Tag: Penfolds Grange

Sep 09 2015

1971 Penfolds Grange named best wine of the 1970s

Posted on September 09, 2015 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Have you noticed how many of the things we used to hate about the 1970s are making a comeback? Flared jeans, checked shirts and bright orange kitchens (yes, we had one of those!) no longer seem uncool!

And if you thought people only drank cheap cask wine back in the 1970s, a recent international competition has reminded everyone that some very fine wines of exceptional longevity were also made back then!

European luxury magazine publisher FINE and website tastingbook.com assembled wine judges from nine different countries to blind taste the top drops of the 1970s. As one would expect, French wines dominated, taking out eight of the top 10 positions. But the Penfolds Grange 1971 (98.5 points) snagged the top spot and three other Grange vintages from the 1970s made it into the top 40: the 1976 Grange came 14th (96.5 points), the 1972 Grange 25th (95.5 points) and the 1970 Grange came 36th (94.5 points)

Some of the greatest vintages for Bordeaux and Champagne were in the ’70s, so the fact that the 1971 Grange just beat the 1975 Chateau d’ Y’quem from Sauternes (98 points) is perhaps even more remarkable. The Guigal Côtes Rotie La Mouline 1976 came in third with a score of 97.5 points.

The late Max Schubert, the architect of Grange, confidently predicted that the 1971 vintage would prove to be his greatest. “If you had to point to a wine which fulfilled the ambitions of Grange it would have to be the 1971,” Schubert remarked in 1993, just months before he passed away.

This most recent competition is not the first time that top accolades have been awarded to the 1971 vintage. The AFR’s Mark Hawthorne reminded readers that “in 1979 Penfolds caused a sensation in France when the upstart Australian winery topped … Read the rest

Aug 08 2015

Long Live Penfolds Bin 389: Notes from a Vertical Tasting

Posted on August 08, 2015 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Penfolds Bin 389 is sometimes referred to as ‘Baby Grange’ or ‘Poor Man’s Grange’. Like the iconic Penfolds Grange, Bin 389 shares the same legendary creator, Max Schubert, who first produced the wine in 1960, nine years after unveiling his experimental 1951 Grange.

In fact, a significant portion of the wine that goes into the Bin 389 is aged in the same American oak hogsheads used for the previous vintage of Grange. Twenty to 30 percent of the wine sees new oak treatment.

The fruit for both wines is sourced from different vineyards and regions – the goal always to secure the best fruit available. Fruit that doesn’t quite make the cut for Grange will often find its way into the Bin 389.

Some critics have argued that the ‘Baby Grange’ moniker is not an accurate descriptor of Bin 389 because the blend is quite different to the shiraz-dominant Grange. Bin 389 has a much higher percentage of cabernet sauvignon, a feature that according to wine critic Julia Harding MW gives the wine “those cedary-fresh Cabernet characteristics” that are absent from the fuller bodied Grange. (Penfolds’ Bin 389 vs Grange by Julia Harding MW, JancisRobinson.com 26 June 2009).

One hallmark quality that Bin 389 definitely shares with Grange is its ability to age. My husband’s wine group recently enjoyed a vertical tasting of Bin 389, covering a good selection of vintages dating back to 1986. Below are their tasting notes. A very impressive lineup indeed:

Penfolds Bin 389 2012

Concentrated, dark, young and full bodied. Already pleasant to drink. Great prospects.

Penfolds Bin 389 2010

Still dumb but plush fruit and good acid balance bode very well for the future. Exceptional.

Penfolds Bin 389 2008

Starting to drink well, slightly varnishy nose but good depth of flavour and long Read the rest

Feb 02 2015

The delights of drinking aged Penfolds Grange

Posted on February 02, 2015 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Over the past couple of months I’ve had the good fortune to try two bottles of aged Penfolds Grange, the 2003 and the 1982. Both were opened (as they should be!) to celebrate two very special occasions – first a memorable birthday and then a farewell retirement party for our warehouseman Joe.

The 2003 had an absolutely beguiling bouquet. Cedar, Asian spices, and an assortment of dark berries – the fruit was so fresh!

If I find the aroma of a wine really enticing, I’m sometimes nervous to actually drink the wine, lest it disappoints. But the voluptuous, intricately layered palate of the 2003 lived up to my expectations. Every mouthful was sublime!

