The Penfolds Grange 2009 vintage.
All Grange vintages are eagerly awaited by collectors, although you need increasingly deep pockets to be in the game. The price tag of Thursday's release – the 2009 vintage – is $785.
Grange isn't released until it is five years old, by which time it's starting to be approachable but still needs more time. The classic drinking window of Grange is between 10 and 40 years after vintage; 50-plus for the great vintages.
Once described by English wine author Hugh Johnson as the one true first growth of the southern hemisphere, it now has competition for that title, not least from its own stable, as Penfolds releases occasional Special Bin wines that are at least as great as Grange. Today, it is often regarded as an old-fashioned wine, with its rugged tannins and overt coconutty American oak – although it has been subtly refined over the past 15 or so years, and is more elegant and less oaky, with finer tannins.
Three of goodfood.com.au's wine writers put this year's release to the test.
The 2009 season came at the end of a three-year drought, when South Australia experienced hotter and drier conditions than usual. In 2008 the heat came late and Penfolds had picked most of its grapes before the record heatwave hit; in 2009 the heatwave was early and had more effect on the wines.
The 2009 is a typical Grange, which I'm sure will age well, but I don't see quite the detail in aroma and flavour that I do in great years. There are hints of cooked or jammy fruit, as well as roasted nuts, plums, coffee, mocha and raisin. There's a touch of heat on the palate and the tannins are ample, drying and firm. I don't perceive quite the profound depth of fruit that I usually taste in Grange. The oak is apparent but quite well balanced, and will become more balanced by the time the wine is drunk, ideally not for a decade or more.
It will mature and develop for at least 40 years. I'd place it in the second level of Granges, below the great Granges such as 2008, 06, 04, 96, 94, 91 and 86.
Huon Hooke is one of Australia's best qualified wine writers and judges. He has been a Fairfax wine critic since 1983.
Is Penfolds Grange 2009 the vintage of the century? No. Even Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago agrees it is not. Neither is it vintage of the decade. For that we will have to wait and see what comes with the highly anticipated 2010 vintage (and the chance of yet another price rise) next year.
Is it as complete and resplendent as the 2008? No, and again the weight of evidence suggests that 2009 is a) not as powerful or b) deserving of "classic" Grange status. Sounds dire for those Grange collector traders, doesn't it?
Fortunately for the health of Australian wine in general, the 2009 Grange will sort out the drinkers from the traders. It is a fine wine deserving of any red wine drinker's serious consideration – and so it should be at $785 a bottle. In fact, it exudes a level of unGrange-like charm that I find appealing. The highly fragrant red fruit perfume, aniseed and spicy grand bazaar type exotica arouse the senses. It seems to be striving to be more of a good drink rather than a master of the wine universe celebrating excess.
Jeni Port has been a wine writer for The Age since 1989 and this year was inducted as a ‘legend’ by the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
The arrival of each new Grange vintage excites more interest in Australian wine circles than any other label, even though few can afford it. It's a figurehead, a commodity investment, a flagship, a news item, a mighty red. Beyond our shores, it's probably done more than anything to show that Australian wine should be taken seriously.
Grange is also a picture of consistency. Vintage variations do exist but there have been few duds since its first release with the 1951 vintage. In my opinion, the most recent poor Grange was the 2000 wine, but not everyone will agree on that. So how does the 2009 vintage rate? My tasting notes, based on those taken at the Grange launch, are as follows: Deep, dense appearance. Initial aromas are of coconut, mocha, black chocolate. As usual, there is notable American oak barrel ferment character, but dense, stewed plummy fruit stands up to it. Complex spice characters add dimension. It's a mouth-coating, big wine that seems a bit more plush and forward than others at the same stage. Tannins aren't quite as formidable either. A very good Grange, but although it's hard to assess these wines at only five years of age in the context of other vintages, to me it didn't quite have the same well-defined fruit character and palate structure of recent great Granges such as the 2006 and 2008.
Ralph Kyte-Powell has more than 30 years' experience in the wine business and hospitality industry and has been writing about wine for more than a decade.