With Penfolds Grange, the Very Best of Australia’s Terroir
Australia’s best-known wine is the iconic Penfolds Grange, which has been receiving global accolades for two decades. Part of the wine’s success is based around its sense of history and place.
Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold migrated to Australia from England with his wife, Mary, and in 1844 founded Penfolds winery partly to advocate the medicinal benefits of wine. Before leaving for Australia, Penfold obtained cuttings from southern France — presumably Rhone varieties such as hermitage, known as shiraz in Australia.
Penfold practiced medicine at Magill on the eastern outskirts of Adelaide, the South Australian capital, and planted vines around his stone cottage. That cottage he named The Grange, after his wife’s former home.
For decades, Penfolds concentrated on fortified wine. But during the 1940s and 1950s, the company focused on table wines to accommodate changing tastes. Experiments by chief winemaker Max Schubert eventually led to the production of what has become known as Australia’s most famous wine, Grange Hermitage, later renamed simply Grange.
The wine has been made every year since 1951, when Schubert began his experiments after a study tour of France.
The 1990 vintage catapulted the Grange to international recognition. That vintage featured on the front cover of the influential US magazine Wine Spectator, and the magazine named it wine of the year.
The wine demonstrates the synergy between shiraz grapes and the soil and climate of South Australia. The 2007 edition, just released, contains 97 percent shiraz with 3 percent cabernet sauvignon.
Grange is always matured in new American hogsheads. With the 2007 vintage, it was for 21 months. This means the wine will last for decades, and probably should not be opened for at least 20 years.
Peter Gago, chief winemaker at Penfolds, described the nose as offering soy, cola, peat and Dutch black liquorice with a touch of sesame. Stephanie Dutton, another of the Penfolds winemakers, said the Grange spoke loudly of the terroir of South Australia. It is a powerful expression of the company’s philosophy of blending grapes from multiple sites.
The 2007 is a blend of fruit from three areas of the state: Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and the original Magill estate. The key to Grange was the selection of the best fruit, Dutton said. One is reminded of the advertising slogan for a brand of tuna: “It’s the fish that John West rejects that makes John West the best.”
The 2007 Grange features shiraz at its most intensely-flavored best.
Grange is a unique Australian style, recognized as one of the most consistent of the world’s great wines.
Previous vintages have rated very highly in global tastings. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave the 2004 vintage 99 points out of 100; the 2005 received 97 points, and the 2006 got 98 points. The 2007 will achieve similar excellence.
What if you cannot afford Grange, which typically retails for about $655 a bottle? The answer might be the “baby Grange” — the Bin 389, a blend of 51 percent cabernet sauvignon and 49 percent shiraz. Again, the wine is a combination of fruit from across the state. It sells for about one-tenth of the price of the Grange.
The Bin 389, first made in 1960, has gained a reputation for consistency and longevity. It gets the name “baby Grange” because it is matured in the oak hogsheads used for the previous vintage of Grange, and because it had the same creator, the legendary Max Schubert.
The wine leaves a joyful feeling in one’s mouth, and the tannins are soft and approachable. The multiple fruits offer a choir of flavors: rhubarb and stewed quince with hints of cocoa and cedar.
Dutton said Bin 389 was an Australian grand vin — a result of the selection of the best parcels of fruit from the best vineyards, made by a team “steeped in the traditions of a great Australian wine style.”