So how good is the latest Grange?

The 2008 vintage of Penfolds’ flagship red wine, Grange Shiraz, was released on May 2 with more hullabaloo than usual (tasting notes). Two main reasons: the price has leapt 25 per cent in one jump, and the US-based newsletter Wine Advocate rated it an absurd 100/100 (and the judgment was not that of Robert Parker, as some said, but Lisa Perotti-Brown, who covers Australia for Wine Advocate).

I say absurd, because I don’t believe in ‘perfect’ wines, or perfect scores; I have never rated any wine 100 points myself, and I simply ask what score these reviewers would give the wine when it’s fully mature and singing at its best – in about 15 to 20 years.

It will be a far better wine then. It’s too young to drink now, and while it looks to have the potential to rank alongside the greatest Granges (tastings), it’s very difficult to say at this early stage just how good it will eventually be.

So, how good is the 2008?

It’s a great wine, no reservations. I would place it in the top echelon of Grange vintages, perhaps not as great as the ’06 (tasting) or ’96 (tasting), but right up near them.

The two greatest vintages are 1953 (tasting) and 1963 (tasting), and we can evaluate them properly now because they’re fully mature. Vintages go up and down slightly during their lifetimes, and we can only truly judge great aging wines when they’re fully mature. But I would certainly be confident backing the ’08.

My one reservation is that it’s still an old-fashioned style of red wine. Yes, Penfolds (tastings) winemakers, led by chief Peter Gago, have modernized Grange slightly in recent times, and I think it’s better than ever when tasted as a young wine.

It’s less oaky and the quality of the tannins is finer. But it looks increasingly like a dinosaur tasted beside cutting-edge modern Australian shirazes. Certainly, Mount Langi Ghiran (tastings) and Clonakilla (tastings), two great modern Australian cool-climate shirazes, are quite opposed in style to Grange – which is no skin off Grange’s nose. It’s a great wine of its type. But I don’t believe it really delivers its goods till it’s at least 20 years old.

The other thing is that it’s not a wine of terroir, which is the fashion these days. It’s a blend of regions and vineyards, and is more about house-style than vineyard or regional character.

Is it worth $785? That is, 25 per cent more than the previous vintage? Not to me. But it depends how much money is in your pocket. No wine is intrinsically worth that sort of price.

However, at the “luxury, collectable” apex of the wine market, price is about many things apart from what’s inside the bottle, and Grange is merely keeping up with the rest of the world in that regard.

The madness of luxury wine pricing is everywhere now, and it’s not going to change any time soon. Smart people identify affordable wines that give them just as much pleasure as the most expensive.

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