Good wines usually reflect what is typical of their region. Great wines transcend that limitation expressing a depth and complexity that never seems typical. My expectations prior to tasting this iconic Australian wine was for new world power and excess—dense, sweet fruit, high alcohol, and too much oak. What I got was quiet power garnished with old world elegance and finesse, intensity without ostentation, dense and rich to be sure, but more Mozart than Wagner.
From the very beginning, in 1951, this wine was designed to excel, with original winemaker Max Shubert using techniques he learned in Bordeaux to make Australian wine that could compete with the world’s best. The story of its inception is well known but worth repeating. The first several vintages were not well received and so the owners instructed Shubert to suspend production. Giving substance to the myth of the rebel winemaker, Shubert secretly continued production, and when the earlier vintages developed character when aged in bottle, critical appraisal flipped and official production was restarted in 1960, with management still unaware it had never stopped.
Although it’s now owned by the mega-conglomerate Treasury Wine Estates, Grange remains Australia’s best known brand getting top dollar at auction in part because of its consistency. Unlike most of the world’s great wines, the grapes for Penfolds Grange are sourced from many vineyards and from many regions of South Australia. That makes this a winemaker’s wine since each vintage is a complex blend constructed intentionally from diverse grapes. It also means vintage variation can be minimized since the vagaries of one vineyard can be corrected using grapes from elsewhere. This Shiraz is typically blended with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Blackberry, chocolate, and mint aromas explode from the glass keynoted by smoke and cigar box. In the mouth an intense core of dense, dark fruit reigns imperiously but the midpalate gradually softens achieving a wonderful textural sensuality, highlighting savory earth flavors with time in the glass. The still firm tannins orchestrate a supple, seamless finish exposing hints of charcoal. The wine exudes majesty yet feels sumptuous like a warm kiss, a marriage of power and care.
It remained vibrant and alive in the glass for two hours. Age has been very good to this wine from a vintage that was not highly touted, and it has many years of life left. I