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Robert Parker's Wine Advocate / 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 is a superb Grange that can hold its own against the more heralded 1996. Anticipated maturity: 2005-2022.
Australian Wine Companion / Medium to full red, with just a touch of purple remaining; powerful, complex dark fruits, chocolate and savoury lemon/vanilla oak on the bouquet, then a similarly powerful palate where earth and chocolate join the chorus of flavours promised by the bouquet; persistent tannins, of course. It's hard to suggest this will be regarded as a great Grange in 20 years or so, but it is nonetheless in the mainstream of Grange style.
Grange is arguably Australia’s most celebrated wine and is officially listed as a Heritage Icon of South Australia. Grange boasts an unbroken line of vintages from the experimental 1951 and clearly demonstrates the synergy between Shiraz and the soils and climates of South Australia. Grange utilises fully-ripe, intensely-flavoured and textured Shiraz grapes. The result is a unique Australian style that is now recognised as one of the most consistent of the world’s great wines. The Grange style is the original and most powerful expression of Penfolds multi-vineyard, multi-district, blending philosophy.
It took 10 years from the time the first experimental Grange was made before the wine gained general acceptance and the prejudices were overcome.
In 1949 a young Australian wine maker from Penfolds, Max Schubert, was sent to Jerez, Spain to learn the art of making sherry. At the time the voyage between continents was made without haste by ocean liners. On his way back home, as the ship stopped in the harbor of Bordeaux, Max decided to take advantage of the opportunity and take a short holiday in the most famous wine area of France. With the help of his recommendations and eagerness the young man got a chance to acquaint with the local wine production through the mighty Cruse wine family. Christian Cruse took Max under his wings and presented him with the secrets of wine production by means of the splendid vintage 1949.
Max Schubert returned to Australia and Penfolds favorably impressed and determined to produce an Australian red wine that would last for decades and would in quality be comparable to the famous Bordeaux wines.
The task was not easy since the classic Bordeaux was in France produced by mixing Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In Australia those refined grapes did not exist, so Max had to settle for the local Shiraz which was usually used only in the production of the regional, fortified port wine. There were also no French oak casks at hand, but having managed to purchase some American ones Max Schubert decided to use them. In them he matured the first, experimental 1951 vintage of Grange for 18 months before bottling.
In 1959 came the time to introduce that first vintage of Grange into the market. To honor the occasion Penfolds arranged a tasting where authoritative local wine connoisseurs had the opportunity to taste all five first vintages (1951-1956). The event ended in disaster; no one liked the wine nor was willing to pay for it. The criticism was mordant and one of the best known and appreciated wine experts present came to congratulate Max sarcastically: “Schubert, I congratulate you. This is very good, dry port that nobody in his right mind will not buy, let alone drink."
Although public opinion did not differ much from that singular one, Max did not lose his courage and arranged several tastings with Grange around the country. Though the results were somewhat better, they were still quite depressing. The Penfolds management decided to shut down the rather costly production of Grange the next year. Luckily one of the owners still saw some possibilities with Grange and gave Max permission to continue the production in small scale, and in secret from the others.
After many years of silence in 1962 Penfolds took part in the grand wine show in Sydney with the 1955 Grange and won the gold medal. From that moment started the rewriting of Australian wine history.
Grange has won over 120 gold medals in wine shows, a fact that has made it the most awarded in the whole wine world, and in 1995 for example Wine Spectator chose it as the best wine of the world. A few years later in the same publication Grange 1955 was picked as one of the best wines of all time. Parker has stated that “Penfolds Grange takes opulence and decadence to the limits, and for that reason it has replaced Bordeaux´s Pétrus as the world´s most exotic and concentrated wine", so the triumphal march has but continued.