Penfolds' Grange collection, a range of superlative wines, started life hidden in a secret cellar. Roger Jones of the Harrow at Little Bedwyn relates a truly fascinating history
Penfolds is Australia's oldest iconic wine brand, founded in 1844, just eight years after the foundation of South Australia. It was created by Christopher Rawson Penfold, a physician, together with his wife Mary, who originally established a business making sherry and port-style wines as tonics for Penfold's patients.
Later this month sees the highly anticipated launch of Grange 2010 and the Penfolds Collection. A rare preview hosted by chief winemaker Peter Gago in London earlier in September gave critics the chance to try these prestigious and wonderful wines.
While Penfolds Grange sits proudly at the top of the collection, there are quality wines to suit all pockets.
The story of Grange is an intriguing tale of one man's vision against all the odds. In the latter part of 1949 Penfolds' head winemaker Max
Schubert was sent to France and Spain to investigate sherry-making practices and the production of port. On a side trip to Bordeaux, he visited many of the great estates, such as Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour and Château Margaux, where he enjoyed the "rare opportunity of tasting and evaluating Bordeaux wines aged between 40 and 50 years old".
It was an opportunity that would change the course of Australian wine. Inspired and impressed, Schubert dreamed of making "something different and lasting", and returned to Adelaide to start developing his own first growth.
The commercial release of 1952 Grange Hermitage (as it was then known) was an historic moment for Australian wine. It marked the beginning of a ‘dynasty of wines' that would capture the imagination of the Australian wine consumer.
Embarrassed, angry and dejected, Max Schubert's ambitions to make a great wine that Australians would be proud of were completely destroyed. Grange was dead. However, the good fortune of distance between senior management in Sydney and winemakers in Adelaide at some 1,400km apart saved Grange.
With the help of Magill's assistant general manager Jeffrey Penfold Hyland and Schubert's team of winemakers, the experimental Grange was hidden in the cellars of Magill.
Max Schubert continued to source fruit and make his experiments in secret and, from 1957 to 1959, the hidden Granges were made without
the knowledge of the Penfolds' board.
Friends and associates were occasionally brought in to taste the wines and some bottles were even given away. News was filtering out about Schubert's unique Grange Hermitage.
A second tasting with the same board members was organised of the 1951 and 1955 vintages, both with bottle age development, and were greeted with great enthusiasm. The 1955 went on to have a very successful wine show career. The Penfolds' board ordered production of Grange to restart, just in time for the 1960 vintage.
Sixty years, four winemakers
Key to the success of Grange has been a lineage of visionary winemakers. Penfolds' mastercraft winemaking and superb range of wines have been steadily refined and improved with each of Schubert's successors. Don Ditter, John Duval and current chief winemaker Peter Gago have been the custodians of a rich tradition that goes back 170 years.
Don Ditter, who joined Penfolds as a laboratory assistant in 1942, was appointed Schuber's successor when Schubert retired in 1975.
Ditter's contribution to the Grange style is immeasurable. His technical eye for detail and gentle collaborative approach to management took Grange into the modern era and included a major overhaul of vineyard management.
Under Ditter's leadership, the Grange style was improved with fresher aromas, more richness and ripeness of fruit. The 1986 vintage -
Ditter's last - is generally regarded as one of the greatest Grange vintages of all time.
His successor John Duval was appointed Penfolds' chief winemaker at a very young age, yet his contribution to the evolution of Grange has been critical. His stewardship saw some of the greatest developments and innovations in viticulture and winemaking, including Penfolds White Grange project and the launch of Yattarna and Reserve Bin Chardonnays.
In 2002 John Duval stepped down to be replaced by Peter Gago, whose 2008 vintage achieved a perfect 100 in both The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate.
When tasting a young Chardonnay or a white Burgundy which may need ageing, try having a nibble on some mature cheddar cheese. It will lift the wine and increase the taste sensation.
Penfolds Grange 2010
At 96% Shiraz and 4% Cabernet, you will need to wait at least four years before this wine starts to evolve, but it will continue to excel for 40 years. This is a dark, dense wine with meaty flavours of dark chocolate, quince and bright blueberries.
Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Bin 707 is only produced in exceptional years - it is a big wine in every way. It is already a pleasure to drink and will evolve over the next 25 years. It has essence of Chinese cuisine, such as soy, hoisin and spices on the nose, moving on to liquorice, chocolate fondant and black fruit.
RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2012
This is different to Grange in that all the grapes are sourced from one region (Barossa) and matured in French oak as opposed to American. It's
opulent and fleshy, with sweet fruit, a velvety finish and lots of meaty content.
Magill Estate Shiraz 2012
This single-vineyard wine from the Maghill estate is linked back to the beginning of Penfolds in Adelaide. It is quite a masculine wine with cigar, leather and violets. A wine to age.
Try Kalima Bin 28 Shiraz 2012 with its cherry, almonds, milk chocolate and spices; Bin 8 Cabernet Shiraz 2012; Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvedre 2012; and Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.
Yattarna Chardonnay 2012
This wine has grapes sourced from Tasmania, Henty and Adelaide Hills. It's all about refinement and control with white peaches, grapefruit and nutty cashews. It's creamy, but with great freshness and acidity.
Reserve Bin A 2013 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay
Although not in the same price bracket as the Yattarna, the Bin A stable regularly wins top awards. Think citrus and lemon sherbet, white peaches and nectarines; it's youthful and exciting.
Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2014
This has lychees and a soft floral nose with lime sorbet and a great freshness. An easy drinking wine suitable for an aperitif or with roast chicken and great value at £12 a bottle. Try ageing for a few years to create something special.