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The Top 5 Granges for Drinking Now or Soon 2019

What are the top 5 vintages of Penfolds Grange? For those that are drinking right now and into the 2020s there’s no simple answer… as Adrian Read reports.

It is the Granges of the 1990s that are today most likely to deliver what might be called the ‘Grange experience’ sought by lovers of fine Australian red wines.

The 1990s is a decade of wines now roughly 15 to 25 years old. This is the 10-year ‘time window’ during which Max Schubert said Grange would gain maturity, enabling drinkers to more easily assess its quality and potential for further development.

‘And, it’s true: Grange generally begins to drink at its best 15 to 25 years out from vintage.’

And, it’s true: Grange generally begins to drink at its best 15 to 25 years out from vintage.

The best Granges can last much longer – 50 years and more – but before the Grange project even began, Schubert’s stated intention was to make… ‘an Australian red wine capable of staying alive for a minimum of 20 years…’

With this is mind, the vintages of Grange likely to be at or near their very best into the 2020s are the lesser vintages of the 1990s and perhaps also the first two vintages of the 2000s – 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2001.

The aim is to catch these wines at their best. They may be good, or great drinking, but they are less likely to improve further.

 

‘...This is Grange. Even in the most difficult vintage Grange should be the best, most age-worthy red wine made in Australia that year.’

 

The context is crucial. Remember, this is Grange. Even in the most difficult vintage Grange should be the best, most age-worthy red wine made in Australia that year. And, like the great wines of France, Grange is made every year – creating an unbroken lineage.

 

The ability of Penfolds winemakers to find material good enough to make Grange in even the most difficult years is a continuing tribute both to their skills and to the synergy between the Shiraz grape and the South Australian climate.

 

‘...The most consistent and reliable of the world’s great wines.’

Grange is also recognised as almost certainly the most consistent and reliable of the world’s great wines. This is simply because Grange is made from the best material available in each vintage, regardless of the region or vineyard it comes from. This ‘smooths out’ the impact of vintage variation.

Another factor is the cork. Leaving chemical factors aside, corks can begin to lose their elasticity and may fail to maintain a fully effective seal after about 15 years, giving rise to the saying: ‘There are no great old wines, only great old bottles’. 

The robust consistency of Grange is one important reason why Penfolds (in association with Langton’s) is able to offer its regular Red Wine Recorking Clinic program, which enables collectors to have old Penfolds bottles assessed by a winemaker and, if in good or at least acceptable condition for their age, topped up, recorked, recapsuled and certified.

An important benefit is the strong confidence of auction buyers in ‘old’ Grange if bottles offered have successfully been through the Clinic process. 

Granges of the 1980s and earlier will be at, near (or past) their peak into the 2020s. All vintages 15 years or older are eligible for a quality check at a Penfolds Recorking Clinic. (For information on the Clinic Program visit Penfolds.com.au.)

According to the most recent edition (2013) of The Rewards of Patience, Penfolds’ own independent guide to its wines, the outstanding mature (‘Classic’) Grange vintages are 1996, 1991, 1990, 1986, 1976, 1971, 1963, 1962, 1955, 1953 and 1952.

In the second rank (‘Very fine vintages’) are 1959, 1960, 1966, 1967, 1975, 1978, 1983 and 1994. 

‘...a good, well-stored bottle is today still fully capable of delivering an almost transcendent experience.’

A special word here about the 1971 Grange. This vintage will enter its 50s in the 2020s, and a good, well-stored bottle is today still fully capable of delivering an almost transcendent experience. Indeed, a 2015 tasting strengthened its standing as one of the very best wines made anywhere in the world in the 1970s.

Here is Langton’s own selection of the top five drinking Granges of the last half-century or so. The notes are from the previously quoted edition of The Rewards of Patience.

‘Langton’s own selection of the top five drinking Granges of the last half-century.’ 

Grange Hermitage 1976

Deep brick red. Fresh dark chocolate, toffee, panforte, dark berry aromas with licorice notes. Concentrated and plush with blackberry, dark plum, praline flavours and rich, plentiful chocolatey tannins. Finishes long and fruit-sweet with a strong plume of tannins. Superb richness, density, harmony and energy. Will continue to develop more bottle-age complexity. ‘Ethereal and buoyant’. Drink now to 2040.
Buy now or check our Grange Price Guide.


