Vino Rouge Special Vertical Tasting of Penfolds Grange Flight Three

What a streak we are on! Twenty bottles of Grange down so far and not a clunker in the lot, with 7 more in this tasting and another seven to enjoy in two weeks!

Penfolds Grange

This week’s tasting at Dante’s Kitchen in East Greenwich was enjoyed by all and in this flight, the “bookends” prevailed. Amazingly, the youngest wine, the 2001 (only 14 years of age) barely beat out the oldest wine, the 1977 (at 38 years of age) for the preference poll honors. This is a testimony to the quality, consistency and longevity of the Penfolds Grange wine. I guess we owe a debt of gratitude to Max Schubert and the Chief Winemakers who followed him in making this marvelous juice.

Penfolds Grange

The chef and staff at Dante’s went pretty much all out to treat us to some pretty fantastic food, although more than one participant was groaning on the quantity of great food provided. I still remember when we just shared an appetizer or two at our VR meetings years ago. As you look over the menu items in the notes, please reflect on the number of courses and the superb preparation of each item we were offered. Kudos and gratitude to all at Dante’s Kitchen for a much appreciated feast. We were especially fortunate to have the place to ourselves as they closed to the public to focus on our private function!

Flight Three of the infamous Penfolds Grange tasting did not disappoint. This was another tremendous lineup and included the following awesome vintages: 1977, 1981, 1985, 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2001. Here are some details regarding each of these tremendous wines, including Robert Parker review descriptions, as well as some tasting notes offered by the club members.

Penfolds Grange

1977 Penfolds Grange Hermitage – Rating: 93 (February 2002); Drinkability range 2003-2018

This is considered a good rather than outstanding Grange (we beg to differ!). A blend of 91% and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon from a relatively cool growing year, this wine has a full body and a gorgeously complex nose of coffee, creme de cassis, caramel, leather, and a subtle hint of pepper and eucalyptus. This wine is a very rich, still somewhat unevolved, with more new oak showing through than most vintages of Grange. The wine still has a dense ruby/purple color and seems to need at least another 3-4 years to reach full maturity, with a very sweet chewy style but exceptional balance. We found this wine to have a strong nose out of the gates and a really elegant silky wine with awesome flavors layered like a cake. So refined! Another example of the Nectar of the Gods!

1981 Penfolds Grange Hermitage – Rating: 97 (June 2009); Drinkability range 2000-2025

The 1981 stood out as slightly superior. Winemaker John Duval always felt this was a tannic style of Grange, but the wine has shed its tannins, and this is one of the few vintages where the percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon was above 10%. Sweet notes of creme de cassis, cedarwood, charcoal, and barbecue spices are followed by a full-bodied, opulent wine displaying heady amounts of alcohol, glycerin and density in its full-bodied, sky-scraper like texture. The club found this wine to be big and luscious for a short period of time with a very short finish with lingering back pallet tannins. This wine really drops off and maybe perhaps past its peak or was slightly tainted as a result of corkage leak.

1985 Penfolds Grange Hermitage – Rating: 90 (February 2002); Drinkability range 2002-2015

Considered a more “restrained” Grange, this wine has balance but a somewhat foursquare/monolithic character with dry, astringent tannin in the finish, hence the question mark. The color is still a healthy dense purple and the wine shows the tell-tale peppery, asphalt, earthy, creme de cassis characteristics, but the tannin seems to be increasingly problematic. As always, it is still a young wine, so the question that begs to be answered with time is “Is it just unevolved and backward, or is it too tannic?” We found the wine to display a great nose of caramel, cedar, licorice and cola leading to a smokey almond flavor with hints of plum as the prominent fruit. Tannins still very strong, making it slightly out of balance.

Penfolds Grange

1989 Penfolds Grange Hermitage – Rating: 93 (February 2002); Drinkability range 2002-2018

A very hedonistic, almost decadent style of Grange. This blend of 91% Shiraz and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon from three grape sources – Kalimna in the Barossa, Penfolds’ other sources in the Barossa, and McLaren Vale – is a gorgeously opulent, almost Pomerol-like Grange with an over-ripe characteristic to the fruit. Cherry liqueur intermixed with cranberry and cassis presented in a seductive, full bodies, very soft, forward style is truly not the classic Grange in the sense of having huge structure and massive concentration, but this wine is loaded, very corpulent and fleshy. Among the young vintages of Grange, this is perhaps the most flattering wine that they have produced over the last 20 years. We found touches of licorice, prune and raisins on the nose, leading to a luscious mouth coating cherry bomb with hints of creme de cassis, raisins and a touch of burnt caramel. Not a thick juice…more soft, lush and feminine.

1993 Penfolds Grange – Rating: 91 (February 2002); Drinkability range 2000-2018

1993 was a very light harvest because of excessive rainfall and mild growing conditions. This wine performed well, although it would not appear to have the nuances of the finest vintages of Grange. The wine, a blend of 86% Shiraz and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, has an opaque purple color, a sweet nose of black currants intermixed with cedar and earth, almost truffle-like noted intermixed with camphor. The wine is full-bodies, dense, somewhat monolithic, but very concentrated, powerful and long. The club experienced hints of citrus and olives on the nose,, which leads to a slightly acidic well balanced wine that shows the 14% Cabernet, with tastes of dill and celery salt.

1997 Penfolds Grange – Rating: 94 (October 2002); Drinkability range 2005-2022

The 1997 Grange (a blend of 96% Shiraz and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon) looks to be a classic Grange , although slightly softer and more forward than the backward 1996. The saturated purple colored 1997 offers a gorgeously sweet nose of blackberry liqueur, cherries, camphor, chocolate, plums and mocha. The wine is opulently textured, extremely soft, layered and seductive, with Grange’s tell-tale personality well displayed, but in a seamless seductive style. This a superb Grange and the club thought so too. We encountered a slightly green (unripe) nose initially. This is a light bodies wine with cherry fruit and a silky mouthfeel with hints of espresso and chocolate. Less acid and tannins upfront and dissolved. Earthy finish for this elegant wine.

2001 Penfolds Grange – Rating: 98 (October 2006); Drinkability range 2010-2030

The 2001 Grange is one of the few vintages of this cuvee to be composed of 100% Shiraz (the others being 1951, 1952, 1963, 1999 and 2000). Aged 17 months in 100% American oak, and tipping the scales at 14.5% alcohol, the 2001 is undeniably one of the top examples of this wine. At this stage, it appears to eclipse the 1998 and 1996. Inky blue purple to the rim, with a stunning perfume of blueberries, blackberries, chocolate, graphite and earth. It boasts good acidity, huge tannins, magnificent concentration and a multi-layered, textured mouthfeel. It is a big, but impeccably well-balanced Shiraz that should shed some of its structure and tannin over the next 4-5 years. The 50th Anniversary Bottling!

As mush as we savored these wines over the evening, eventually our glasses became empty and that could not be tolerated. As such we ended this magnificent evening with following blockbuster dessert…

Penfolds Grange

NV Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny – Rating: 92 (October 2014); Drinkability range 2014-2020

A Shiraz, Mourvedre, Cabernet sweet table wine from South Australia. The 20 year old Penfolds Grandfatrher Rare Tawny is a pale tawny color with a touch of brick. On the nose it is a bit spirituous ans shows notes of raisins and fruit cake, some hazelnut and creme brulee. The palate shows even more nuttiness and depth along with greater freshness and acidity, though it seems drier than the Father, It finishes very long almost like a sweet oloroso or amontillado. Fabulous!

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