Australian Wine Royalty
By: WineMarketUpdated: 10/11/14
It's true A-lister stuff. There aren't many wines in existence that have reached the dizzying heights of status and collectability as Penfolds Grange. It's undeniably the premier wine of Australia, commanding consistent praise for its quality as well as huge commercial interest due to its historic value. Grange prices today can reach up to $50,000 a bottle, far and away more than any other commercially produced Australian wine in history. And the legend of the stuff is still growing.
The History of Grange
Known until 1989 as "Penfolds Grange Hermitage" (the French made us change it), Australia's most premium wine began as an experiment. More than sixty years ago, Max Schubert, the then young Chief Winemaker at Penfolds, set out to create an Australian version of the powerful, long-aging French reds that he had tasted in Bordeaux.
Beginning with the 1951 vintage, Schubert substituted the Bordeaux staple of Cabernet Sauvignon for South Australian Shiraz, and the tight, subtle French oak for thirsty, broader-grained American barrels. He wanted big fruit weight for an Aussie table wine that would be truly premium.
The result was a lusty, full-bodied and powerfully concentrated red that unfortunately, the Australian wine public was not quite ready for. In the early ‘50s, less than 10% of the Aussie market belonged to still table wines, with most drinkers preferring fortified styles. The table wines that were made were mostly lighter and less intensely flavoured, and this Penfolds Grange Hermitage was unlike anything produced in Australia before. But Grange was about to change the industry forever. Australia was about to begin its obsession with buying Penfolds Grange.
After the experimental '51 vintage, Penfolds released Grange to the public beginning with the 1952 wine the next year, and it sold modestly until Penfolds instructed Schubert to cease production in 1957, due to sluggish sales and no real market buzz. But luckily for us, Mr Schubert wasn't one for strictly worrying about what the bosses said.
So What is Grange?
Even after it was officially discontinued, Max Schubert continued producing Grange in secret, until Penfolds asked him to start again in 1960, when they realised how well the older vintages were aging. They were pleasantly surprised to learn that he'd never stopped making the stuff in the first place and it went straight back on the shelves. A great deal of Grange's value comes from not only a lineage more than 60 years old, but also the fact that the line is unbroken, allowing for vertical tastings and year-to-year comparisons.
And as for the makeup of the wine itself? Grange is a multi-regional, South Australian Shiraz, made each year from a unique combination of fruit parcels grown on premium Penfolds sites across the state. The makers strive above all for consistency; ensuring that each vintage of Grange is instantly recognised by the educated drinker as the iconic house style.
The idea is that even in vintages that see extreme or unusual weather conditions over the growing months, Grange will be blended in such a way that it is not so much an expression of where its components were grown, but an expression of a long-standing tradition of taste and style.
Penfolds Grange Winemakers
Since Max Schubert first created Australia's most famous wine back in '51, only three others have been entrusted with continuing the unbroken streak of production.
Schubert made the wine himself until 1975, when the Chief Winemaker role was passed on to Don Ditter, then again in 1986 to John Duval, and finally to Penfolds' current Chief Winemaker Peter Gago in 2002.
Even though the Penfolds brand has grown in leaps and bounds over the six decades of Grange's existence, Peter Gago remains as hands-on as his predecessors, personally overseeing every bit of Grange's long journey from vine to bottle.
A Penfolds man through and through, Gago graduated top of his class at Roseworthy, Australia's top wine school, and has worked with the company ever since.
Grange- A Swag of Awards
Since the beginning, Grange has captivated professional tasters and customers alike, powering its way to the massive international cult status that it enjoys today.
On top of standout vintages such as the 1955, 1990 and 2008 winning praise from around the globe at the highest level, almost every new bottle of Grange has won impressive accolades in its own right. Countless medals, trophies, the highest classification from Langton's, the list goes on.
Penfolds Grange prices have shot up, demand is through the roof, and it's become every wine lover's ambition to buy Penfolds Grange.
Penfolds Grange Vintage Overview
The exact amount of Grange produced each year is a closely guarded secret, with Penfolds having only ever disclosed the number of bottles released in the original 1951 vintage (only 100 cases).
Production today is huge compared to those three pioneer barrels of '51, but there's little danger of a surplus any time soon. With each passing year the demand to buy Penfolds Grange increases as the world (particularly Asia in recent years) gets thirstier for the top Aussie drop.
