A Range of Grange Part 5 (1955-2012): Tasting Notes, 21st Century Grange

        Edward Ragg, Beijing This is the fifth and final part of our Dragon Phoenix Feature on Penfolds’ Grange and presents tasting notes on select vintages from the current century. (Click here to read A Range of Grange Part 1: Penfolds’ Iconic South Australian blend). Given the soaring rise in recognition Penfolds has attained in mainland China, it seems fitting to present at least one (non-Chinese) taster’s impressions of the wines, albeit in English. Chinese wine lovers do, at least, now have Andrew Caillard MW’s The Rewards of Patience (7th edition) available in Mandarin. A Note on the Notes: the date and place of tasting is noted for each wine; and, where the same vintage has been tasted on separate occasions, ratings are accordingly different, owing to different bottles being tasted at different stages of development. The numerical scores are only, in any case, part of the story. What I’ve tried to stress is the character of each vintage and the notes are reproduced exactly as they were made at the time of tasting and have only been edited to correct obvious errors as to spelling, punctuation or factual information. Putting these notes side by side reveals some anomalies, partly explained by bottle variation and the vagaries of tasting itself.   2002 Penfolds Grange Tasted 12th December 2013, Chinese launch of The Rewards of Patience (Seventh Edition), Beijing Appearance: deep ruby. Nose: intense dark chocolate with black cherry, blueberry, mulberry, almost damson – a little less open than the older vintages here. Tightly wound up with a core of dark fruits waiting to open, deft vanilla and complex oak notes. Hint of mint/eucalypt. Young, cooler vintage style, consistent with 2002. Palate: intensely sweet dark black fruits with wonderful structure, lively acidity and very well-balanced alcohol with a hint of mint and eucalypt, even an iron-like, sanguineous quality. But the 2002 is really about these dark, intense fruits with a lovely ripe structure that is still, of course, very young on the palate. Very long. Conclusion: a relatively cool, fantastic vintage. This will be incredible in another 10 years and has the complexity and structure to last to at least 2022 and beyond. Beautiful fruit, beautiful elegance and complexity. Rating: 19/20   2003 Penfolds Grange Tasted 24th September 2008, Penfolds Rewards of Patience Tasting: Verticals of Grange and Koonunga Hill (Part 1: Koonunga Hill, Part 2: Grange) with Kym Schroeter. Appearance: very dark purple, clear rim. Nose: pronounced, bright berry fruits (blackberry, mulberry etc.) and some dark plum character with integrated oak. Palate: characteristically big tannic structure here, but this is a lighter vintage for Grange with a delicacy of fruit and lively acidity that suggest shorter-term keeping (at least on the Grange scale of ageing). Conclusion: 2003 was a warm vintage that did not produce as complex wines as the fabled 2002 or 1998 vintages. It would be cheap to call this a ‘restaurant vintage’ for Grange, but it’s heartening to have a wine of this calibre that can actually be approached now and which will drink nicely from 2013-2023. The 1983, 1991, 1998 and 1999 will all be better than the 2003 for different reasons. But this is still clearly a great Australian wine. Rating: 18.5/20                 2004 Penfolds Grange – Tasting Note 1 Tasted 29th November 2014, Decanter Fine Wine Encounter Shanghai Appearance: deep purple. Nose: very perfumed, very floral dark blueberry, damson and black cherry fruit with toasted oak and some mocha-chocolate characters. Very young, but not closed up especially. Still has this attractive showiness; as it had on first release, in fact. Palate: lovely tannic structure with juicy, ripe, big coating and chewy tannins, lifting acidity and a wonderful core of predominantly black, ripe, vibrant and perfumed fruits, beautifully integrated toasted and sweet oak notes with considerable length and layers of complexity. Conclusion: 4% Cabernet Sauvignon....

