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james suckling uncorked

Message in the Bottle from Grange


Posted: Oct 6, 2008 10:19am ET

Looking at all the responses from last week's blog about the Grange vertical, it’s obvious that Australia’s most famous red has a strong following.

This juicy red was voluptuous, to say the least. It was like a strip tease when you poured it in the glass. I couldn’t believe how it evolved. First impressions are often useless. The older Granges continued to get better, even fruitier, as they were in the glass in front of me, and they had been double decanted hours before the tasting.

I enjoyed the challenge of deciding which wines I preferred in the different flights. They were served in groups according to decades. Often, I would initially choose the most obvious wine at first pouring, but slowly but surely the meekest, or most reserved, Grange would come out the best. Grange is a wine you can spend the night with.

I think the wines start coming into their own with about 20 years of bottle age. If you drink them before, you get mostly the fruit and fatness of youth – which can also be enticing. But the money you pay is for the ability to age and deliver something very special at the end of 20 or 30 years in bottle.

Marlon Abela, the owner of the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning Greenhouse restaurant in London and others, who laid on the tasting, also poured blind a couple of pirate wines. I almost got them right (usually I am miles out!) declaring the first one 1978 Guigal La Landonne and the second one 1985 Guigal La Turque. In fact, they were the 1978 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle and the 1990 Guigal La Turque.

Just for the record, the La Turque was amazing, with grilled meat, game, stewed fruits and black pepper all over. It was rich and flavorful yet silky and racy. Beautiful now to drink. 96 points, non-blind. I wasn’t sure, but the 1978 La Chapelle didn’t seem to be a perfect bottle. It had too much minty character, which suggested that it was slightly corked, but underneath it had loads of black olive, currants and pepper. 93 points, non-blind.

Anyway, the legendary Northern Rhônes were a different world compared to the Aussie. They were much more austere and racy. They were just completely different animals, as they should be. The night was for the flashy, sexy Australian.

Here are my tasting notes of all the wines. They were not served blind. I must say that I was surprised with the scores in the database of the older wines. They seem low. Perhaps I am being too generous? But I was so excited by their richness and freshness I couldn’t help myself. And I think if you get a chance to taste, or better yet drink, a very old Grange, you won't be disappointed.

My one question is whether the new Granges will be as great as the old, as Penfolds appears to be moving to 100 percent Barossa Valley fruit instead of blending from different regions such as Clare Valley or Coonawarra. We will see. Time will tell. I have my doubts.

1955: This is the Grange that put the opulent Aussie on the map. And it’s still a gorgeous wine. Aromas and flavors of mushrooms with plum, chocolate, raspberry and spices that turn to game, it reminds me of a Côte-Rôtie from the 1980s. It's still full-bodied, soft and balanced with lovely velvety tannins. Gotta love it. 90 percent Shiraz, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 98 points, non-blind.

1960: This is more Hermitage-like than the 1955, with less of the gamy but more of the bright fruit and minerally undertones. It still shows a lot of raspberry jam character on the nose and palate. Some vanilla is coming out too. Full and silky. 92 percent Shiraz and 8 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 95 points, non-blind.

1962: Reminds me of an aged vintage Port on the nose with plums, prunes, mint and toffee. It's full and silky with a lovely freshness to it. Dark color. Very, very long and flavorful. Crushed grapes on the palate. 87 percent Shiraz and 13 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 96 points, non-blind.

1963: Pure fruit here. It is full and velvety with loads of raspberry jam and licorice character that transforms into earth, tobacco and cedar with hints of chocolate. Complex wine. Friendly, round and cuddly. 100 percent Shiraz. 94 points, non-blind.

1965: I was a little surprised with the nose, which came across like a top vintage of Heitz Martha’s due to the eucalyptus, mint and crushed berry aromas. But the palate was very Grange with loads of chocolate and raspberry character and long, silky tannins. 95 percent Shiraz and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 93 points, non-blind.

1966: This has much more full-throttle fruit character than the 1965, with blackberries all over the place, but then it evolves to tar, dried mushroom and light earth. Fascinating wine. Full and round with lots of blackberry jam. There is a touch of dryness in the tannins that suggest immediate drinking. 94 percent Shiraz and 6 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 94 points, non-blind.

1967: This is a little funky with a good amount of volatile acidity showing but it doesn't turn me off. It shows lots of toasted oak, dark chocolate, grilled steaks and ripe fruit on the nose and palate. Full and chewy with dried meat and cherry flavors. It’s a juicy wine that makes you hungry. 94 percent Shiraz and 6 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 92 points, non-blind.

1971: My favorite of the night. This is such a sexy and exciting wine. It is truly hedonistic. It shows aromas of ripe and rich raspberry and prune fruit that turns to sweet tobacco, cedar, grilled meat and dried mushrooms with just a hint of mint. It is full and ultra-velvety with a texture that caresses every millimeter of your palate. I am in love. 87 percent Shiraz and 6 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 100 points, non-blind.

1975: Poor 1975, following the sex bomb 1971. Drinking this is like taking a librarian out on date. But still, it’s attractive and intellectual with currant jam, mint, and licorice aromas that follow through to a medium body, with fine tannins and a jammy, minerally finish. 90 percent Shiraz and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 92 points, non-blind.

1976: This was a wine that really developed in the glass, and after about 30 minutes it exploded with smoky, meaty, jammy and toffee character. It even seemed like caramelized bananas at one point. Full and silky with a very, very fine tannin structure. It lasted for minutes on the palate. 89 percent Shiraz and 11 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 94 points, non-blind.