While Grange is known for its extraordinary aging ability, very few of the early vintages are still in their drinking prime. Their value lies in their rarity, especially the so-called "Secret Granges"; those produced without the consent of Penfolds management.
That being said, there are still some truly top-notch vintages from the early years that are still drinking well. These Granges are the stuff of dreams; some of the oldest, rarest wines on earth that haven't turned to salad dressing. Continuing proof of the quality of Penfolds Grange.
The 1990 Grange
This was the vintage to put not only the company, but all Australian reds on the map. Awarded the international title of "Red Wine of the Year" by Wine Spectator magazine in 1995, it was proof that Aussies could make world-class wines in a country about as far removed from the traditional home of the grape as geographically possible.
With the success of Grange came worldwide recognition of our entire industry. More Grange vintages followed, and Australia's favourite Red grew in fame and popularity.
What a drop! This one was released with reviews rivalling the famed 1990, with both Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate rating it 100 points- an extremely rare perfect score. These reviews from arguably the world's two most influential reviewers was the first time in history that a "New Word" wine was awarded the honour of a "double 100".
It's a Penfolds classic that'll probably go down as the best in years, but will most likely now have to share that limelight with the 2010. No matter how good the slightly younger brother becomes through, it's hard to look past the two 100-Point ratings of this 2008 Grange. This is a world-beater regardless of what follows.
The 2009 Grange
This '09 is unique in that it packs slightly less of the powerful punch that many long-time Grange aficionados have come to expect in the wine. Traditionally unapologetically bold and (in youth) borderline overpowering, this vintage took a more pared-back approach and produced a wine "quieter" than many of its predecessors.
While less-than-perfect growing conditions have resulted in a wine that is probably not a contender for "Grange of the Century", that's not to say that it's in any way deficient or poorly made. The nature of the modern industry and the resources that Penfolds are able to call upon ensure the highest possible quality, even in poorer years. Says wine writer Huon Hooke on the subject:
– "The lesser year Granges are far better these days than they used to be: I cannot imagine Penfolds ever again releasing vintages as ordinary as the 1974 or 1993. There is simply too much at stake now."
Penfolds Chief Winemaker Peter Gago predicts that while it's certainly a slight stylistic departure from the norm, many drinkers will be drawn to the 2009's surprisingly complex tannin structure and uniquely understated palate. And now for the most recent…
2010 Grange- New Vintage Back To Its Iconic, Powerful Best
Even amongst the world's absolute elite, there is a pecking order. Olympic silver medalists are technically still only second best. DiCaprio hasn't got an Oscar. The same goes for truly top-notch wine like Penfolds Grange: none are bad, just some are truly extraordinary.
The 2010 Grange is the latter.
For the first time in history, the new vintages of the Penfolds Bin labels (including their flagship wine, the 2010 Penfolds Grange) will be released in October 2014, almost seven months earlier than the traditional May unveiling.
Slightly less time in the bottle before sale is a trade-off it seems Penfolds is happy to make for being able to ship their premium reds in cooler months and have them available for Christmas and Chinese New Year gifting.
The new vintage Grange is already turning heads, and in fact has been since members of the wine press were first allowed a taste back in 2012. Penfolds Chief Winemaker Peter Gago said then that:
– "When 2010 Penfolds Grange arrives, I think it will blow all before it for a decade or two out of the water!"
Keep in mind that this was before the release of the 2008 and 2009 Granges, the first of which scored 100 Points from The Wine Advocate. That's how special this 2010 Grange is: its maker rates it as better than his own biggest achievement to date- the first new-world wine to be awarded 100 Points from the two most respected reviewers in the world.
James Halliday, Australia's top wine writer (and drinker) agrees- he's awarded the 2010 Grange 99 Points (he gave the 2008 a 98). Not only is 99 the highest score Halliday has ever given any vintage of Grange, it's the tied-highest score that he's ever awarded to any Australian table wine. Ever. His summary?
– "There is not the slightest question this will be one of the greatest Granges in the pantheon of '52, '55, '71, '96 and '06."
High praise indeed from a bloke who knows a thing or two.
Check out 2010 Grange HERE to learn more or to buy Grange online.