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A Range of Grange Part 4 (1955-2012): Tasting Notes, The 1990s Select Vintages

        Edward Ragg, Beijing This is the fourth part of our Dragon Phoenix Feature on Penfolds’ Grange and presents tasting notes on select vintages from the 1990s. (Click here to read A Range of Grange Part 1: Penfold’s Iconic South Australian blend). Given the soaring rise in recognition Penfolds has attained in mainland China, it seems fitting to present at least one (non-Chinese) taster’s impressions of the wines, albeit in English. Chinese wine lovers do, at least, now have Andrew Caillard MW’s The Rewards of Patience (7th edition) available in Mandarin. A Note on the Notes: the date and place of tasting is noted for each wine; and, where the same vintage has been tasted on separate occasions, ratings are accordingly different, owing to different bottles being tasted at different stages of development. The numerical scores are only, in any case, part of the story. What I’ve tried to stress is the character of each vintage and the notes are reproduced exactly as they were made at the time of tasting and have only been edited to correct obvious errors as to spelling, punctuation or factual information. Putting these notes side by side reveals some anomalies, partly explained by bottle variation and the vagaries of tasting itself.   1991 Penfolds Grange – Tasting Note 1 Tasted 29th November 2014, Decanter Fine Wine Encounter Shanghai Appearance: very deep ruby (only a slightly orange rim here). Nose: intensely perfumed and very ‘approachable’, attractive, ripe black cherry, blueberry and damson fruit with beautifully expressed vanilla and toasted oak notes. Very attractive on the nose at present. Later, the 1991 shows some more developed characters, but this is still comparatively ‘youthful’. Shares with the 1983 an approachability marked by vibrant, perfumed sweet fruits, some development and obvious intensity/generosity on the nose. Palate: lovely juicy tannins – ripe, rounded with some chewiness – with lifting acidity and a lovely core of bright, rich (but not powerful exactly) ripe black fruits. Long length, lovely concentration. Conclusion: 5% Cabernet Sauvignon here. Very attractive. Shares with the 1983 an immediately attractive nose, juicy and vibrant palate and layers of complexity. The 1991 may be even more complex in time than the relatively mature 1983 currently is (bearing in mind the 1983 can still go on, if desired). Very good. Rating: 18/20   1991 Penfolds Grange – Tasting Note 2 Tasted 24th September 2008, Penfolds Rewards of Patience Tasting: Verticals of Grange and Koonunga Hill (Part 1: Koonunga Hill, Part 2: Grange) with Kym Schroeter. Appearance: dark purple-red (with developing orange rim). Nose: restrained dark fruit aromas (blackberry, black cherry, blueberry) that have a closed character right now but which are combined with subtle oak, leather and dark chocolate aromas. Palate: definitely fruitier on the palate, the nose currently masking what is super-concentrated yet elegant fruit, with a very drying large tannic structure and lovely acidity. Alcohol is perfectly balanced too. Conclusion: this superb wine needs time. From a slightly cooler vintage than 1990 it is a bit closed right now, but is opulent and subtle on the palate with incredible length. Not as open as the 1983 vintage, but will be superb over the next 10-20 years. It certainly has the staying power. Very, very good. Rating: 19/20                   1993 Penfolds Grange Tasted 12th December 2013, Chinese launch of The Rewards of Patience (Seventh Edition), Beijing Appearance: medium to deep garnet (but, unsurprisingly, darker than the 1986 and 1983). Nose: ripe and crushed red and black cherry, more perfumed and floral here than with the 1983 or 1986 (with hints of violets, even rose), combining with lovely blueberry fruit and a eucalypt and mint character (also some herbal thyme or rosemary notes). Vanilla, cinnamon and other sweet oak notes. Some development with slight vegetal (but not really mushroom) characters. More cigar-box on the nose here than on the younger...

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A Range of Grange Part 3 (1955-2012): Tasting Notes, The 1980s Select Vintages

