August 10, 2011

I can see my house from up here!

In a moment of weakness a few years ago, I fell pray to a marketing campaign by one of the US fine wine auction houses.  Out of the blue, an email offering several bottles of fine and rare wine for sale landed in my inbox.  On the list were several classed growth Bordeaux, a few grand cru labels from Burgundy, the very best of Borolo, and to my delight, a bottle of Grange.  For as long as I can recall, Penfold’s Grange has epitomized the ultimate expression of Australian Shiraz.  Concentrated beyond any other and placed firmly atop the ziggurat of Australian viticulture, I knew this only in theory, and in good faith, nothing more.  With vintages such as 1998 and 2004 regularly splashed across wine publication toting marks in the ultra-high 90s, Grange in my mind was a sure thing.  I’ll take it!

Only after confirming the order with my credit card, did I actually sit down in front of the computer in search of a few statistics on my new acquisition.  I read adjectives like: unwavering tannins, harsh, atypical, and ‘possibly underrated but only time will tell’.  No wonder it was on sale!  To add to the anxiety, the bottle was in Chicago and would need to cross the border where as an already over-taxed Canadian I would pay both duty and exchange totalling almost half the purchase price of the bottle in question. 

Fortunately, a friend was off to the Windy City for business and gladly agreed to pick the bottle up and deal with boarder security on the way home – for a price, of course.  He somehow felt that this ‘favour’ was worth a bottle from the auction house of his own.  And so for another 50 bucks, I agreed to his terms and conditions and we set our plan into action. 

Miraculously, the bottles did arrive unscathed and untaxed, no questions asked on my part.  But the anxiety remained as this ‘atypical’ bottle of Grange stared at me daily from its tiny cubicle in our cellar.  I could sell it, never knowing what it was like, but then do I really want to pass the burden on to some other unsuspecting soul?   No, I’m a better person than that; the responsibility shall stay with me. 


Two years passed, the debt was repaid to the generous folks at VISA, but the worry remained.  I have Google’d this wine a thousand times hopeful that someone might pay it an exceedingly high complement but unfortunately, the comments have remained rather consistent.  Until one day that is, when my search turned up overwhelming praise for a bottle of ’95 Grange, the same vintage to haunt my cellar.  ‘Bottled Perfection’, the tasting note said; ‘the greatest wine to ever grace our table’.  This is it! The tables have turned I thought, and with my wife Jacquie’s birthday the following week, the timing could not have been more ideal.  We had planned to open a bottle of Haut Brion to celebrate but suddenly the Grange seemed a more likely candidate for the occasion.      

I made reservations at Bistro Seven Seven, an extravaganza of culinary delight in Alliston, Ontario, where Jacquie and I were joined by our friends Stephen and Krista.  To start the evening, we enjoyed a bottle of 2005 Bouchard Meursault, Genevri√™res 1er Cru:  soft, delicate, and balanced, the perfect wine to compliment our appetizers.  But with the lingering aftertaste of a lovely Burgundy, I remained silently concerned over the imminent arrival of the  Grange.

My Australian thorn was decanted upon arrival at the restaurant and by this time had sat open for almost 2 hours. Our server commented on the significant amount of sediment in the bottle, an indication of the need to partake sooner than later.  Stephen and I ordered the beef tenderloin; Krista, the beef bourguignon; and Jac, something slightly more exotic called gnoochi.  All suitable choices to combat the potential wave of tannins about to descend upon us, I assured myself.        

Wine will never meet your expectations in the wrong environment and will only taste as good as the setting in which you choose to indulge; the drink itself, after all, is half atmosphere, and on this evening, our atmosphere could not have been better.  I watched as the Aussie icon flowed from the decanter into our glasses.  The dull red tint revealed its age but as the decanter passed before me, I captured the reassuring scent of black fruit – and lots of it.  Krista raised the glass to her nose and declared the scent ‘wonderful’, so with glasses in hand and ‘Bon Appetite!’ pronounced, down-under we plunged.  

I keep a mental list of my top-10 favourite bottles and with each new opportunity, the list undergoes a review.  Rarely does anything shuffle the order of these labels but on occasion, a bottle will rock the boat - tonight was one such occasion.  I can’t help but wonder though, was the ’95 Grange really as good as I thought or was my mind still feverishly at work convincing my consciences that this was actually a worthwhile purchase?

For the record, 1995 Penfolds Grange is a profound wine, massive in both aroma and flavour.  I found no hard edges whatsoever; the alleged tannins were perfectly balanced by a plethora of fruit that coated my mouth with what is undoubtedly the best bottle of shiraz/syrah to ever surface from our cellar.   I tend not grade wines on a numerical scale (I don’t agree with the concept), but let’s just say that if you lived in a building with 100 floors and you stood on your balcony sipping ’95 Penfolds Grange, you’d be able to see for miles!


1 comment:

  1. Thank you again for the invite. I'd have to agree that the Grange was nothing but pure enjoyment. Perhaps those that panned the wine in the media drank it a bit too young. Obviously they did not have the 50% atmosphere that we created. I cannot wait for next years wine auction. I'll be looking to grab a bottle or two of my own to enjoy in the future on special occasions.
    Cin cin,


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Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine