Alpha Box & Dice, Tarot 2016 McLaren Vale


From £12.75, AU$16.80, $23, CA$25, 185 Norwegian krone 

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Alpha Box & Dice first came to my attention when I tasted their F for Fog Nebbiolo, so when I saw an AB&D on a wine list in an Oxford pub I thought it would be worth a punt. 

Tarot is their 100% Grenache made from McLaren Vale fruit. Pale ruby and packed with juicy raspberry fruit, which practically bounces across the tongue, it’s a modern, sassy Grenache. There are no pretensions to greatness here, but it’s far from industrial. At 13.5% with soft tannins, subtle spices and a very pretty perfume, it has an almost Pinot-like lightness and would work beautifully with all sorts of food. 

We brought the remainder of the bottle home with us, had it with leftover Christmas ham, grilled red peppers, and an assortment of (leftover) cheeses, and it was delicious. It has the kind of flexibility that would work well with a smorgasbord of small dishes and it would cope well with a bit of spice and chilli heat. In summer you could pop it in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes to give it an edge of chill, emphasising the freshness. Although I wouldn't keep it for more than a year – drink it in 2018.

Alpha Box & Dice is a quirky outfit run by two brothers, Dylan and Justin Fairweather, and 28-year-old winemaker Sam Berketa. They took over from previous owner Justin Lane in 2013, continuing his off-the-wall plan to make ‘a different wine style to represent every letter of the alphabet’ (so far they’ve managed 19 out of 26) and describing themselves as ‘a laboratory for viticultural exploration’. 

Their name is a concatenation of alphabet and the Australian slang expression, ‘the whole box and dice’, meaning everything, or the entire lot. It's a little négociant-style business, and the trio buy in grapes from all corners of Australia, focusing mainly on unusual grape varieties and interesting plots. Their labels, wine names and ideas are a little kooky, but behind all the heavily hipster marketing there seems to be genuine curiosity and joy in creating wine with soul.

The Tarot Grenache comes from the red-clay Reed Creek Vineyard in Whites Valley. Berketa, who has done stints in Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Germany and Barolo (the latter with Chiara Boschis at E Pira & Figli), opted for 10% whole-bunch fermentation, 80% carbonic maceration, two weeks on skins and six months of lees ageing in stainless-steel tanks. 

The name Tarot, with a loose interpretation of the death card on the label, is to symbolise ‘a transformation into a new state or regeneration and in this particular case, refers to a poorly farmed plot of Grenache which was brought back to life by the Alpha Box & Dice crew’. The back label dramatically says, ‘Let the changes sweep over you, like the blade cuts away dead wood to allow fresh fruit to spring forth’. A fitting sentiment, perhaps, for the start of a new year?

It's widely available in Australia, the UK, USA, Canada and Norway. ND John Wine Merchants in Swansea sell it for £12.75 a bottle, no minimum order, and will do next-day delivery. The current low price from the Prince Wine Store of AU$16.80 appears to be a special offer (down from AUD$21).

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