The most comprehensive tasting of Grange has just been published in a new edition of Rewards of Patience – Penfolds’ detailed catalogue of its entire output.

The fifth Rewards of Patience in the series comes four years after the last edition, published in 2000. It gives detailed tasting notes on 25 Penfolds wines, including 50 vintages of Grange, from 1952 to 2001 inclusive. The last three vintages have not yet been released.

Around 400 wines were tasted by a panel made up of international experts Joanna Simon, Decanter columnist Ch’ng Poh Tiong, James Halliday, Joseph Ward and Huon Hooke.

‘I cannot think of any French wine producer who could put on a tasting of 50 consecutive vintages,’ Simon writes in Decanter magazine this month.

The tastings were held over three days in Adelaide and around in September last year. They included 44 vintages of St Henri Shiraz, 30 of Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, and Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz.

Bin 707 Cabernet (28 vintages) and Magill Estate Shiraz (20 vintages) were shown, then the Grange, then a flight of rare Special Bin reds covering 34 years. These included the 1956 Bin 136 Magill Burgundy, Bin 60 and the legendary Bin 60A, two 1962 blends of Coonawarra Cabernet and Kalimna Shiraz.

Grange has its detractors, and is often dismissed by senior commentators as ‘wines made to win competitions’, but the tasters were constantly impressed by the consistency of the half-century of vintages.

‘The 1952,1953 and the legendary 1955 turned heads. ‘There were not many lows,’ Simon writes. ‘The 55 had an even more vibrant bouquet, with red fruits and prunes and hints of orange pomander, figs and sultanas. It didn’t deliver as much on the palate, but it was still a mouthfilling wine’

She cites 1957-59 inclusive as ‘lows’. ‘Though not surprisingly, as these were the “hidden Granges”, made by (Grange founder) Max Schubert against company orders.’

Simon goes on, ‘The 1962 (was) just beaten by the 63, 66 and 71 (although it took a second bottle of the both 63 and 71 to show it). “If you had to point to a wine which fulfilled all the ambitions of Grange, it would have to be the 1971,” Schubert once said. Who could argue?’

1972-81 were described by Hooke as ‘gruff wines’, 1884 was ‘the least of the wines’ according to Simon, 86 and 90 were ‘outstanding’. The finale was ‘splendid’: ‘1994, 96, 98 and 2001 are all destined to be among the great Granges, with the rich, savoury 1994 barely ready to drink and the 1996 still needing four or five years.’

Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago described the tasting as ‘warts and all’ but Simon concludes after a trawl through her notes, ‘there were only tiny blemishes.’

The Rewards of Patience can be bought through the Penfolds Privilege Club

Written by Adam Lechmere