by Juel Mahoney
Many people hold memories of their first bottle of Grange close to their heart. Much like other history-defining events, when people talk about Grange the conversation tends to become a game of “Where were you when…?”
The opportunity to taste three in a row was too good to miss. For the launch of the new Grange 2008 we also tasted 1998 and 1990. All three vintages make a fascinating trilogy.
There is intense interest around this wine since it received 100 points from Lisa Perrotti-Brown in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. The expectations are so high that if the wine was a person I am sure it would have closed down immediately from stage fright. This is a famous vintage for wine in South Australia, although not all wines are showing as well today as Grange. The 2008 vintage was extremely hot in South Australia with thirteen days over 35 degrees heat in March (this is not even usual in the middle of Summer in January). It was so hot not even the refrigeration in the winery struggled. However, luckily for Penfold’s they had spent 1995 to 1998 doubling their fermentation capacity so they were able to take advantage of all the excellent fruit. The Grange 2008 has delicious blackberry and mulberry fruits enveloped in warm baking spices. The fruit has great clarity, purity and focus with very fine tannins and a long and complex finish. Still very young, it became more understandable when tasted alongside older vintages.
This was another vintage released with much fanfare – I remember it well. Even taxi drivers would talk to you about it if they knew you worked in wine. To all the people who bought this wine, I hope you still have some bottles: it is an absolute knock-out and drinking very well now. It has a beautiful freshness to the fruit – the acidity is enlivening and balances the lush and jammy fruit with lift and verve. In the glass, it develops an intriguing animal and sweet leather character with great refined tannins and a texture that can almost deserves its own term, ”Grange-like”.
It is fifteen years old now; it will develop more in the next 5 years – Grange develops in stages, and it will reach another stage of development over the next 20-25 years. One of the criticisms of Australian wine is that they don’t age and develop. Justin Knock MW said it is the first time he has tasted some development in the 1998 – showing just how long-lived these wines really are.
This wine is almost more perfume than liquid. It is still very youthful and fresh with a light taffeta touch of black fruits, truffles, aniseed and fennel. This is a fascinating wine to taste against two greats such as 2008 and 1998 – it does not have the power or focus of the fruit, but it still has the same freshness and ‘Grange’ texture of very refined tannins. I have to admit, I was carried away by the greatness of the wine, and my imagination drifted to a dinner at a white-table cloth restaurant – this would be perfect on an anniversary dinner. It may close down again but it still has a good five years ahead of it.
Thank you very much to Penfolds and Justin Knock MW for leading the tasting.