Penfolds Grange is broadly considered as the greatest Shiraz in the world; the best wine from Australia; its story is fascinating and as special as the wine itself. Penfolds Grange Hermitage, as it was known then, would have been abandoned had it not been for the unrelenting belief of its creator Max Schubert. In the 1950s the Australian wine industry was largely trying to make dry red wine out of very raw materials, using grapes cultivated for port style wine production. Most Australians exclusively drank Port or Sherry and table wines made up only 10% of the market. In 1950 Max left his homeland to visit Europe to studying sherry wine making, however, getting side tracked he spent a vintage in Bordeaux, experiencing their wines and tasting claret as old as 50 years. On his return Max began recreating the great wines of Bordeaux in South Australia, determined to assemble a wine to rival the Grand Crus of Bordeaux and like its counterparts, age for 50 years. However Max did not use Bordeaux blends instead opting for Shiraz, moreover he recognised Shiraz’s affinity for American oak and therefore chose to use American oak barrels in place of French. His other innovation was to use simple refrigeration to slow Grange’s fermentation and thereby mimicking the cold October conditions apparent in Bordeaux wineries.
In 1956 he unveiled his polemic new wine Grange Hermitage only to be told by a gaggle of senior managers that the wine was unsellable and he was immediately instructed stop making it: fortunately Max, the visionary continued in secret. In 1962, after realising its then clandestine quality, Penfolds entered Grange Hermitage into international competitions and since then it has won 50 gold medals. Today it is just known as Grange and has been almost unbeatable in wine shows and competitions ever since. In fact Grange boasts 51 unbroken vintages and is officially listed as a Heritage Icon of South Australia.
Contrastingly, most cult wines are made from single vineyard plots or blocks, however Grange is made from grapes harvested over a large area. As such the exact composition changes every year and Penfolds mercilessly picks all the very best grapes from all their vineyards. This process also minimises vintage variation and has led to a general acceptance that Grange is one of the most consistent of the world’s greatest wines. The wines spend 18-20 months in 300 litre American oak barrels and are only released to market five years after the vintage. The exact number of cases produced a year is a closely guarded secret, although in most vintages it is less than 4,000. We do know only 1,800 bottles were made of the 1951 vintage, most of which Max gave away; one of these bottle sold in an auction in 2004 for A$50,000 (£28,000).
Penfolds Grange is hugely popular the world over but particularly in Asia, which is its biggest market, benefiting from geographical proximity. Unlike most of the world’s great wines, Penfolds releases all in one go to the market, thereafter allowing the market to naturally set the price. With so few cases made the wine is difficult to source after a year and very rare after five; there is very little to go around. Global demand is quickly outstripping supply, this is a truly great wine and while already expensive it is set to rise in value. It displays extraordinary complexity, concentration and the potential to age for 40-50 years.
Penfolds Grange Shiraz 2009, £1,900 – 6×75 or £2,294.76 incl duty and VAT
Lisa Perrotti-Brown , 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. 406 cases imported to the US. Drink it 2018 to 2035+.
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