The 2008 vintage of Penfolds' flagship red wine, Grange, has been released with much fanfare today. Having scored a perfect 100 points from influential US wine magazine Wine Advocate, the recommended retail price has leapt 25 per cent in one vintage, to $785 a bottle. But is it the perfect wine? Fairfax wine critics caution that only time - and a lot of it - will tell.
Penfolds Grange is regarded as Australia's greatest wine, and the 2008 vintage is one of the best, alongside 2006, 1996 and 1990. The impressive things about Grange are its power, and its ability to build great complexity of flavour over many years of cellaring. The top vintages age well for 50 years, and the '08 will be one of those. But, if you drink it too young you may be disappointed, especially if you've paid $785. The full payoff is the wonderful aroma and flavour nuances that build gradually over time, and this one needs 15 to 20 years, minimum.
Grange may no longer be Australia's greatest wine – there are many pretenders to that title these days, including from Penfolds' own stable – but it maintains and embellishes its superb record. That record stretches back in an unbroken line to 1951, which no other Australian wine can boast. If anything, it's better than ever - the quality of the tannins finer and the oak barrels of better quality, resulting in more subtle oak-derived flavours.
The wine does taste old-fashioned beside our modern, cutting-edge shiraz, though - wines such as Mount Langi Ghiran and Clonakilla. And it's not a wine of terroir, which is the fashion these days, as it's a blend of regions and is more about house-style than vineyard or regional character. But is it worth $785 - 25 per cent more than the previous vintage? Of course not. No wine is intrinsically worth that. But, at the sharp end, wine price is about many things other than what's in the bottle, and Grange is merely keeping up with the rest of the world in that regard.
Huon Hooke is one of Australia's best qualified wine writers and judges, and has been a Fairfax wine critic since 1983.
A Grange is a Grange. With one of two hiccups in the last thirty years, Grange's style is remarkably consistent and the 2008 is a great example.
Assessing one vintage as better than another is difficult with a big, brawny, oaky, impenetrable, unevolved red wine like Grange. In my experience, vintage differences across most years probably don't reveal themselves until the wines are twenty-plus years old, despite the fact that a lot of noise is made by some commentators about the relative merits of different vintages as young wines.
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.
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