Great power and balance ... The Penfolds 50 Year Old Rare Tawny, 170th Anniversary Release.
Grange is still Australia's most collectable wine, made in sufficiently high volume to place it in the tradeable commodity class, like first and super second-growth Bordeaux. Its fame is supported by a colourful history, a heroic creator in the late Penfolds chief winemaker Max Schubert, and a matchless unbroken lineage back to 1951. Not a single-vineyard wine like Henschke Hill of Grace, it is blended from a number of vineyards and regions, all in South Australia, with the Barossa as the base. This is a kind of insurance against the failure of any single vineyard due to bad weather. There were some shaky vintages in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, but very few sub-standard wines have appeared since the end of the 1970s. However, Grange is no longer unassailable as Australia's greatest wine. There are many challengers today. The world of wine has expanded so much since Schubert's heyday that there are many more styles, grape varieties and makers competing for the mantle.
Is it worth the $785 price tag? Not to me. It's been decades since I felt Grange was affordable. As with any luxury good, it depends on how much money is in your pocket and how badly you want it. Ultimately, the market either accepts or rejects the price.
Torbreck The Laird 2008
Here are 10 of Australia's other top-price drops.
Penfolds 50 Year Old Rare Tawny, 170th Anniversary Release, $3550
Astonishing concentration of extremely old rancio aromas and flavours, very rich and lingering for minutes after the swallow. Great power and balance. The price partly reflects the cost of the hand-made packaging. Score: 98/100
Penfolds Bin 170 Kalimna Limited Edition Shiraz 2010, $1800
A one-off to commemorate this year's 170th anniversary, made from a single block of the company's famous Kalimna vineyard in the Barossa, whose grapes usually go into Grange. Aged only in French oak. Black pepper, sweet dried-herb and star-anise; wonderful flavour, great concentration, fine-grained tannins, a sublime wine. Score: 98/100
All Saints Museum Muscadelle, $1000 (500ml)
Released to celebrate this year's 150th anniversary. Some of the wine is more than 100 years old. Thick, treacly nut-brown colour coats the glass; it has a bouquet and flavour of dried fig, malt, toffee, burnished wood and old leather, and explosive flavour that lingers on and on.
Parawa Estate Ingalalla Grand Reserve Shiraz 2007, $1100
From the Fleurieu Peninsula: the 2000 bottles were all destined for overseas markets. I don't know anyone who has tasted it. Seen by many as an opportunistic tilt at the wealthy Chinese collector market.
Penfolds Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz 2008, $1000
A one-off, echoing the famous 1966 Bin 620 and, like that wine, 100 per cent Coonawarra. Fabulously concentrated blueberry and blackberry aromas, enormous fruit sweetness and decadent, lush flavour and texture. Totally seductive.
Torbreck The Laird 2008, $900
Wonderful density and coffee/mocha concentration, luxuriously smooth and sumptuous. Single-vineyard Barossa shiraz, made in small quantities and like Grange and Hill of Grace, not released until it's at least five years old.
Chris Ringland Shiraz (formerly Three Rivers) 2006, $700*
I seldom get to taste this cult wine, it's so rare and its maker secretive. But it's a dense, concentrated, powerful, high-alcohol Barossa shiraz, produced in minuscule quantities from a single vineyard. *as advertised on wineculture.com.au
Henschke Hill of Grace 2009, $650
Fantastic wine and a top HOG vintage. Single-vineyard Eden Valley shiraz of sublime complexity and finesse, deceptively concentrated. A great wine of true individuality.
Seppeltsfield 100 Year Old Para 1914, $500 (100ml bottle)
Seppeltsfield is the world's only winery releasing a 100-year-old wine each year, which it has done since the 1878 released in 1978. These are port-style wines of mind-bending concentration and bewildering flavour. They have more in common with very old balsamic vinegar than wine. The flavour lasts on the tongue for minutes and must be experienced to be believed. Seppeltsfield.com.au
Chambers Rare Rutherglen Muscat, $250 (375ml)
Rich as treacle and almost as difficult to pour, this wine has almost infinite complexity of aged aroma and flavour yet still displays lovely muscat fruit character. Lusciously sweet, with almost endless flavour.