        Edward Ragg, Beijing This is the third part of our Dragon Phoenix Feature on Penfolds’ Grange and presents tasting notes on select vintages, in this section from the 1980s (Click here to read A Range of Grange Part 1: Penfold’s Iconic South Australian blend). Given the soaring rise in recognition Penfolds has attained in mainland China, it seems fitting to present at least one (non-Chinese) taster’s impressions of the wines, albeit in English. Chinese wine lovers do, at least, now have Andrew Caillard MW’s The Rewards of Patience (7th edition) available in Mandarin. A Note on the Notes: the date and place of tasting is noted for each wine; and, where the same vintage has been tasted on separate occasions, ratings are accordingly different, owing to different bottles being tasted at different stages of development. The numerical scores are only, in any case, part of the story. What I’ve tried to stress is the character of each vintage and the notes are reproduced exactly as they were made at the time of tasting and have only been edited to correct obvious errors as to spelling, punctuation or factual information. Putting these notes side by side reveals some anomalies, partly explained by bottle variation and the vagaries of tasting itself.   1983 Penfolds Grange – Tasting Note 1 Tasted 29th November 2014, Decanter Fine Wine Encounter Shanghai Appearance: deep garnet. Nose: lots of lovely developed notes of perfumed cigar-box, mushroom, black tea, coffee, chocolate/mocha, supported by a core of bright, sweet, ripe red and black fruits (lots of vibrant red and black cherry, red and black plum). Later, it shows more coffee character with Indian spices (cumin, fenugreek) and a persistent sweetness of fruit with vanilla and toasted oak notes now mellowing into this maturing wine. Palate: gripping juicy medium to high tannins, with lifting almost ‘bright’ acidity, balanced and integrated not too high alcohol here with a lovely core of fruit of considerable intensity and lots of lovely developed notes followed up by an undeniably long length. This has developed very well indeed. Conclusion: 6% Cabernet Sauvignon here and 18 months in new American oak hogsheads. Still drinking very well and will still benefit from further ageing, depending on preference. But, personally, I find this nicely developed now, even if it could undeniably still age. I enjoy the developed characters on this 1983, but the wine, at least in this bottle, doesn’t have quite the same intensity and real layers of complexity that some other vintages of Grange have (e.g. the 1986). That said, it is a very fine wine. Rating: 18/20   1983 Penfolds Grange – Tasting Note 2 Tasted 12th December 2013, Chinese launch of The Rewards of Patience (Seventh Edition), Beijing Appearance: medium to deep garnet. Nose: intensely aromatic spices on the first nose with marked cinnamon, clove, vanilla, cumin, chocolate and mocha oak with some vegetal notes, a hint of mushroom, with layered red and black cherry, plum and other sweet fruits. Showing maturity but not fully developed by any means. Palate: profound structure of slightly chunky but also grainy tannins, lifted with a line of almost zesty medium acidity and fully integrated alcohol with complex flavours (primary, secondary and tertiary) of sweet red and black fruits, myriad spices with some black tea, fermented soy notes and very long length. Conclusion: 6% Cabernet Sauvignon to 94% Shiraz. About 13.3% abv. 1982 had been a drought with a very hot Christmas going into 1983. There were bush fires and then dreadful floods, then locusts (what Gago called the majority of ‘Biblical calamities possible’). But 1983 Grange was rescued by lower volume and high quality (apparently, a group of bankers tried to buy as much 83 as they could to corner the market). This wine certainly has developing notes, but is not nearly at...

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A Range of Grange Part 2 (1955-2012): Tasting Notes, Select Early Vintages

          Edward Ragg, Beijing This is the second part of our Dragon Phoenix Feature on Penfolds’ Grange and presents tasting notes on select vintages from 1955-2010, in this section on two classic vintages from the 1950s and 1970s. (Click here to read A Range of Grange Part 1: Penfolds’ Iconic South Australian blend). Given the soaring rise in recognition Penfolds has attained in mainland China, it seems fitting to present at least one (non-Chinese) taster’s impressions of the wines, albeit in English. Chinese wine lovers do, at least, now have Andrew Caillard MW’s The Rewards of Patience (7th edition) available in Mandarin. A Note on the Notes: the date and place of tasting is noted for each wine; and, where the same vintage has been tasted on separate occasions, ratings are accordingly different, owing to different bottles being tasted at different stages of development. The numerical scores are only, in any case, part of the story. What I’ve tried to stress is the character of each vintage and the notes are reproduced exactly as they were made at the time of tasting and have only been edited to correct obvious errors as to spelling, punctuation or factual information. Putting these notes side by side reveals some anomalies, partly explained by bottle variation and the vagaries of tasting itself.   1955 Penfolds Grange Tasted 22nd Sept 2010 ‘An Historical Perspective’ presented by James Halliday and Andrew Caillard MW. From the Landmark Tutorial Day 3, Yarra Valley. Appearance: medium garnet. Nose: very complex nose of tea, herbs, mushroom, sous bois/undergrowth, compost, vegetal aromas, but also lingering red and black fruits (more red than black). With aeration, Indian spices and roast meats. Remarkable. Palate: hugely complex palate with a line of medium acidity, quite prominent, mellowed fruits and spices with a core of still gripping and coating tannins. Alcohol is well-balanced and inter-knit into the whole. Very good length. Conclusion: a remarkable wine in full maturity. Drink now. Rating: 18.5/20   1971 Penfolds Grange Tasted 22nd Sept 2010 ‘An Historical Perspective’ presented by James Halliday and Andrew Caillard MW. From the Landmark Tutorial Day 3, Yarra Valley. Appearance: medium garnet (slightly darker than the 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A). Nose: gorgeous nose of mellowed red and black fruits, myriad spices, vegetal characteristics, washed-rind cheese, mushrooms, tea, mellowing oak (which clearly plays a role in the inter-marriage of aged aromas) and even further complex notes. Superb. Palate: more fruit evident on the palate than nose – ‘sweet’ fruit in its degree of original ripeness – with a still perky, profound tannic structure of high coating tannins, lovely acidity, phenomenal balance – alcohol doesn’t even seem to be a factor – and stunning length. Conclusion: a stupendous vintage of Grange and a truly sensational wine which entirely merits the term ‘great’. Andrew Caillard and James Halliday discussed the importance of a higher level of volatile acidity on this wine. The result is truly amazing. Drinking well now. Rating: 19.5/20 Click below to read notes on some later vintages of Grange. A Range of Grange Part 3: The 1980s, Select Vintages A Range of Grange Part 4: The 1990s, Select Vintages A Range of Grange Part 5: The 21st Century, Select Vintages  ...