The bouquet on the 1982 was less enveloping but equally inviting. The fruit, while not as fresh as the 2003, was still very vibrant. As you would expect, the tannins had seamlessly integrated into the body of the wine. But the lack of overt tannins hadn’t diminished the wine’s structure. It still displayed remarkable depth and opulence – both signature characteristics of the Grange style.

An article by the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown shed some excellent light on why Grange needs to age.

When Grange’s creator Max Schubert designed Grange, he decided to finish off the fermentation off-skins in new American oak barrels. Apparently he had witnessed the practice of finishing the fermentation process in barrel on a trip to Bordeaux in 1950.But as Perrotti-Brown notes, most great Bordeaux wines typically finish fermenting in vats on skins and remain on skins for a total of 2 – 4 weeks prior to racking, primarily to extract more skin tannins. Schubert probably witnessed an unusual practice.

In any event, the technique worked well for his main fruit of choice – beautifully ripened warm climate shiraz, which is naturally high … Read the rest

May 05 2014

Penfolds Grange 2009: Reviews are Impressive!

Posted on May 05, 2014 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Today the Penfolds Grange 2009 was officially released to the public. Most of the reviews have already been written and after last year’s fanfare over the 2008, response to 2009 has been pretty muted. You may recall that the 2008 Grange garnered a 100 point review from the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, precipitating a controversial, hefty price hike! (Penfolds Grange 2008 and the 100 point review, Cellarit Wine Blog, 2 June 2013)

Not that reviews for the 2009 aren’t generally impressive. Perrotti-Brown scored the 2009 97 points:

The 2009 Grange Shiraz is a comprised of 84% Barossa, 8% McLaren, and a little Clare Valley and a little Magill fruit with a small 2% of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. At this youthful stage, this deep garnet-purple colored wine puts forward a vivid expression of blackberry preserve aromas amid underlying cassis, black cherry, spice box, char-grilled meat and chocolate box notes. Surprisingly medium to full-bodied (it smells much fuller!) with taut flavors that are very closed in the mouth, it has firm, chewy tannins to structure through the long and earthy finish. (eRobertParker.com #211, February 2014)

JancisRobinson.com’s Julia Harding MW gave the 2009 Grange 18.5 out of 20, only half a point lower than her score for the 2008:

Inky core with blackcurrant rim. Gorgeously seductive perfume: sweetly spiced – Christmas spice – fruit with the sweetness of oak but all so well entwined. There’s a hint of tar and savoury character. On the palate, creamy, vanilla, rich and so gentle and polite – or so it seems, though there is plenty of muscle underneath. 100% new oak. ‘No other way to make Grange’, says Gago. Lots of sweet US oak flavour on the finish. Sweet baking spice too and some liquorice. Vanilla sweetness. Concentrated and Read the rest

Jun 06 2013

Penfolds Grange 2008 and the 100 point review!

Posted on June 06, 2013 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The 2008 vintage of the iconic Penfolds Grange was anticipated with great excitement by the media and public alike. 2008 was hailed as an exceptional vintage, especially in the Barossa where 89 percent of the grapes for the 2008 Grange were sourced. But few expected the frenzy created by the 100 point review by Lisa Perrotti-Brown of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Penfolds first launched the 2008 Grange to trade and media in early March with a hefty price tag of $685, but after the Wine Advocate’s review was published in April demand for the wine soared. Subsequently, Penfolds took the controversial step of raising the price by another $100 to $785.

So why all the fuss?

Certainly, the highly respected Sydney Morning Herald Wine Critic Huon Hooke wasn’t overly impressed with the 100 point score, calling it absurd and wondering how a wine that takes at least 15 to 20 years to fully mature could be perfect now:

I say absurd, because I don’t believe in ‘perfect’ wines, or perfect scores; I have never rated any wine 100 points myself, and I simply ask what score these reviewers would give the wine when it’s fully mature and singing at its best – in about 15 to 20 years. It will be a far better wine then. It’s too young to drink now, and while it looks to have the potential to rank alongside the greatest Granges, it’s very difficult to say at this early stage just how good it will eventually be. (So how good is the latest Grange, Huon Hooke, Corkscore News, 7 May 2013)

Good point! But with respect to the Wine Advocate’s history of reviewing Penfolds Grange, the 100 point score is in fact a rarity. The first and only vintage to be rated as highly as … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Are Australia’s Top Cabernets Undervalued?

