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Robert Parker's Wine Advocate
It is always a treat to taste Australia’s most famous wine, Penfolds’ Grange cuvee (the word Hermitage has been dropped because of legal issues). 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 multilayered, 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, and be at its best between 2010-2030+.
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.
Penfolds Grange Hermitage
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.