The Top 5 Granges for Drinking Now or Soon
Wednesday, October 05, 2016 in Review
In the words of its creator, Max Schubert, Grange was (and still is) designed to be a wine… ‘capable of staying alive for a minimum of 20 years…’
Broadly speaking, Grange is indeed likely to give of its best 15-25 years from vintage, assuming that the cork is good (without chemical taint) and has maintained an effective seal between the wine and the outside air.
And while Grange is remarkably robust, storage conditions are also important.
Obviously, the older the wine the greater the impact of poor storage, especially repeated, short-term, up-and-down temperature variations. Even a single, short exposure to excessive heat (30 minutes inside a car parked in the sun, for example) can mean wine ruination.
However, as tastings regularly confirm, good, well-stored bottles from the best vintages will last – ‘stay alive’ – for 40, 50, 60 years and more. The 1971 Grange, for example, continues to strengthen its standing as one of the very best wines produced anywhere in the world that year.
As the wine-trade saying goes: ‘There are no great old wines, only great old bottles’.
So, on the occasion of the launch of the 2012 Grange – from a South Australian vintage almost universally regarded as the best in living memory, and quite possibly one of the best ever – here is Langton’s selection of the top five Granges of the last 40 years.
The tasting notes, commentary and drinking windows are from the most recent (seventh, 2013) edition of The Rewards of Patience, by Andrew Caillard, MW.
1976 Penfolds Bin 95 Grange Hermitage
Deep brick red. Fresh dark chocolate, toffee, panforte, dark berry aromas with licorice notes. Concentrated and plush with blackberry, dark plum, praline flavours and rich, plentiful chocolatey tannins. Finishes long and fruit-sweet with a strong plume of tannins. Superb richness, density, harmony and energy. Will continue to develop more bottle-age complexity. ‘Ethereal and buoyant.’
Regarded as a great Grange vintage, but bottles are increasingly variable. The best have levels at the base of or into the neck, or have passed successfully through a Penfolds Re-corking Clinic.
89% Shiraz, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon. Kalimna Vineyard (Barossa Valley), Barossa Valley, Magill Estate (Adelaide), Modbury Vineyard (Adelaide). The twenty-fifth anniversary of Grange. Max Schubert considered it: ‘More in the old style – a good vintage’. The first Australian wine to cross the $20 barrier at release. Robert Parker scores it 100 points.
1986 Penfolds Bin 95 Grange
Deep crimson. Fragrant roasted chestnut, dark chocolate, cedar spice aromas. Rich, expansive wine with roasted chestnut, praline, dark cherry fruit, fine, plentiful chocolatey tannins and underlying mocha oak. Finishes al dente firm with plenty of sweet fruit, panforte notes. The defining vintage of the 1980s. Will continue to mature gracefully for at least another two decades.
87% Shiraz, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon. Kalimna Vineyard (Barossa Valley), Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Modbury Vineyard (Adelaide). Don Ditter’s last Grange.
1990 Penfolds Bin 95 Grange
Deep crimson. Powerfully expressive with beautiful dark berry, cranberry, praline, herb garden, graphite, mocha aromas. Lovely, seductive, dark berry, praline flavours, fine chalky/graphite tannins and roasted chestnut, mocha nuances. Finishes gravelly/chocolatey firm with some aniseed, licorice notes. A great Grange vintage with superb fruit definition, generosity, balance and structure.
95% Shiraz, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Kalimna Vineyard (Barossa Valley), Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Coonawarra. Voted Red Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator magazine in December 1995.
1996 Penfolds Bin 95 Grange
Deep crimson. Lovely classic Grange with intense dark fruit, dark chocolate, mocha aromas. Plush, generously flavoured palate with praline, blackberry, dark plum flavours, fine grainy/graphite tannins and underlying savoury, malty nuances. Finishes chocolatey firm, long and flavourful. A gorgeously seductive wine with lovely fruit power and richness. Still has decades to go. A great vintage.
94% Shiraz, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Kalimna Vineyard (Barossa Valley), Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Magill Estate (Adelaide).
2010 Penfolds Bin 95 Grange
Deep inky purple to crimson. A Grange of remarkable power and finesse. A classic ‘iron fist in velvet glove’ style, with seductive inky, elderberry, blackberry fruit, star anise, leafy nuances and mocha oak. An extravagant and expressive palate with saturated musky, inky, blackberry, elderberry fruit, plentiful, satin-like tannins and underlying ginger, mocha oak. Superb fruit and tannin ripeness, wonderful concentration and balance. A classically structured and beautifully proportioned Grange with superb ageing potential.
