Thursday 5 May 2011

The launch of Grange 2006 - where are all the hacks?

Wonderful release of the Penfolds Grange 2006 last night in a club in one of those gated roads off Knightsbridge.

It was an odd event. I recognised about three people out of 100. Who were they all? ‘Clients and clients of clients’, Hugh Jackson of Treasury Wine Estates, the slightly snooty new Foster’s division that covers all their wines. They’re a bit grand, Foster’s, now that they’re a bona fide wine company.

But where were all the journalists? This was Grange, for heaven’s sake – does TWE think the wine sells itself?

I got an invitation after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, and Decanter’s editor Guy Woodward was there, but not a single other hack, just lots of bull-necked men in pressed jeans and expensive slip-ons, and sinister-looking Europeans.

Grange events always attract oddities. I remember the first re-corking clinic in London a few years ago, in the Lanesborough Hotel at the bottom of Piccadilly.

Grange aficionadoes – twitchy millionaires and pink-faced hedge-fund managers - turned up with hold-alls and cardboard boxes full of thousands of pounds of verticals dating back to the very beginning. It was agony to see the looks on their faces as John Duval (the winemaker then, before Peter Gago) pronounced a bottle from the 60s dead. Most took it pretty well…

Anyway, here are my notes on the wines last night. I should say James Halliday has already tasted them and pronounced them superb.

Penfolds Reserve Bin 09A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2009
Delicate spicy attack with very forceful acids present from the beginning. Lovely long wine with dense fruit flavours – cut apple, citrus, lime, sugared lemon – and a really delicious minerality. Halliday said he detected the hand of the winemaker in the wine but loved its ‘superb finesse and focus’.

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2008
Incredible colour – very pale straw, as far away from classic Australian golden Chardonnay as possible. Very delicate sweet palate with apple, pear, and some nutty notes, minerality and light acid overlaid with elegant creaminess on palate. Yattarna annoys a lot of people for its price - £58 – and generally superior attitude, but this seems to me wonderfully powerful and elegant – just look at the colour alone and wonder how something so light can have such heft. Produced with percentage of cool-climate Tasmanian fruit.

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2008
Very tight dense black fruit nose, very polished and velvety, brooding. Spicy, chalky tannins with sweet sharp dark red fruit – plums, cranberries, ripe loganberries, ripe blackberries. Delicious, refreshing, with the creaminess of the St Henri but a lighter, more elegant version.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2007
Very attractive sweet creamy, rather old-fashioned nose. Dense sweet and spicy raspberry/ blackberry palate with early attack of lovely chalky tannins which persist throughout. Amazingly powerful and young. ‘To drink this under five years would be a travesty’, the Penfolds ‘ambassador’ Tom Portet said. But the tannins are so finely balanced it’s a pleasure to taste. Old-fashioned in that it’s still got its roundness, but with wonderful precise linearity cutting through the middle.

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2008
The Red Winemaking Trial – this is the only Barossa wine Penfolds makes. Inky, deep purple colour, sweet nose with spice, licorice and cedar and some burnt toast. There’s great concentration here – the tannins are ripe and densely knit, the fruit is dark with strong chocolate and some black pepper flavours - but because of the acidity which gives it juice and freshness I’ve written ‘delicate’ a couple of times in my notes: ‘Overall impression of delicacy compared with the brooding pair before’.

Penfolds Grange 2006
Sweet nose with that intense meaty aroma along with blackberry, coffee and pruney/figgy notes. Overwhelming impression on palate is juiciness – it is literally mouthwatering – and all that dark black fruit. The wine is so concentrated that to describe the fruit in terms of its skin seems best: the soft grainy texture and bright acidity of ripe plum, the sharpness and bite of blackcurrant. Very approachable even this young. No problem to ignore the spittoon. Halliday mentions the ‘steadily building impact on the very long palate’ and says it will be drinking until 2050. Quite so. If this were Bordeaux, they would be comparing it to a gothic cathedral… Delicious.

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