a few bottles of each and ensure that you find an excuse to open them side by side – an eye-opening exercise. There is an energy, tension and personality you must experience. I am sure these new releases will get more attention as they filter out, so get them now while you can….. Trust Me!

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2023 Thistledown This Charming Man Grenache
Clarendon, McLaren Vale

On a beautiful hillside in the Clarendon sub-region of McLaren Vale sits a remarkable site that has vines 100 years of age. The entire site is dry-grown bush vines and has been farmed by the same family for 3 generations. This wine is sourced from one particular block where the canopy is raised slightly higher above the ground, allowing for better air circulation and increased radiated sunlight.

The fruit was hand-picked and 20% was retained as whole bunches to be placed on the base of a 2ton open fermenter. Wild fermented and gently hand plunged twice a day during active fermentation. Pressed off to 300-litre hogsheads, of which 20% were new.

“The 2023 The Charming Man Single Vineyard Grenache is altogether moodier and darker than the Sands of Time tasted alongside it, but that is not making a comment on “weight” or “density” but rather on character. Here, we have blackberry and mulberry, raspberry pip and star anise, layers of coal dust, dirt and graphite, clove and even nutmeg/cinnamon. The tannins are über fine, chalky, grippy and gently chewy. It is a wonderful thing to experience the “feel” of the wine as much as the taste. Interacting with red wine in this way—and white as well—makes for thrilling drinking. It curls and winds its way through the long finish. It’s super. A pleasure. 96pts – Robert Parker Wine Advocate (Erin Larkin)

It is inescapable, the need to compare the iconic grenache cuvees from this producer. Each superlative, vying for top position with the other each year, the seeding oscillating with vintage vagaries and mood. This is a richer geological mold, more ferrous of make up, resulting in a more ferruginous wine. Still, it’s mid-weighted of feel, due to the inherent freshness and bulletproof tannin profile, rocky and sublime. Thyme, dried lavender, kirsch, cardamon, tamarind and rose water. Exotic and resinous. Not the balletic pirouette of fragrance-meets-freshness of its sibling, necessarily. Yet, there’s more grunt, a little more extract, longer-limbed tannins and so much to believe in. Put this away for six-years and see what happens. I hedge towards magic, once the force-field of tannins settles.96pts – JamesSuckling.com (Ned Goodwin MW)

2023 Thistledown Sands of Time Grenache
Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale

Sourced from one vineyard, planted in 1952, with bush trained vines on pure sand yielding a wine of immense purity and power that is both light and intense at the same time. Hand-picked, on the way up, vinified naturally in concrete and they place whole bunches alternately with de-stemmed fruit to create a layer cake. A very gentle, slow fermentation is followed by maturation in oak and concrete before a careful selection is done, which is then bottled unfined and unfiltered 10 months later.

The 2023 Sands of Time Old Vine Single Vineyard Grenache leads with a floral, fragrant bouquet of Boscobel rose, crushed green (and salted) pistachios, licorice, clove, star anise and cracked fennel seeds. The wine is structurally fine and ductile; the tannins present us with an attractive framework of support and texture. It is gently chewy, layered with tobacco, iron and a hint of boudin noir, or black pudding. (I was recently pulled away from my Northern English roots while in France. We had boudin noir, and it was significantly silkier, fattier, softer and more lustrous than the English version; and to my palate at least, it was far more aligned with wine and nuance.) Suffice to say, this is a super wine, fragrant and detailed, long and complex. Yes!” 97 points – Robert Parker Wine Advocate (Erin Larkin)

There are very few wines that I look forward to more than the top duo of grenache from Thistledown, be it on Australian or international shores. This, from an octogenarian spread of vines, higher up on meager sands flecked with ironstone, peering toward the vast Pacific horizon. The final vintage of a La Nina troika, splaying red-fruit allusions, dried thyme, rose petal, pomegranate and lilac, with a mandala of gritty nigh-on nebbiolo-esque tannins, directing and driving long. The tannins are just a little emaciated, to be churlish. Later-ripening varieties, such as grenache, had their challenges in this vintage, yet this gorgeous rendition virtually transcends them.” 95 points – JamesSuckling.com (Ned Goodwin MW)

2023 Thistledown She’s Electric Grenache
Seaview, McLaren Vale

The gents came across this vineyard in late 2016. Located at the Seaview end of Chapel Hill Rd, its old bush vines were contrasted by a planting of much younger Grenache. Story has it that, half of the vineyard was burned when a bird caught alight on a power line, fell to the ground and set it light! “She’s Electric”.

Dry grown, old bush vines, grown on red-brown sandy loams with quartz and ironstone. The fruit was hand-picked early in the morning before swift transport to the winery where 50% whole bunches were retained. A gentle foot pressing helped establish the wild ferment. Once fermented, the wine was transferred to 500l puncheons & 300 litre used French oak hogsheads where it stayed for 8 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

The palate is complex and complete, with a ductile framework of tannin and lashings of exotic spice, raspberry compote, licorice and black tea. This is a superb wine; it’s rich and big but so balanced. There is energy here, edgy, vibrant energy.95pts Robert Parker Wine Advocate (Erin Larkin)

This grenache shows glorious riffs on tangerines, mandarin peel, kirsch, cranberries, cloves and mace with a succulent mouth-feel. Full, but feels more medium-bodied. Scintillating length with a briary, chewy edge. Wonderful drinking. Drink or hold.” 95pts Ned Goodwin MW, JamesSuckling.com

Strawberry, raspberry, spice, thyme, mint, Earl Grey tea, a Campari-like top note. It’s medium-bodied, spicy with cherry and blood orange, fine white pepper dusted tannin, and some of that in the flavour department too, kind of bony, but juicy with strawberries too. Finish is powdery and long. Very good.” 94pts Gary Walsh, The Wine Front

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All the best,

John Cuff