1978: Very complex and rich. I love the tarragon, jammy, licorice and berry character in this wine. It's full-bodied, with rich velvety tannins and a long, fruit-driven finish. It is still very youthful and exciting. It will only get better with time. 90 percent Shiraz and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 95 points, non-blind.

1982: Soft and fruity, the wine shows lots of blackberry, mint and Porty aromas and flavors. It's full, round and caressing, yet structured and poised. Love the Christmas pudding aftertaste with hints of prunes. 94 percent Shiraz and 6 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Drink now. 93 points, non-blind.

1986: This seems like a blend of the 1983 and the 1982 with its prune, berry and eucalyptus aromas and flavors. It's full and velvety with lots of Porty character that turns to toffee and coffee. Juicy and yummy. 87 percent Shiraz and 13 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 94 points, non-blind.

1990: Spec’s Wine of the Year in 1995, this is the best modern Grange to date with fabulous aromas of currants, plums, cherries and licorice that turn to wild berries and hints of game. It's very full and jammy yet tight and firm. It has it all. Give it time still. Best after 2013. 95 percent Shiraz and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 98 points, unon-blind.

1991: The tar, mineral and licorice character with hints of jam and dried porcini suggest that the wine is just about ready to drink. It's full and rich with chocolate, vanilla and berry character. Soft and caressing. Give it another three years or so. 95 percent Shiraz and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 93 points, non-blind.

1995: Very much like the 1991, but it shows a little more concentration and power. Mineral, mint, Port and blackberry character. It's full and jammy with chewy tannins and a soft and velvety textured finish. Loads going on here. Best after 2013. 89 percent Shiraz and 11 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 96 points, non-blind.

1996: I wasn't sure that this was a perfect bottle. It was a little disjointed but still showed lots of grilled meat, spice, and berry character. It was full and round but turned a little dry on the finish. Still outstanding though. 94 percent Shiraz and 6 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 90 points, non-blind.

1998: This is still a little tight and needs some bottle age, but I really enjoy the blackberry, licorice and stewed, jammy fruit on the nose and palate. It's full and thick with loads of licorice and raspberry jammy flavors. The tannins are a little austere still. 97 percent Shiraz and 3 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Best after 2014. 92 points, non-blind.

1999: What a massive wine, with loads of dried berries, blackberry, dark chocolate and licorice that follows through to a full and layered palate with big ripe tannins and a long finish. Lots of vanilla and jam. Just a baby still. Try it after 2015. 100 percent Shiraz. 94 points, non-blind.

2001: Very much in the style of the 1999, but not quite as concentrated, it shows raspberry, blackberry jam aromas and flavors with an ash, mineral and toasted oak undertone. Full and velvety with lots of ripe tannins and a long finish. Very modern and clean. Try it after 2016. 100 percent Shiraz from Barossa. 93 points, non-blind.

2002: Slightly more raisiny than the 2001, this wine shows lots of peppery, Porty and blackberry aromas with a hint of leafs or stems on the nose and palate. Full-bodied, with high alcohol and a velvety, tannic aftertaste. Powerful. But slightly monolithic. 100 percent Shiraz from Barossa. Best after 2016. 92 points, non-blind.

Stewart Lancaster
beaver,pa —  October 6, 2008 3:02pm ET
Thanks for the tasting notes. I have a 1982 in my cellar and was wondering when to drink it. I'll probably drink it over the xmas holidays
Gary Long
Palm Beach , Fl —  October 7, 2008 10:17am ET
James,Off topic.. tasted some whites ( Grecco di Tufo and Finao di Avellino) from Villa Raiano. I learned about them from your recent review. Do you know much about their reds, Taurasi or Aglianico? I very much enjoyed the whites,and would be interested in your thoughts on their other wines.,
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  October 7, 2008 12:29pm ET
I tasted 1996 and 1998 Grange blind earlier this year, in context with other Aussie reds from those years, and clearly had better bottles than were in James' tasting. (They did come straight from the winery's cellar.)

Here are my notes:

1996: Firm in texture, with slightly gritty tannins around a gorgeous beam of black cherry, blueberry and plum flavors. It¿s beautifully focused and complete on the nose, but it gets a bit chewy on the palate. Built for aging. Needs some rich food to balance the tannins at this point. (Gets better as it warms in the glass.) 95 points, blind.

1998: A wine of surprising subtlety for the vintage, playing its ripe cherry, red plum nd herb flavors against firm tannins that have a bit of grit to them. But those lively cherry and raspberry flavors burst through, and there¿s a nice hint of green herbs lingering around the finish, which doesn¿t subside easily. 97 points, blind.
Matt Scott
Honolulu HI —  October 7, 2008 1:00pm ET
Thanks for the tasting notes!
James Suckling
 —  October 7, 2008 3:35pm ET
Thanks for the notes Harvey. What about the old Granges from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s? You seem to like them a lot less than me? May be I like old wines better?
Stewart Lancaster
beaver,pa —  October 8, 2008 10:30am ET
How long would you decant the 1982 grange?
James Suckling
 —  October 8, 2008 10:34am ET
I would give it a couple hours of decanting before serving.
Solaroli Giovanni
Faenza, Italy —  October 29, 2008 10:05am ET
Hi everybody. Here i'm to improve my english and tasting notes. I've bought a single 1999 e 2001 Grange. Now i'm over 55 so, choosing among the next 15 years,what will be the best one to drink it? Kindest regards.

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