Posted on June 06, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In its promotional material for its Bin 707, Penfolds states that “Bin 707 is Penfolds’ Cabernet Sauvignon version of Grange: ripe, intensely-flavoured fruit; completing fermentation and maturation in new oak; fully expressing a Penfolds understanding of multi-vineyard, multi-region fruit sourcing.”

No-one can doubt the pedigree of Bin 707 or its status as one of the Australia’s benchmark wines. It is up there with Grange in the pantheon of Australia’s 17 most exceptional wines, as ranked by the Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine V – the form guide of Australia’s best performing and most prized wines.

But current prices of more recent vintages of Bin 707 are less than half the price of comparable vintages of Penfolds Grange. Current prices for other iconic cabernets like the Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon and the Mount Mary Vineyard Quintet Cabernets, for example, are all in the $100 to $200 price range, even though most of these wines are made in vastly smaller quantities than Grange and have almost equally impressive reputations for longevity.

But is the price discrepancy between top Australian cabernets and and their shiraz counterparts, which would also include acclaimed drops like Henschke Hill of Grace and Torbreck’s The Laird, warranted?

Certainly Australian cabernets are up against some stiff competition from overseas. Great Bordeaux cabernets like Château Margaux  and Château Lafite Rothschild are widely considered the greatest wines in the world. And in the New World, California’s reputation has largely been forged by international acclaim for a stellar line-up of cabernets from great producers like Harlan Estate, Bryant Family Vineyard and Shafer to name but a few. The top wines from all of these producers typically trade at much higher prices than comparable Australian cabernets.

For Australian shiraz the international … Read the rest

Apr 04 2012

Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz: A Wine that Rewards Cellaring!

Posted on April 04, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

After tasting 19 vintages of Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz with Chief Winemaker Peter Gago, the Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman remarked, “The sneaky little secret that so many savvy Australian wine collectors know is that, yes, St. Henri can age as long as Grange does.” (Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz: Old School by Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator, 12 May 2008)

Well, I certainly hope that you are one of the savvy ones. At around $75 on release St. Henri is a real bargain compared to its fabled sibling Grange! But as Steiman also notes, “while Grange tastes amazingly good upon release and continues to develop extra nuances in the bottle, St. Henri takes a few years to show what it has.” So properly cellaring a newly released St. Henri is essential if you want to enjoy the wine in its prime.

Determining the optimal drinking window for the St. Henri can in fact prove quite a challenge. Steiman called the phenomonal 1976, which he gave 95 points, “almost under-developed for a 32-year-old wine.” Here’s his glowing review:

Rich and meaty in flavor, with a gamy grace note to the vibrant blackcurrant and plum flavors, riding on a supple frame. Fine tannins, round and generous, with power and elegance. Just now developing an old-wine character…Spectacular.

That is not to say that younger vintages aren’t drinking well. The Wine Advocate has a drinking window of 2013 to 2025+ for the spectacular 2006 vintage. And as Steiman comments, “It’s not that the unready wines are harsh or difficult to drink. On the contrary, they are really pleasant. But they get so much better with longer cellaring.”

So what makes the St Henri such a great wine for ageing?

St Henri was originally made in the 19th century by the Auldana Winery, which was next … Read the rest

Jul 07 2011

Wine of the Week: Henschke Hill of Grace 2006

Posted on July 07, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

If any wine could potentially knock Penfolds Grange off its mantle as Australia’s most iconic wine, it would undoubtedly be the Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz. These two wines share the stage as Australia’s preeminent expressions of shiraz. Together they perennially deliver almost unbeatable quality, and command equally impressive prices upon release.

But whereas Grange is a multi-regional blend sourced from Penfolds very best vineyards, the Eden Valley Henschke Hill of Grace comes from a single, eight hectare vineyard that was planted in the 1860s with pre-phylloxera material brought from Europe by the early settlers.

Hill of Grace was first made by Cyril Henschke in 1958. Today the wine is very much the product of the shared vision, talent and expertise of fifth generation winemaker Stephen Henschke and his wife, viticulturist Prue Henschke.

