New World. Old World. Ostensibly, two diametrically
opposed viewpoints on how wine should taste, be produced and
even how it should be labelled.
France, as the Captain of the Old World, emphasises, not
surprisingly, the importance of terroir – the individual
plots of land upon which grapes are grown – and the wine’s
pedigree and its ability to age into something graceful and
Australia, leading the New World, champions upfront,
approachable fruitiness, and criticises the Old World’s lack
of flexibility and its continued production of what it may
term ‘stuffy’ styles of wine.
To divide the world of wine into such binary oppositions
is, of course, to oversimplify, and nowhere is this more
evident than in Penfolds Grange, a wine that successfully
bridges the gap between old and new worlds by combining the
age-worthiness of the former with the modern techniques and
consistency of the latter.
To the uninitiated, the brand Penfolds may conjure up
images of relatively inexpensive, easy drinking reds and
whites from large geographical areas down under. Like many
Australian producers, Penfolds does not concentrate on a
single market; instead, its wines run the whole gamut from
entry level to top line. And top line is certainly what
Grange is, having won over fifty gold medals at
international wine competitions in the last forty years,
and, perhaps more importantly, having been rated in the high
nineties by many leading wine critics.
Originally called Grange Hermitage, it is a wine that
wears its influences from the famous Rhone appellation
firmly on its sleeve (and its label until 1989), being
composed primarily of the shiraz grape (albeit usually with
a small proportion of cabernet sauvignon). Unlike Hermitage,
though, grapes are drawn from a number of different
vineyards, and the composition varies year on year. This is
anathema to many French wine aficionados, especially
Burgundians, as it negates the effect of terroir, but
Penfolds have, in Grange, consistently produced a wine that
is of a quality high enough to trouble any of
France’s finest wines.
A great Grange, such as our recommended vintage of 1990,
exhibits flavours of coffee, chocolate and mint, held
together with a firm structure that would have, in the
wine’s youth, discouraged early drinking. There is none of
the excessive smokiness of a cheap Australian Shiraz, but
neither is there the reluctant quality of a Rhone wine. Any
smokiness is in the form of a grilled meats flavour that
does not overwhelm the more subtle notes and the overall
earthiness of the wine. Ultimately, this is an Australian
that can never be accused of lacking sophistication.