Grange Hermitage 1986

Deep crimson. Fragrant roasted chestnut, dark chocolate, cedar spice aromas. Rich, expansive wine with roasted chestnut, praline, dark cherry fruit, fine, plentiful chocolatey tannins and underlying mocha oak. Finishes al dente firm with plenty of sweet fruit, panforte notes. The defining vintage of the 1980s. Will continue to mature gracefully for at least another two decades. Drink now to 2035
Buy now or check our Grange Price Guide.


Grange 1990

Deep crimson. Powerfully expressive with beautiful dark berry, cranberry, praline, herb garden, graphite, mocha aromas. Lovely, seductive, dark berry, praline flavours, fine chalky/graphite tannins and roasted chestnut, mocha nuances. Finishes gravelly/chocolatey firm with some aniseed, licorice notes. A great Grange vintage with superb fruit definition, generosity, balance and structure. Drink now to 2045.
Buy now or check our Grange Price Guide.


Grange 1991

Deep crimson. Complex dark chocolate, roasted chestnut, vanilla, herb aromas. A rich, voluminous palate with saturated dark chocolate, mocha, malty, aniseed flavours and fine-grained, supple tannins. Finishes chalky, firm and long. A rich, buoyant and ethereal Grange with tremendous substance and lasting power. A classic vintage. Drink now to 2040.
Buy now or check our Grange Price Guide.


Grange 1996 

Deep crimson. Lovely classic Grange with intense dark fruit, dark chocolate, mocha aromas. Plush, generously flavoured palate with praline, blackberry, dark plum flavours, fine grainy/graphite tannins and underlying savoury, malty nuances. Finishes chocolatey firm, long and flavourful. A gorgeously seductive wine with lovely fruit power and richness. Still has decades to go. A great vintage. Drink now-2040.
Buy now or check our Grange Price Guide.


We have omitted at least two vintages others might want to include – 1983, for its unpredicted longevity, and 1998, for its opulence.

And then there are the views of individual critics.

Campbell Mattinson, of Wine Front, said (in 2012): ‘The 1952, 1953 and 1955 are so magically good they border on the ridiculous. So, too, the 1962, 1963, 1965 and 1966. The 1970s is a leaner era; 1971 and 1976 the stars. The 1980s are good: 1982, 1985 and 1986 the champions. Then in 1990 a new golden era of Grange begins: 1990, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1998 are classics in various guises. Since, the hits have kept coming: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and now 2008 Grange are all stellar.’

The venerable James Halliday has the last word. He nominated a personal Top 10 in 2013, based on a vertical tasting held in 2007.


Other great vintages

1985
Lovely wine; supple and rich; great texture and structure; full array of red and black fruit aromas and flavours; perfect tannin and oak balance and integration; long, lingering finish. 96 points.

1976
Powerful wine; abundant black and red fruits… ripe, but not jammy or dead; tannins present, but in balance; rich and satisfying; long life ahead. 96 points.

1971
Good colour, bright and clear; has the typical highly lifted bouquet of ’71, the palate silky smooth with predominantly red fruits… great vintage. 95 points.

1966
Strong, deep colour... abundant plum, prune and blackberry fruit; perfectly balanced and integrated tannins, ditto oak; rich and satisfying. 95 points.

1962
Strong colour; a fragrant and aromatic bouquet of exotic spices and dried fruits; mouthfilling, rich and exuberant, with a cascade of ripe fruits; still absolutely in the prime of its life; an outstanding bottle. 96 points.

955
Beautiful limpid aspect, brick-red, yet alive; a very complex wine with a melange of dried fruits, spices, mocha and then a long, imperious finish with perfect acidity and fine tannins. Clinic. 97 points.

1953
Slightly more brick hue than the ’52; fractionally riper fruit in a red and black spectrum; spices, leather and sandalwood; a firmer finish, the tannins alive and well giving great length and persistence; remarkable acid balance. Penfolds Chief Winemaker Peter Gago regards it as the greatest Grange. Clinic. 98 points.

1952
Still retaining remarkable red hues; beautiful rich aromas with no sign of decay, the palate as glorious as the bouquet promise; a satin and velvet brocade with vibrant fruit, great length and harmony. You could write a book about it. Clinic. 100 points.


Langton's Wine Manager Adrian Read was a consultant to Penfolds for 15 years from 1985 to 2000. He developed and ran the Red Wine Re-corking Clinic program and co-wrote four editions of The Rewards of Patience, the cellaring and drinking guide to Penfolds wines.


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