“Grange is now considered Australia’s iconic wine and worthy of comparison to the great wines of the world,” said editor at large Harvey Steiman, introducing a series of Penfolds wines at the New York Wine Experience that would span two decades of the vaunted flagship Shiraz, plus a sizeable slice of Australian fine wine history.
Peter Gago, Penfolds winemaker since 2002, immediately nodded to that history, noting Penfolds was founded in 1844. “So it’s ‘New World,’ but not quite that new!” He began the tasting with the Shiraz South Australia St. Henri 2010 (95 points, $99), “a very deliberately, provocatively old-fashioned style of Shiraz,” a bottling first created in the 1920s and today aged in massive vats, some of them 80 years old.
Next, Cabernet Sauvignon, another historic grape for Australia. The Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa Valley Kalimna Block 42 2004 (97, $225 on release, $494 current auction price) is from a vineyard that goes back to the 1880s, from a parcel of “pure, unadulterated Cabernet,” Gago noted. “What you’re tasting in the second glass is from vines that have never been replanted.”
Tasters could contrast it with the Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Bin 707 2010 (97, $350), assembled from diverse sites. “If I can use a Champagne analogy, this is all about house style.” Both Cabs were aged in American oak, which South Australians have relied on both historically and currently for its suitability to the region’s Cabernet.
Then came the mini-vertical that many guests had been anticipating for weeks: Three glasses of the mighty Grange Shiraz: 1990—the Wine of the Year in 1995—(98, $100 on release, $422 current auction price), 2008 (100, $850) and 2010 (98, $850). Gago said, “If people in this room are expecting Australia’s most alcoholic or most extracted or oakiest Shiraz, you’ll be hugely disappointed. Grange is not about that. It’s about balance and ability to age. It’s not this muscular, steroid-y wine.”
This wine “is all about synergy and blending.” Gago can call on different vineyards around South Australia to account for the vicissitudes of vintage. So while in 1990 “nothing went wrong,” 2008 was “an awful vintage” that nonetheless turned out a 100-point Grange. Using a rigorous selection from old vines—which “naturally self-regulate” and ripen earlier—Gago got Grange Shiraz into the cellar just before a massive heat wave hit the region.
Finally, Gago treated the crowd to an old-school Oz rarity: a Shiraz-Mourvèdre-Grenache dessert wine, from a solera begun in 1915, that usually only trickles into the U.S. at a rate of six bottles per year. The Tawny South Australia 50-Year-Old Rare (NYR) is an incredibly rich, concentrated wine retailing for $3,000 AUS, and Penfolds donated 46 bottles of it to the Wine Experience. With that, Gago left the crowd a truly authentic taste of Australia’s vinous heritage.
Learn more about Grange and other Penfolds wines: