Friday, November 14, 2014

Penfolds Grange 1997: The wine that I forgot

The initial plan for the Five Decades of Penfolds Grange tasting called for four flights of three vintages each but, after some discussion, Ron and I decided to donate two additional vintages so that we could have four wines in each flight. I had three deliverables for the event: the booklets that would be used to set the context and as a tasting-notes platform; one bottle each of 1997 and 2005 Penfolds Grange; and wines to accompany the post-tasting dinner. I de-racked the two sets of wines ahead of time and left them -- unconsolidated -- in the cellar.

The day got away from me so I was rushing around trying to finish some writing and getting myself appropriately attired before the car arrived. The car comes. I grab my wine bag out of the cellar and hurry the wife up. We tumble into the car and take off. The event is on Sand Lake Road so we have to contend with the rush-hour traffic emitting from Downtown Orlando. I immediately launch Waze in order to advise the driver as to the best route(s) around the traffic mess that I know is ahead. Five miles into the journey, it suddenly hit me. I had forgotten the booklets at home. I mentioned it to my wife who, while gracing me with a withering stare, asked the driver to get off the highway at the next exit to take us back to the house. We made it back -- using surface roads to avoid the congestion on the highway in this direction -- and I rushed into the house, retrieved the package, and hightailed it back to the car. Whew. That was close. I would never have been able to live down appearing without the promised documentation.

As the car continued on its path down I4, something kept trying to intrude on my senses. Kind of like a dull tapping on my brain. Like someone, or something, was trying to get my attention. And then it hit me. In the gut. I almost stopped breathing and buried my head in my hands. My wife thought that I had fallen asleep (She has been concerned about my sleeping patterns since my return from Europe) but I had not. I could not bring myself to tell her as yet. I had left the two bottles of Penfolds -- the two bottles that would round out the tasting -- in the cellar. And there was no way that we could turn around for a second time. So I told her. It was not good.

We got to Eddie V's and I quickly jumped out of the car. It had been so cold in there that I was almost a solid block of ice. I went into the private room where the tasting was being held and Ron, Bev, and DLynn were already there. I mumbled something to Ron about forgetting the wine at home and he looked confused. "But you did bring the Grange though, right?" he asked. He thought that I had left my dinner wines at home. I wish I had been that lucky. As I busied myself placing the booklets at the individual seats, I kept thinking to myself "time takes care of everything." Of course, I was at the receiving end of every snarky wisecrack that you could think of for the rest of the evening.

When the dust had settled somewhat (when they had enough Penfolds Grange in their systems that a missing bottle or two was of no consequence), I told Ron that the next two times that we went out together, I would bring the bottles I had at home so that we, at least, could taste the full complement of wines as planned. The first opportunity presented itself on Wednesday last when we went to Prato for one of our regular Wednesday lunches. I took all precautions to ensure that I did not leave home without it.

We had a lovely window seat and I began the proceedings by opening a bottle of 2008 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne. This wine was disappointing initially. It was tight, acidic, and austere with unintegrated oak lingering on the palate. We have become a little premox-gunshy but it was not premoxed and, even though funky, was not faulty. The wine eventually came around after exposure to oxygen. It never go to knockout range but more of the fruit was apparent, the acidity retreated to freshness, and the austerity became less so.

Next we turned to the 1997 Penfolds Grange. According to, the 1997 vintage was challenging, combining, as it did, a cool start to the season with high summer heat.
Budburst was slightly later than usual in most South Australian regions, with mild weather through to Christmas. The onset of a prolonged heat wave in February further delayed ripening. Fortunately, a sunny, warm autumn followed, allowing vines to reach full ripeness.
The blend in this vintage was 96% Shiraz and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines were aged for 20 months in new American oak barrels and, at bottling, were 14% abv, had 7.8 g/l acidity, and pH was 3.52.

This wine was a dream. If we had consumed it on the night of the tasting, I may not have appreciated it as much as I did at lunch that day. Its beauty and richness may have been hidden behind a wall of Grange and Grange-fueled dialogue. Left alone on the stage, this wine shone incredibly bright.

On the nose toffee, cocoa, vanilla, fudge, ripe fruit, dried herbs, and a rich elegance. The dried herbs carried through on the palate along with a thick, rich, creamy texture and silky tannins. This wine is perfectly balanced with enough acidity to perform palate-cleansing duties when it accompanies food. Long, rich finish with a creamy aftertaste. Ron said that it reminded him of a high-quality Pomerol and that if it had been included in the tasting it would have given the 1990 (the WOTF) a run for its money. This is truly a thoroughbred.

I do not want to say that the rest of the lunch was anti-climatic, but these were pretty high heights. Our full lunch lineup is shown below.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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