Granges make for a re­ward­ing tast­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - INDULGENCE - James Halliday

THE sixth Pen­folds Re­wards of Pa­tience tast­ing, held once ev­ery three years, was staged at var­i­ous venues in South Aus­tralia to­wards the end of last year. In com­mon with pre­vi­ous tast­ings, three over­seas wine writ­ers joined three Aus­tralian coun­ter­parts, with Andrew Cail­lard again sad­dled with the job of col­lat­ing the panel’s tast­ing notes and ul­ti­mately writ­ing TheRe­ward­sof Pa­tience book (run­ning to 300 pages).

No other wine pro­ducer in the world could stage an event such as this.

The over­seas judges were Bri­tain’s Neil Beck­ett (ed­i­tor of The­Worldof FineWine mag­a­zine), Ch’ng Poh Tiong ( TheWineRe­view , Sin­ga­pore) and Josh Greene from New York (ed­i­tor of Wi­ne­sandSpir­it­sMagazine ). The Aus­tralian con­tin­gent was Huon Hooke ( TheSyd­neyMorn­ingHer­ald ), au­thor Camp­bell Mat­tin­son and, for the fifth time, this writer.

Peter Gago, the per­pet­ual-mo­tion bril­liant speaker, wine ed­u­ca­tor and wine­maker, led the Pen­folds side, mak­ing cru­cial calls on the all too many wines with cork-re­lated prob­lems, some­times open­ing four bot­tles in a not al­ways suc­cess­ful at­tempt to find a good one.

The tast­ing of 400 Pen­folds wines fol­lowed the pat­tern of pre­vi­ous events but there was one big break with tra­di­tion: each flight in­cluded all the red wines that had been bot­tled but not yet re­leased.

So, for ex­am­ple, we were treated to a ver­ti­cal tast­ing of 54 Granges, start­ing with the ’ 52 and fin­ish­ing with the un­re­leased ’ 03, ’ 04 and ’ 05 vin­tages. Need­less to say, this was the high point of the four days, with so much to dis­cuss (and en­joy) that the tast­ing started at 9am, with only a short morn­ing tea break, and con­tin­ued un­til 2.45pm.

My top wines (which largely, though not pre­cisely, re­flect the over­all panel opin­ions) were ’ 52, ’ 53, ’ 56, ’ 62, ’ 63, ’ 66, ’ 67, ’ 71, ’ 72 (a great bot­tle), ’ 76, ’ 85, ’ 86, ’ 88, ’ 90, ’ 91, ’ 92, ’ 94, ’ 96 (the best since the wines of the ’ 50s), ’ 98, ’ 99, ’ 01, ’ 02 (the su­perb present re­lease), ’ 04 and ’ 05.

Par­tic­u­larly since 1990, it was a pat­tern that largely re­peated it­self in the ver­ti­cal tast­ings of Bin 28 Shi­raz, Bin 389 Caber­net Shi­raz, Bin 407 Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, Bin 707 Caber­net Sauvi­gnon and a resur­gent St Henri. The vin­tages to come up trumps ev­ery time were ’ 90, ’ 96 and, ex­cit­ingly, ’ 04 and ’ 05.

The weak­est vin­tages across the board since ’ 96 were ’ 97, ’ 00 and ’ 03. Ques­tions have been posed about the re­lease of the ’ 00 Grange; it is rel­a­tively light-bod­ied (I em­pha­sise rel­a­tively) and will ma­ture well be­fore the ’ 99 (when Grange was out­stand­ing, for the first time 100 per cent Barossa) and ’ 01. On the other hand, it was clearly the best of the Pen­folds reds of the ’ 00 vin­tage. Be­fore pass­ing on from the gen­er­ally or­di­nary ’ 03 vin­tage, the rep­u­ta­tion of Grange will in no way suf­fer from its ’ 03 re­lease in March.

On a broader view, the late ’ 60s through to the end of the ’ 70s and early ’ 80s was not a great time for Aus­tralian red wines. The ex­cep­tion, es­pe­cially for Pen­folds, was ’ 71. The Grange of that year has al­ways been ac­cepted as one of the great­est, al­though from time to time tech­nocrats have taken ex­cep­tion to its high level of volatile acid­ity.

The leap in qual­ity through the ’ 90s and into this cen­tury par­tially re­flects the large in­vest­ment in new vine­yards (the old­est 30 years, the youngest a lit­tle over 10 years) in the Barossa; the very high prices Pen­folds pays for grapes from 100-year-old vines; and, pos­si­bly and in­trigu­ingly, the early signs of (ben­e­fi­cial) cli­mate change.

But I can­not close with­out a trib­ute to the 1962 Bin 60A Caber­net Shi­raz, which in a ce­les­tial tast­ing of the spe­cial bins and even more at the clos­ing din­ner at the Mag­ill Restau­rant — where it dis­patched ’ 70 Chateau La­tour, ’ 82 La­tour and ’ 82 Chateau Mou­ton Roth­schild — con­firmed once again that it is the great­est Aus­tralian red wine made.

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