The Henschkes are absolutely fastidious about every aspect of vineyard and winery management.  Projects over the years have ranged from a clonal selection nursery to soil management innovations. The Hill of Grace vineyard, for example, is now mulched with wheat straw to avoid herbicide treatment under the vines. This technique also allows more organic matter to be incorporated into the soil and preserves precious soil moisture. Organic and biodynamic principles are also utilised.

The  minimalist intervention approach to winemaking that was favoured by Cyril Henschke in the 1950s and 60s has been continued by Stephen Henschke. The handpicked grapes, picked at full maturity, are vinified in traditional open fermenters and matured for 21 months in a combination of new French and American oak. The use of racking, sulphur, fining and filtration is minimised or avoided.

2006 is considered one of the best of recent vintages, and the reviews have been excellent. Lisa Perrotti-Brown of the Wine Advocate scored the 2006 97+points  and described it as a … Read the rest

Jul 07 2011

Aussie Wine Icons: Clarendon Hills Astralis Syrah

Posted on July 07, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

You don’t usually hear “big” and “graceful” in the same sentence when reading a review of a McLaren Vale shiraz, but here’s the Wine Spectator’s opinion of the 2006 Clarendon Hills Astralis Syrah:

A big wine, but amazingly supple, graceful and pure, offering cascades of wild blueberry, black cherry and plum fruit that play against spices such as cardamom, clove and black pepper. It’s all seamlessly integrated with fine tannins and enough creamy oak to complete the picture. Syrah. Drink now through 2020. (Harvey Steiman, The Wine Spectator, 15 October 2008)

The Astralis is the flagship wine of Roman Bratasiuk’s Clarendon Hills. When the influential wine critic Robert Parker first tasted the Clarendon Hills wines in 1994, he became an immediate devotee, and his enthusiasm for the wines has only continued to grow.  After a vertical tasting in 2001, Parker remarked: “If Penfolds Grange has been the most legendary wine in Australia, my instincts suggest that in the future, if any wine surpasses Grange, it will be made by Roman Bratasiuk of Clarendon Hills in McLaren Vale.” (Vertical Tasting of Clarendon Hills, Wine Advocate, June 2001)

A number of Australia’s best winemakers benchmark their wines against the great ‘Old World’ examples. Bratasiuk’s style of wines has always been informed by his profound appreciation of the very best French wines.* He was one of the first winemakers to use only French oak – the Astralis spends 18 months in 50% new and 50% seasoned, tightly grained French oak barrels.

Planted in 1920, the Astralis vineyard is on a 45 degree ascending slope. It faces due-east and has a top soil layer of pebble-ridden clay and subsoil layer of pure ironstone. The vineyards are no longer trellised and the wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts. Astralis, like all … Read the rest

Nov 11 2010

Terroir: What does it mean and how is best expressed?

Posted on November 11, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

On Wednesday, The Sydney Morning Herald/Age inaugural Good Wine Guide’s Winery of the Year was awarded to Henschke, the South Australian winery internationally renowned for its single vineyard Hill of Grace Shiraz. Henschke first produced Hill of Grace in 1958, and the wine is one of Australia’s earliest examples of a single-vineyard wine. Today Hill of Grace has distinguished company in the single-vineyard category. Two thirds of the 94 wines in the Good Food Wine Guide’s highest “three glass”  category are single-vineyard wines. (Singled out for greatness by Helen Pitt, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 November 2010)

Wine critic and Good Wine Guide author Nick Stock argues that “we need to be championing wines that have a strong sense of place – what the French call terroir.” The prevalence of so many single vineyard wines in the top ranking suggests that winemakers are moving in that direction, but what exactly does terroir mean and how is it best expressed?

Jay McInerney recently wrote a very interesting article about Nicolas Joly, the proprietor of Coulée de Serrant, which is a domain in the Anjou region of the Loire Valley making world-class Savenièrres. In 2000  Joly founded Return to Terroir and is a leading champion for biodynamic viticulture. (Mr. Joly’s Particularly Pure Terroir by Jay McInerney, The Wall Street Journal, 14 October 2010)

Joly is also a “fierce defender” of the French appellation contrôllée system, which came into being in the 1930s and codified years of regional practice based on the idea that wines should uniquely reflect their terroir or place of origin. Essentially, it restricts the planting of certain varieties to specific regions. The white grape Chenin Blanc, for example, is only planted in the Loire Valley where it is deemed best suited.

Australian winemakers face no such restrictions … Read the rest