For California-born Jane Lopes, spending numerous years in the land Down Under wasn’t part of her plan. After studying English literature in Chicago, Lopes pursued a job in the city’s hospitality industry simply to pay the bills while applying to graduate school. However, Lopes was instantly captivated by wine, mostly for its academic and intellectual stimulation. She quickly swapped the hours spent on her applications for a wine shop gig, then eventually moved on to a service position at The Violet Hour, which, unbeknownst to her, would become the unofficial springboard for her wine career.
Lopes left Chicago for a stint at The Catbird Seat in Nashville, and later moved to New York, where she worked the floor at Eleven Madison Park. It was here that Lopes felt inspired to pursue the prestigious title of Master Sommelier, ultimately passing the exam in 2018. (Note: Just over 10% of Master Sommeliers worldwide are women.) Around this same time, Lopes received an equally compelling offer — one that would take her to Melbourne and grant her the role of wine director at a world-renowned restaurant: Attica. She quickly accepted.
Lopes worked as Attica’s wine director for three years, and experience and a serious resumé boost were just the tip of what she took away. She fell in love with the intricacies of Australia’s wine industry, and after years of diving deep into its rich history, she and her husband moved back to the United States and founded LEGEND, their very own Australian wine importing company. Although Lopes has a passion for many of Australia’s signature grapes, Grenache has captured her heart.
“I think Aussie Grenache is profoundly underrated,” she says. “When done right, it can be both complex and very accessible, and tends to bat well above its price point.” She notes that the heavily oaked, 16% ABV versions of the past have garnered a bad reputation for the style, but things are, thankfully, changing. “Today, it is much more common to see [Australian Grenache] with subtlety, nuance, and levity.”
Check out three of Lopes’ top picks:
Seppeltsfield is one of the oldest continuously-operated estates in Australia, founded in 1851. “This Grenache comes from their “Village” line and is one of the best values on the market,” says Lopes. Fruit comes from their stunning estate, Great Terraced Vineyard, and is moved through their gravity-fed winery, built in 1888. “The wine is perfumed and lifted, but with enough gravitas and base notes on the palate to ground it,” says Lopes. Seppeltsfield Grenache is released young and vinified with no oak. NB: LEGEND imports Seppeltsfield.
According to Lopes, the team at Thistledown is made up of self-proclaimed Grenache fanatics. “They make no less than six different versions of the grape each year,” she explains. Fruit for She’s Electric comes from a vineyard in the Seaview area of McLaren Vale, known for sandy loam soils that are rich in ironstone and quartz. “There is a light, red-fruit touch to this wine, with 50% whole-bunch inclusion promoting transparency and savory notes, and a combination of old and young vines in the vineyard allowing for depth and vitality,” explains Lopes. The wine is hand harvested, gently foot-pressed, and spontaneously fermented with wild yeasts. The wine is aged for six months in used French oak and is bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Lopes points out that fruit for this wine comes from vines planted in 1889, meaning that they’ve seen three centuries of life, hence the name of the cuvée. “Yalumba may be a large producer, but they have used their size to achieve some great things,” explains Lopes. This includes establishing their own on-site cooperage, as well as pioneering fully vegan wines — before it was fashionable to do so. “They are cultivating some of the oldest vines in the world. This wine is a bit darker and brooding, though luckily, Yalumba always releases with a few years of age for maximum enjoyment.” Yalumba’s The Tri-Centenary is produced from hand harvested fruit that sees 41 days of post-fermentation skin contact, then undergoes long aging in a combination of barriques and oak vats.