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A Range of Grange Part 1: Penfolds’ Iconic South Australian Blend

Edward Ragg, Beijing Over the past few years I have been fortunate to taste a number of vintages of Penfolds’ flagship wine Grange, created first as an experimental blend in the 1951 vintage by the legendary Max Schubert. As Andrew Caillard MW has lovingly detailed in the seventh edition of The Rewards of Patience – the definitive work on Penfolds past and present – the wine was first released commercially in 1952 and takes it name from the Grange Cottage built on the Magill Estate in 1845. Although Grange conjures up in many a wine lover’s mind the nominal pinnacle of Australian Shiraz, it is rarely, in fact, 100% Shiraz. Indeed, only the 1951, 1952, 1963, 1999 and 2000 vintages have been exclusively Shiraz to date. For Cabernet Sauvignon also plays a significant role in Grange, not just from notable sites in Coonawarra, Robe and Padthaway, but also from Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, where, along with the Clare Valley, much of the premium Shiraz is also, obviously, sourced (see below left for the site of Penfolds’ revered Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon). In almost all senses, then, Grange is a creature of blends: by grape varieties, South Australian regions, select parcels within those regions and by rigorous blind-tasting of barrel-to-barrel samples before the final selection is made. The wine-making philosophy has also, largely, remained the same, certainly in terms of Max Schubert’s conviction of partially fermenting the wine and then taking it off skins to complete fermentation in barrel: traditionally, in new American oak hogsheads. But it would be a mistake to see Grange as being written in stone. In the early 1950s, when Australia’s wine industry was still dominated by fortified wines, Grange was seen by some as an odd expression for a table wine: one so extracted and robust it might be confused with the ‘port’ style wines then in vogue. For the Penfolds top brass, this represented a confusion of categories.   Schubert was, therefore, ordered by Penfolds’ then senior management to stop producing his beloved ‘Grange Hermitage’, a wine thought to have little commercial appeal at the time. But, against the wishes of his bosses, Schubert continued to make Grange in the 1957, 1958 and 1959 vintages, re-using old barrels and keeping the bottled wines under the radar of the Penfolds board. Without the character of new wood, these wines did not fit Schubert’s vision for Grange, but they did ensure the word began to spread, slowly but surely, about the quality and ageing potential of the wines he was making (the 1957-1959 vintages subsequently becoming especially sought after at auction and, now, extremely rare). Although I have been lucky to taste many more vintages of Penfolds iconic Bin 707 than of Grange – having served on the November 2011 Beijing panel which reviewed the majority of the Bin 707 vintages for the new edition of The Rewards of Patience – it is not hard to be passionate about this remarkable part of Australia’s vinous heritage. In the next post, you will find a range of tasting notes of some select vintages of Grange, sometimes tasted on more than one occasion (with dates given) and often with reference to Grange’s current chief winemaker, Peter Gago. Gago was most recently in China to show Grange in November 2014 at Decanter Magazine’s first Fine Wine Encounter on Chinese soil (Gago cunningly sneaking in the newly released 2010 vintage to Shanghai, which was not intended to be part of the original line-up). Catch the next posts to read detailed tasting notes on vintages from 1955 to 2012, with the majority...

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