Forget the Maypole, gimme some Grange!
Post by Chuck Hayward | May 1st, 2010
May 1st is an important day to the world’s working classes and neo-Pagans, but it is also an unofficial national holiday in Australia as the new
release of Penfolds Grange and other “Luxury & Icon” wines enter the local and international markets. This is a major cultural event, with every major television and print outlet leading off with stories of the newly released Grange and the roads to Penfolds H.Q. in Adelaide clogged with everyday people and well-off collectors alike—many in line for over 48 hours, vying for the opportunity to purchase just one bottle of Grange. Chief Winemaker Peter Gago spends May 1st besieged by the media, all seeking his assessment of the vintage while he signs autographs and meets with consumers. In many markets and especially within Australia, this is the only opportunity to get one’s desired Grange allocation, widely seen as the country’s most prestigious wine.
Because these wines now have a global demand, Penfolds has a new approach to marketing the release of their world class “Luxury & Icon” wines—and if there’s one thing Penfolds knows how to do, it’s throw a party. I was fortunate to be invited to the first Penfolds Icon release dinner ever held in the US, where I had the opportunity to taste all the top new releases accompanied by excellent cuisine prepared by Aussie superstar chef, Curtis Stone (whom you might recognize from Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice”.) This was a great evening to be sure, as Grange collectors mingled with members of the wine trade for a festive evening of food and wine while Matt Lane, Penfolds Ambassador for the Western Hemisphere, acted as our informative and entertaining emcee.
So what about the wines? Below are my tasting notes for each of the wines, but overall, the new releases showed
that Penfolds continues to assert its exalted position in the world of fine wine. The latest Grange returns to a bold, rich style following the elegant interpretation released last year. St. Henri Shiraz celebrates its 50th anniversary by continuing to shed its oft-worn mantle “sleeper of the lineup”. This year’s release is a wine for the ages and destined to last years in the cellar. And in one of the most difficult vintages for South Australia in the past ten years (and a year when Penfolds could declassify a poor wine), the Bin 707 Cabernet is one of the most succulent, approachable releases in a long time.
2007 Penfolds Chardonnay “Yattarna”
A blend of fruit from Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, and Henty. Pale straw color. Moderately intense and open aromas of lemon zest, delicate hints of creamy oak and burgundy-styled mineral elements prevail. Rich yet zesty on the palate, the citrus infused flavors soften with air and fan out across the palate. The minerals emerge again at the end, subtle and elegant in their presence. More refined and elegant, yet more complex than the ’06. Each vintage of Yattarna has seen the Penfolds team head further south to source fruit from cooler sites. The 2007 release continues the trend towards a refined and elegant Yattarna style.
2006 Penfolds Shiraz “St Henri”
89% Shiraz, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon. St. Henri continues to go from strength to strength as the Penfolds winemaking team tweaks its style. Now in its 50th vintage, the latest release has an opaque center with the barest hint of a rim. The nose is moderately powerful at this point with roasted notes and dark pepper spices lying underneath. With air, soft and rich chocolate infused fruit appears but the wine is a bit backwards. Still creamy and full-bodied on the palate, this is a more structured and ‘reined-in’ St Henri that finishes with spicy tannins and a touch of nicely integrated acid to lighten the palate. Where the voluptuous 2005 was juicy and thick, this vintage will clearly reward some time in the cellar or a vigorous decant if popping the cork today. 1976, 1986, and 1996 are some of the best St. Henri’s ever made. This release will continue the trend and add to that illustrious collection.
2007 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon “Bin 707″
A blend of fruit from Padthaway, Barossa and Coonawarra. The Penfolds 707 Cabernet is one of the winery’s most historic wines and exemplary of the Penfolds style. Recent years have seen a restrained, more tightly wound wine on release, however the 2007 is another wine entirely and a throwback to the more open and opulent years such as 1988 and 1990. Super attractive, cedar and mint infused aromas leap out of the glass, while kernels of sweet, currant-laced fruit lie underneath. The palate is round with spicy tannins and toffee laced flavors to complement the moderately weighted fruit. Easily one of the most immediately appealing 707s in a while, it’s hard to believe this juicy wine was matured in 100% new oak.
2007 Penfolds Shiraz “RWT”
Another winning vintage here. This RWT continues a string of successful releases that belie the wine’s full name “Red Wine Trial”. Clearly, the trial has been deemed successful quite awhile ago! Initially closed and restrained, the bouquet hints at roasted meats and a touch of coconut while the palate shows a purity of fruit and rich textures that seem almost weightless. Not a heavy style, it nevertheless has a pleasing, palate coating viscosity. The finish is youthfully short as the wine ends with subtle, talc-like tannins. An excellent wine in an open and approachable style from a vintage where many other South Australian shiraz are raisined and hard.
2005 Penfolds Shiraz “Grange”
96% Shiraz (88% Barossa); 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a more open, generous and immediately appealing vintage compared to the elegantly profiled 2004. The latest release has the classic, effusive Grange aromas and palate of previous vintages, but is maybe not as dense as some other years. This wine is no slouch, however, with savory flavors of cherry flambé and marinated mushrooms. Sage and rosemary notes add high-toned elements to the bouquet. Tangy acidity at the end adds a lift and elegance to the midpalate and lengthens the finish. As usual for Grange, the concentrated fruit masks the structure that guarantees this wine a long life. An excellent Grange that shows its class and pedigree in an unabashed manner.