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Great Expectations: Penfolds Tasting

Note: Following is a favorite post from 2013. Prices likely have changed; vintages are…old.

It’s hard to get VinoDuo giddy with anticipation of a wine tasting…we drink wine every day and while we’re not jaded, it takes a lot to get us excited. The invite from Martignetti and Penfolds, the great Australian wine conglomerate, though, had us hooked at “Be among the elite few…global release…2006 Grange.” While Penfolds produces wine under multiple labels and for many budgets, Grange is the gold standard of Australian Shiraz, with a hefty price tag to match. Past vintages have been rated in the high 90’s by wine reviewers and sold for upwards of $500 a bottle. So the opportunity to attend the unveiling of the 2006 Grange, along with other “Penfolds Icon + Luxury Wines”, was tantalizing.

img_20130425_145945_661.jpgAnd the icing on the cake? The event was held on the roof deck at Boston’s Legal Harborside. The views of the Harbor were, of course, heavenly as were the Angus beef sliders, sushi, cheeses, and passed hors d’oeuvres.


Tasting Notes The problem with great expectations is they can be easily dashed. Among the Penfolds portfolio we found a mixed bag of surprises, disappointments, and conundrums. And while the Grange 2006 and 2008 (100 Points from Robert Parker/$750 a bottle) was, indeed, an extraordinary wine, we left the tasting even more frustrated by the thorny relationship between wine ratings, reputation, and extravagant pricing.

Thomas Hyland 2011 Riesling For lovers of tart, less-creamy whites Penfolds offers a real competitor to New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc and the dry Rieslings from the Finger Lakes. A good balance of minerality, fruit, and acidity. Lisa noted flavors of grapefruit and tar (but in a good way) and a slight fizz. Hyland is one of Penfolds’ value-priced brands. Its welcome complexity and food-friendly flavors make the 2011 Riesling a heavyweight contender at a welterweight price. $11-$14/bottle
Penfolds 2010 Bin 8

62% Cabernet;
38% Shiraz

This blend was a real crowd pleaser, winning VinoDuo’s “best burger wine” of the day based on its yummy pairing with the Angus slider from Legal Harborside. No fruit bomb; it’s got great balance with a silky tannin structure and a pleasing finish. $18-$22/bottle
Penfolds 2010 Bin 389

51% Cabernet
49% Shiraz

One of Gary’s favorites of the tasting, this Cabernet/Shiraz blend offered deep black fruits and silky smooth sensations on the palate. Super-dark and full-bodied. Bin 389 has been around for 50 years and Penfolds has perfected the blend. Often referred to (by Penfolds, at least) as the “poor man’s baby Grange,” we’ll call it the underpaid sommelier’s baby Grange. $56-$60/bottle
Penfolds 2010 Bin 707

Cabernet Sauvignon

Yes, it’s named after the Boeing 707 passenger jet (someone let a Qantas marketer into the winery!) This is 100% serious Cabernet Sauvignon with black fruit and spicy cocoa flavors; a deep mysterious wine that will improve over time. Penfolds suggests that it will cellar for up to 20 years; but who can wait that long? Within the next 1-2 years this will be a treasured complement to an extraordinary meal. And at $270 a bottle, the 707 is not treasure for the thin of wallet. @ $270/bottle
Penfolds Grange 2006 and Penfolds Grange 2008


If your wallet is fat or you make room in your budget for premier wines, Grange is your drink. The 2006 Grange was lighter than other vintages VinoDuo has sampled but it still wowed us. The smooth edges of this velvety potion are highlighted by layers of delicious red and black fruits, leather, vanilla, and a long, satisfying finish. $500/bottle

The 2008 Grange was everything that the 2006 vintage offered and more—darker, fuller, more complex, and more satisfying. The 100-point wine was, indeed, perfection in Gary’s eyes But is it worth $10 a point? $750-$775/bottle

The Condundrum: Why is a 100 Point/$750 bottle better than a 90 Point/$10 bottle? The day after the event, VinoDuo dived into the crawlspace/wine cellar to dig out a 2010 Evodia Old Vines Garnacha from Calatayud, Spain. This Eric Solomon Selection (we love most of Eric’s picks) is a real charmer: delicious, drinkable, and less than $10 a bottle…that’s $740 less than the 2008 Grange. And yet the same Robert Parker who gave the Grange a 100 scored the 2010 Evodia a 90.

Clearly, comparing the 2008 Grange (Shiraz) and the 2010 Evodia (Garnacha) is the ultimate apples/oranges exercise. Different soils, different grapes, different vintages, different continents, different…everything. And yet. Paired with luscious lasagna, the Evodia was as enjoyable to drink as the Grange. How to justify the extra $740 for the Grange? Snob appeal? Marketing prowess? Or does the Grange simply rise to the level of a perfect and perfectly costly wine by virtue of its extraordinary craftsmanship, sophistication, and staying power? Are the bragging rights for extra points really worth in excess of $74 each?

Do you, oh oenophile VinoDuo reader, have answers or comments to these questions? If a $9 wine satisfies as well as a $30 wine or a $700 wine, when and why does the more expensive wine go into your shopping cart or glass?

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