2014 is a big year for Penfolds and especially Grange, Australia’s most famous wine.
Two vintages are being released, just five months apart, after the Barossa Valley wine company’s owner, Treasury Wine Estates, decided to switch the annual release date for new Penfolds vintages from autumn to spring.
In May the ’09 Grange arrived, but got a little lost when greater accolades went to its cheaper sibling, the $95 2010 St Henri shiraz. On Thursday it was overwhelmed by the much-anticipated 2010 Grange, which also hits the shelves with a whopping $785 price tag. Even back in May, the buzz was ‘just wait for this one’.
This is the red Australia’s leading wine writer, James Halliday, says is “destined to join a pantheon of the greatest Granges such as the ’53, ’55, ’71, ’96 and 2006”.
Halliday reckons “it’s worth every dollar”.
It’s also a milestone wine, since 2014 marks 20 years since Grange’s creator, Max Schubert died, and this is the 60th vintage of his remarkable wine, oft described as an “iron fist in a velvet glove”.
I had the chance to taste the 2010 Grange at a preview of the new Intercontinental Double Bay hotel, which opens next month.
It’s hard to get your head around what an $800 wine should taste like, especially when it’s less than five years old and is designed to last for 50 years. 2020 is when this Grange reaches drinking age according to Andrew Caillard’s book on all Penfolds wines, The Rewards of Patience.
So the first surprise is how easy drinking the 2010 is already. You know there’s longevity in the tannins, but amid all the dark berry fruit flavours, it seems really poised already. This is certainly a great wine.
So much so that I wanted a second glass. The InterContinental Double Bay’s head sommelier, Kabir Antoniak, poured another from the decanter.
And that’s when everything changed. This wasn’t the same wine. It seemed flatter, the fruit dulled by a stale, musty scent that carried through to the palate.
I took it to Kabir, saying it didn’t seem right. He agreed, describing it as “bottle variation”.
But to be honest, if I hadn’t had the first glass, I would have assumed that’s what the 2010 Grange was like and would have been a little disappointed. But when you try a good bottle besides that second one, the difference was stark.
I’m just glad my $785 wasn’t on that second bottle.
Luckily, one of the Grange winemakers was there. Stephanie Dutton is the youngest member and only woman on Penfolds’ red wine team. She’s a 29-year-old wunderkind.
I asked Kabir to take my glass to Stephanie and get her opinion.
She told me later that it was aldehyde, but assured me the wine wasn’t oxidised, although it’s commonly associated with oxidisation and at higher levels, gives wines a sherry-like character and flattens the texture.
Reading up on acetaldehyde, I’ve seen it described as imparting green apple, sour and metallic flavours. I didn’t really pick those components up. I spoke to a sommelier mate who said that in small amounts, it adds complexity to a wine, but if there’s too much, the fruit is lost and in his view, it’s a flaw.
I didn’t drink my second glass of 2010 Grange. I didn’t like it. Instead I turned to the always elegant Bin 707 cabernet sauvignon, which, at $350, seems more modestly priced too.
I forgot to ask Stephanie Dutton if the cork might have played a part in it appearing – after all, it wasn’t in the other bottle. And interestingly most Penfolds wines, including its premier $150 chardonnay, Yattarna, are under screwcap.
When I asked Stephanie about her personal preference when buying wine from cellar, she said she’d choose screwcap over cork.
She also hinted that Penfolds is looking at some sort of glass seal for its super-premium wines, something Stephen Henschke, the winemaker of Australia’s other iconic red, Hill Of Grace, has been doing since the 2008 vintage.
If that means you get two bottles of $785 wine of the same standard, I’m all for it.
After all, 50 years is a long time to wait to discover your wine isn’t good enough.
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