Growth of Australian GSMs
It’s no surprise then that the first Australian GSM came from South Australia, specifically the Barossa Valley
. In 1984, James Melton made his first Nine Popes from old bush vines as an act of protest against the government’s vine-pull scheme. The name was a tongue-in-cheek reference to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where neuf is translated as “nine” instead of “new.” In fact, this iconic wine is a true New World interpretation of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, made from the three traditional Rhône varieties (Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro), which are grown from “bush” vines.
Nine Popes hit a sweet spot in the market and soon well-known Barossa producers followed suit. In 1992, Penfolds launched their Old Vines Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre–which has been called Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre from 1998 onwards. One of Torbreck’s first wines, The Steading, produced in 1995, was also a GSM. In fact, David Powell created Torbreck based on his love for Rhône blends and his desire to make wine from some of the oldest and most precious vines in the world. Grant Burge created his Holy Trinity in 1997 and Kilikanoon’s Medley first hit the market in 1999 (under the name the Siblings). As a group, Barossa Valley GSMs typically are rich, generous wines, with a lot of red and black fruit flavors and a distinctive dark chocolate note in the finish. The wines generally age beautifully, but unlike their Rhône counterpart they are often more approachable, even at a young age.
Distinction Down Under
But the GSM trend caught on on the other side of Adelaide as well, closer to the coast in McLaren Vale
. The terroir is slightly different there—the wines often have a slight mineral, flinty note. Red and black fruit still dominate the palate, but the finish often has mocha and more earthy cocoa notes. In general, McLaren Vale wines often retain a little more acidity than their Barossa counterparts thanks to the cooling ocean influence and the higher acidity levels in the Grenache. In 2004, A few winemakers in McLaren Vale created the Cadenzia appellation for their GSMs, with the goal of protecting and re-evaluating old bush Grenache vines, and, very importantly, putting a distinctive McLaren Vale mark on Australian GSM blends.
It’s important to note that not all GSMs in South Australia are made from old bush vines. Around the $10-$15 mark, there are a lot of easy drinking, fruit-forward GSMs showing off a more juicy, early drinking style of wine. These are often a South Eastern Australian Blend, rather than from a specific terroir. Whilst these wines may lack the complexity and concentration of old bush vine-based GSMs, they are very easy-going and consistent in quality; a great wine to pair with grills and barbeques or to be drunk on their own.