Penfolds Grange and St Henri illustrate two facets of both grape and winemaking technique, best illustrated when you taste them side by side. Steven Spurrier reports on a tasting of 11 wines from the past three decades
‘Thoroughbreds from Penfolds – Grange and St Henri’ was an apt title for head winemaker Peter Gago’s masterclass at the 2014 London Wine Trade fair, which compared four pairs of wines from earlier decades and two of the most well-regarded vintages from recent years.
Gago began by presenting a table showing the differences in the wines’ profiles (see box). He pointed out that all these points of difference must be seen against the background of a ‘Penfolds stamp’ of firmness, concentration and physiologically ripe fruit, adding that while the wines began life very differently, with full maturity they merged to become ‘aged Penfolds reds’. For me, they remained quite different.
Grange was Australia’s first icon wine and, despite competition from Henschke’s Hill of Grace, it remains the darling of collectors. St Henri, named after Henri Leseur whose first vintage at Penfolds was 1890, does not have the same stature, as prices for each vintage show.
While the greatness of Grange is more evident, I found the relative elegance of St Henri very much to my taste, in the same way that Château Latour is ‘a monument of a wine’ and the two Pichons are more accessible, yet lacking Latour’s longevity and grandeur. Investment potential is much greater with Grange, but the pleasure potential of St Henri is equally strong.
Neither is a single-vineyard wine, the grapes being sourced from many different parcels and regions, with only the very best lots selected for bottling.
A warm, dry growing season with perfect ripening conditions. This pair showed that St Henri has florality while Grange does not – characteristics that they retained in the younger vintages.
87% Shiraz, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon. Kalimna Vineyard, Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Modbury.
This is, younger and deeper than St Henri, with a concentrated, spicy nose, black cherries and black chocolate, and a lush ripe palate. Very rich but not heavy, there’s lots of internal energy and power, but all in balance. Good future ahead. Price: £549-£560 Gunson, Hedonism
St Henri 1986
86% Shiraz, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon. Barossa Valley, Koonunga Hill, Clare Valley, Coonawarra.
Wonderful sweet bouquet, natural ripeness and autumnal fruits, both vigorous and smooth on the palate. Good middle sweetness and a fine, balanced dry finish. A lovely wine.
Price: POA Treasury Wine Estates
A warm, dry growing season punctuated by hot weather late in summer produced an early, ripe vintage.
95% Shiraz, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Kalimna Vineyard, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale.
Still youthful, with dense rich chocolate on the nose and almost burnt fruit on the palate. Terrific power and vigour, with lovely mocha fruit. Rich and smooth, there’s a superb mix of vigour, structure and overall elegance.
Price: £300-£390 Cadman, Christopher Keiler, Evington’s, The Sampler
St Henri 1991
90% Shiraz, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Clare Valley.
Vigorous warm fruit and elegance on the nose, with ripe dark berries and a nice concentration on the palate. Really good coffee/bitter chocolate elements, a good middle sweetness plus coffee beans on the finish. Rich yet elegant.
Price: POA Treasury Wine Estates
A very hot January and February exhausted water reserves and led to an early harvest that finished with another heatwave at the end of March. Despite drought conditions, yields were above average and quality consistently high.
97% Shiraz, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Kalimna Vineyard, Barossa Valley, Padthaway, Magill Estate.
Black fruit nose, plus spice and dark chocolate on the palate. Very good natural density, with the alcohol a little evident. Still a bit foursquare with quite chunky tannins that stay on the palate. A very powerful wine that needs another decade to reach its peak.
Price: £350-£396 Ancient & Modern, Cadman, Christopher Keiler, Good Wine Shop, Seckford
St Henri 1998
94% Shiraz, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Barossa Valley, Padthaway, McLaren Vale.
There’s deep fruit on the nose, with liquorice spice and a natural ripeness and richness on the palate, both vigorous and velvety. A lovely texture and all of a piece. Mocha-choc richness and a wonderfully lifted finish. A very good wine.
Price: £100-£120 Christopher Keiler, Vintage House
Beneficial winter and spring rains were followed by a mild summer, with ripening accelerating towards the end giving high yields of near-perfect fruit.
96% Shiraz 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Magill Estate.
Concentrated red and black fruit aromas. Lush and fleshy for Grange, this still has vanilla from the oak with the richness temporarily dominating the tannins though the concentration is superb. The tannins then come back and firm up the finish. A lovely, dense, richly textured wine, with terrific vigour and a great future.
Price: £400-£562 Justerini & Brooks, Millésima, Soho Wine Supply, Vintage House
St Henri 2004
96% Shiraz, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek, Adelaide, McLaren Vale.
Concentrated berry fruit bouquet with good freshness, plus black and bitter cherry fruit on the palate and again, fine freshness, firmness and grip. Despite being still quite shut in, there’s elegance and lift for the future.
Price: £55-£60 Christopher Keiler, Four Walls, T Wright, R&R Fine Wine
The longest heatwave ever in South Australia. Good vineyard management brought outstanding results
98% Shiraz 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Magill Estate, Adelaide Hills.
Very good purity and depth of spice on the nose, dense yet lifted vineyard fruit on the palate, terrific presence, chocolatey tannins, incredible density of fruit, superb length and balance – a truly great wine.
Price: £401-£550 Cadman, Frazier’s, Hedonism, Justerini & Brooks, Lay & Wheeler, Marc, Noel Young, Secret Cellar
No St Henri 2008 was tasted
A wet and cold winter led to a mild growing season with occasional heat/ cold spikes, producing a long growing season for optimum flavour development with tannins and acidity in balance.
96% Shiraz 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Barossa, Valley, Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Magill Estate.
Sweet, vanilla-laced spiced plum jam nose with salty liquorice, pepper and coal dust. Dense, concentrated, meaty palate of tar, cocoa and blackberries, chewy tannins, a tight structure and great acid lift and freshness. Immense, complete and impressive.
Price: £295 (ib)-£500 Edgmond Wines, Frazier’s, Harrods, Hedonism, Justerini & Brooks, Lay & Wheeler, Millésima, ND John, Private Cellar
St Henri 2010
100% Shiraz. Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills, Wrattonbully, Clare Valley.
Wonderful spicy black fruit nose, this has explosive black cherry fruit and a wonderful palate depth, with ripe tannins as back-up. A marvellously explosive yet controlled wine.
Price: £74.80-£87 Frazier’s, Hedonism