“The Wild, Wild Woman of Wine” Tim Adams The Fergus (2001)‏ Clare Valley

by J.D. Landis
Tim Adams Wine Bottle
Photo by Eva Baughman Tim Adams The Fergus (2001)‏ — Clare Valley

This remarkable red wine, from Australia’s Clare Valley, is made primarily from Grenache.

Grenache, according to the inimitable Oz Clarke, is the world’s most widely planted red grape. He writes that many wine experts dismiss it as the source of rustic, unsophisticated wine but “do so at their peril…because good Grenache is one of the great wine experiences.” He continues: “Grenache is for me the wild, wild woman of wine, the sex on wheels and devil take the hindmost, the don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

One can’t imagine the more staid and equally qualified Jancis Robinson to have written so over-the-top-ingly. Some 30 years ago she spoke of the grape’s being noted “for brawn rather than beauty.” And yet, even then, she said, “Grenache is Australia’s best kept secret.”

Much more recently, Robinson has come to describe Grenache as “an unlikely hero of a grape” and, in Australia, “carrying its name* either in splendid isolation or as a fully acknowledged ingredient in a blend with Syrah and Mourvèdre.”

Our Tim Adams, The Fergus 2001, is 85 percent Grenache, blended with unspecified percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. More recent vintages of The Fergus add Syrah (Shiraz) and Tempranillo and Malbec and eliminate the Cabernet Franc.

Much more commonly, Grenache is blended with Syrah and Mourvèdre, and these grapes, which Oz Clarke calls Australia’s “comeback kids,” are abbreviated on wine-bottle labels as GSM; of which there are many inexpensive examples.

The Grenache in The Fergus has been purchased by Tim Adams from his neighbor Fergus Mahon since 1993, when Adams encountered what he calls “a desperate shortage of shiraz and cabernet.”  

He’s been making The Fergus ever since, having realized that the wine, “had real potential as a full-bodied, but soft style with immediate food compatibility.”

Of this 2001, he wrote that the wine had more color and tannin than usual because of low yields caused by extreme summer (January and February) heat. He said this wine might last longer than the normal “four to seven years.”

Well, our own odd bottle is sixteen years old. (Spoiler alert: with many more to go.) Its cork came out perfectly (unlike the disaster of a cork in a recently tested 1997 Tim Adams Semillon).

The wine’s color was a muted red, lighter than some rosés but tending more toward orange than pink. However, its paleness was like that of some Pinot Noirs, a visual trick, belying (and masking) strength in a modest exterior. 

It was not, as the blog Wine Folly says it might be, “semi-translucent,” but it was, yes, “a deceptively lighter color” than it would prove to taste.

There was big fruit in the nose, but just what fruit that was…well, it’s the fruit of Grenache and not to be demeaned by describing it as cherry-like, though it is, or plum-like, which it wasn’t to me but might be to you (because there was a plum in there somewhere, hiding from me but peeking out every so often from behind a grape vine).  

As is often the case, different (expert) tasters report different tastes in both a specific wine and in all wines made from a specific grape. The blog Wine Folly writes, “The unmistakable candied fruit roll-up and cinnamon flavor is what gives Grenache away to expert blind tasters.” Another reports of “red berry fruit offset with a red-eraser quality on the palate.” A third: black pepper, honey, gingerbread, coffee, blackcurrants, olives.

I’ve often felt that, when it comes to describing what else a wine tastes (or smells) like, or of, anyone can say anything. (Even I.) Challenge is futile.

Grenache is commonly said to be low in tannins. But Jancis Robinson notes: “quite tough tannins if yields are low.”

That seems to have been the case with this 2001 The Fergus, as reported by Tim Adams and substantiated by my first taste of the wine, when I noted that on the tongue it was tannic enough to be impressively so and not merely because it was over 15 years old. (I made this observation before I learned of the low yields in 2001.)

But the tannins were not sufficient enough, thankfully, to mask the burst of fruit that filled the mouth. (Yes, fruit. Just fruit.)

It accompanied that night a grilled flank steak. Perfectly.

As is my custom when testing wines, I kept this wine around for a while for a taste each day. Usually refrigerated during the night, with only a cork to seal it.  

By the 7th day,** it had survived admirably and matched satisfyingly with a grilled skirt steak, cooked very rare – the wine was smooth and smoky. It even held its own that meal against a freshly opened and rare 1982 Bianco Luigi & Figlio Barbaresco Rabajá and 1996 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Casina Francia.

On the 8th day it was bold at lunch with barbequed chicken. That evening, with leftover steak, it had finally weakened and was cloudy with sediment (but, of course, the bottle was almost empty).

All in all, this was an incredible performance. Particularly for a supposedly modest wine that, if you can find any vintage of it in the United States, should cost no more than $15. That aforementioned Conterno Barolo will set you back more than $250.

But if you can’t find a Tim Adams, experiment with other wines made from Grenache. There should be, and are, many available, as you might expect from the world’s most widely planted red grape.

*Speaking of names, in her 1986 seminal Vines, Grapes and Wines, Jancis Robinson listed the 26 other names by which Grenache was known in the world.
**To celebrate an entire week in the life of an open, old wine, I wore a t-shirt I’d bought for 98 cents in a thrift shop in Cloverdale, California. By then the shirt had traveled from Yangarra Estate in McLaren Vale (not much more than 100 miles from Clare Valley) to my closet in New England. When I’d bought it, I’d had no particular plan to open and test this fine Grenache from Tim Adams. The shirt says:  I LOVE GRENACHE.