No greater feast of wine befits this Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (MWWC5):It is 7:48 am. I should be in bed. Instead, my job in wine sales has me walking into a conference room. No one told me why. My waxen eyes fall on some bottles:
But beyond this glass regiment, at the table’s end, sits a decanter and a bottle.
Grange. Bin 95. 2008.
But before Penfolds’ big turkey, an hour-long lecture drags like the NFL Pre-Game Show.
Finally, the feast begins with the “appetizers”:
We start light with cheddar on crackers: Bin 2 Shiraz/Mouvèdre 2010: It is simple, chocolaty, berried, short but approachable (3 of 5) for under $15.
A veggie pinwheel comes in the form of Bin 8 Cabernet/Shiraz 2011. It has more color, more aromas of mint, vanilla, caramel, meat, and cherry. Tweaked up acids lead to an anise, talcum powder, tart apple, boysenberry-driven wine. But it is still average (3 of 5). Around $20.
Bored with the crackers and pinwheels, we step up to Auntie’s Pigs in a Blanket: Bin 28, Kalimna, Shiraz 2010. Powerful aromas of cacao nibs, molasses, and boysenberry glow. This wine is all texture. Ripe berries, tartness, leaf, and clay dust, last a while. Very good (4 of 5) under $27.
Surprised by Auntie’s piggies, next, our chip dives into a gorgeous spinach and artichoke dip: Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 2010 flaunts its first-use Grange barrels with powerful toffee, caramel, whisky, and violet aromas. Gripping, dusty tannins tighten the lengthy black bramble fruits with chalk. This baby Grange is very good dip (4 of 5) for under $60.
Ready and seated for the main course, mom yells that the big bird needs more oven time. Impatient, we start passing the sides around the table.
Cranberry sauce comes in the form of Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. It powers forward with cassis, vanilla extract, jangly bell pepper, and coconut aromas and flavors. It feels a bit soft, but full bodied. Its longer length keeps it very good (4 of 5) but pricey under $60.
Next, green beans arrive as St. Henri Shiraz 2008: Penfolds’ stab at being serious and French. It smells intensely of bacon, maple, tobacco, and treacle. Tannins and added acids grip palates tightly. Strong flavors of cassis, French oak, tobacco ash, and dried leaf last a long while. St. Henri demands you wear a beret, age it for twenty years, then drink it with steak au poivre: very good (4 of 5). $7o.
But then, golden cornbread: RWT Barrossa Valley Shiraz 2008: Penfold’s rare attempt at region-specific wine. Strong aromas of blueberry jam, caramel, and vanilla dust lead to a fruity, soft, massive body, with a polished, silken texture. Focused flavors of cherry, French oak, and nutmeg last well to the next wine. It is too perfect and pleasing (5 of 5). Even at $140, I want more.
Finally, garlic-mashed-potatoes take the form of Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon. Opaque ruby in color. Overwhelming aromas smell of prunes, black cherry, and eucalyptus. Acids, tannins, alcohol, and body all trample my mouth, yet somehow in balance. Flavor is king, with pronounced cassis, chocolate, tobacco, and herbal medicine notes that run forever. 707 is outstanding stuff (5 of 5) at $230.
The decanter floats to me. Impenetrable ruby color forms in the center of my glass with a clearer rim than the others. There is sediment. This is real.Against my nose rushes an array of treacle, toffee, blackberry compote, kirsch, and vanilla dust: like a silk dress, violet in color, framed in intricate lace.
Similar to Bin 707, Grange’s structural elements of acid, tannin, alcohol, and body are all bold but balanced. However, Grange manages to feel more serious, ageable, yet warming with alcohol.
Evolving sips reveal pronounced bran muffin, toffee, black cherry, and nutmeg that last forever.
I pause a minute.
Another taste takes me to a night in Berlin’s Christmas markets.
Against the crowds and cold, flavors of glowing red gluhwein, mulled with clove-stabbed oranges and spices, subsume whatever remained of my consciousness. I escape into that warm mug and let the world pass.
2008 Grange is a feast in and of itself. Only a handful of wines seem so complex.
I have only seen two bottles in my life. If you ever find it, this Grange will cost, at minimum, $650.
But how good is it really?
Both Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate gave only eleven wines a perfect 100 point score. Grange was one. The other ten were French.
The only time Robert Parker went to Australia, Penfolds drew him to a complete vertical tasting of Grange. He found this 2008 and the first Grange, 1951, to be perfect.
But Penfolds makes Grange that way. Their goal is to get 100 points. They shun single-vineyard-mindedness. Instead, they bend nature to their will.
Following their roots in fortified wines, Penfolds draws grapes from the best estates throughout massive South Australia. They taste each separately-fermented parcel, blend the best, rack four times, then age the chosen bits together in top American barrels.
But Penfolds also brought acid adjustment to wine. They structure their hot climate reds to be shelf-stable and balanced. Since the 1950s, countless new methods have been embraced. Grange, like all of Penfolds’ wines, follows their pursuit toward perfection.
So yes, regardless of nature’s vagueries, Grange provides the flawless, foodless feast.