While in Sydney judging the Six Nations Wine Challenge, I was invited to attend a Penfolds Grange dinner at the InterContinental Hotel. Six magnums of Grange were carefully matched with six different courses (the most successful of which was Wagyu short rib with a red wine glaze). The wines were served from oldest to youngest. The vintages were 1984, 1985 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990. Each judge was invited to give their impressions of an allocated wine. I was given the least auspicious vintage, 1984. Here are some brief impressions.
Obviously a very mature wine but, less obviously, from a fairly average vintage. Forest floor, Bovril, beef tea savoury characters underpinned by vestiges of berry fruit. Rich and appealing wine with coffee/mocha and some sweet oak. Still retaining a good tannic backbone. 95 points
A better vintage, although intermittent rains delayed harvest. Fresher than the ’84 and showing a little heat from a higher alcohol. Rich, fleshy wine – quite attractive but not showing as much complexity. Probably close to peak. Drink now (and remember, this is a magnum). 93 points
This was my top wine – a fantastic drop. I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was a cracker of a vintage. Intense, powerful with masses of fruit flavour plus liquorice, dark chocolate, coffee and a texture to die for. Should offer top drinking for many more years. 98+ points
More restrained than the ’86 but elegant and quite dense with intense fruit flavours and nice energy. This was my second favourite wine – it is developing beautifully with an almost peacock’s tail display on the finish. Long and complex. 97+ points
Interesting smoky, peat-like characters that reminded me of an Islay single malt. Quite developed with toffee and mocha flavours. Just starting to dry out. Drink up. 92 points
From a great Grange vintage so expectations were high. Elegant, balanced wine with liquorice, oak, berry and a suggestion of herbals. Good cedar, cigar box and leather notes. A bit of a surprise. Distinctive and attractive wine, but not especially Grange-like. 96 points