96% Shiraz, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills (close to Magill), McLaren Vale, Magill Estate (Adelaide).
We have left out a number of vintages others might want to include – 1983 (for its unpredicted longevity), 1991 (some say it has overtaken the 1990), 1998 (for its opulence) and 2008 (triumph over the difficulties of a hot vintage; 100 points from both Lisa Perrotti-Brown, MW, of Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate and Harvey Steiman of Wine Spectator).
Going further back, the best vintages of the 1960s are reckoned (by Penfolds) to be 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1965. Of 1950s vintages the best are 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1959, the last of three ‘hidden Granges’ made in secret by Max Schubert in defiance of a company order to cease production.
Other notables have produced their ‘best of…’ lists over the years.
Campbell Mattinson, of WineFront, said (in 2012): ‘The 1952, 1953 and 1955 are so magically good they border on the ridiculous. So, too, the 1962, 1963, 1965 and 1966. The 1970s is a leaner era; 1971 and 1976 the stars. The 1980s are good: 1982, 1985 and 1986 the champions. Then in 1990 a new golden era of Grange begins: 1990, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1998 are classics in various guises. Since, the hits have kept coming: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and now 2008 Grange are all stellar.’
The venerable and inimitable James Halliday, who probably has more tasting experience of Grange than anyone else alive, nominated his personal Top 10 in 2013, based on a 2007 vertical tasting for The Rewards of Patience.
Other great vintages
- 1996: A picture-perfect display of finesse and power, elegance and complexity; not a blockbuster, just perfectly balanced and incredibly long in the mouth; tannins and oak are there, but hover discretely in the background. 97 points. Drink to 2041.
- 1990:Great colour, clear crimson red; unexpectedly powerful and youthful; deep and rich blackberry and plum fruit, a touch of sous bois and firm tannins. The components are completely balanced and the wine is undoubtedly in the process of changing from young to mature, a process that will take years (first bottle). Second bottle: Much more elegant and refined; far more in style. Took the points from 96 to 97.97 points. Drink to 2034.
- 1985:Lovely wine; supple and rich; great texture and structure; full array of red and black fruit aromas and flavours; perfect tannin and oak balance and integration; long, lingering finish.96 points. Drink to 2025.
- 1976:Powerful wine; abundant black and red fruits, which are ripe, but not jammy or dead; tannins present, but in balance; rich and satisfying; long life ahead.96 points. Drink to 2026.
- 1971:Good colour, bright and clear; has the typical highly lifted bouquet of ’71, the palate silky smooth with predominantly red fruits. Two bottles opened, one better than the other, and neither wholly representative of this great vintage.95 points. Drink to 2016.
- 1966:Strong, deep colour; right back on track; abundant plum, prune and blackberry fruit; perfectly balanced and integrated tannins, ditto oak; rich and satisfying.95 points. Drink to 2021.
- 1962:Strong colour; a fragrant and aromatic bouquet of exotic spices and dried fruits; mouthfilling, rich and exuberant, with a cascade of ripe fruits; still absolutely in the prime of its life; an outstanding bottle.96 points. Drink to 2017.
- 1955:Beautiful limpid aspect, brick-red, yet alive; a very complex wine with a melange of dried fruits, spices, mocha and then a long, imperious finish with perfect acidity and fine tannins. Clinic.97 points. Drink to 2015.
- 1953:Slightly more brick hue than the ’52; fractionally riper fruit in a red and black spectrum; spices, leather and sandalwood; a firmer finish, the tannins alive and well giving great length and persistence; remarkable acid balance. (Penfolds Chief Winemaker) Peter Gago regards it as the greatest Grange. Clinic.98 points. Drink to 2013.
- 1952:Still retaining remarkable red hues; beautiful rich aromas with no sign of decay, the palate as glorious as the bouquet promise; a satin and velvet brocade with vibrant fruit, great length and harmony. You could write a book about it. Clinic.100 points. Drink to 2020.
Langton’s Andrew Caillard, MW, who could be catching up to Halliday in terms of Grange tasting experience, in 2012 nominated the top Granges as…
- 1950s: 1952; 1953; 1955
- 1960s: 1962; 1963; 1966
- 1970s: 1971; 1976
- 1980s: 1983; 1986
- 1990s: 1990; 1991; 1996; 1998
- 2000s: 2002; 2004; 2006