This promised to be one of the tastings of the year; mature vintages of two of the world’s great icon wines, known to just about anyone with even the vaguest knowledge of wine. Apparently Dom Perignon and Grange have held tastings such as this before in New York and other locations. Both producers did the ‘6’s – vintages ending in a six. Apparently they are usually lucky for Grange.
It is not every day that I get to taste DP, but in the past, on the few occasions I have managed it, I have never been over-whelmed. Is it the anti-corporate part of me, the bit that doesn’t trust the large multi-national corporations? Dom Perignon is part of LVMH, the French company that owns just about every luxury brand in France. I know I shouldn’t let my prejudices affect my tastings, but maybe I should plead guilty.
In any case, on the day, I was very pleasantly surprised; there were some truly great Champagnes, and no duds at all. Oenothèque is a special release of Dom Perignon, made from limited quantities of the same wine as the regular cuvée, but aged for a further period on the lees before release. Dom Perignon is aged for seven years prior to release, DP Oenethèque for fifteen to twenty years on the lees before bottling. These were stunning wines, a glorious mix of fine but rich mature fruit, with excellent acidity. I tried the current regular (2002) release of DP later that day. It too was excellent, and will I think reward a couple more years in the cellar. See below for tasting notes.
Grange is possibly less well-known in this country, but has a massive reputation in wine circles. Most critics see it as the greatest Aussie red. It was the brainchild of Max Schubert, the winemaker at Penfolds for many years. He returned from a visit to Bordeaux in 1950 determined to make a top-quality Australian red wine that could last for twenty years or more. He picked Shiraz (or Hermitage as it was then called) as the mainstay, sometimes adding a percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. The first vintage was 1951. Legend has it that Schubert was forced to hide his new wine from the then owners, who would not have approved.
Unique amongst most fine wines, Grange (the Hermitage was dropped in 1990 following objections from the Rhône Valley) is made not only from a variety of vineyards, but also several regions. Most fine wines (with the exception of Port and Sherry) are the produce of a single vineyard. Typically the grapes are sourced primarily from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, with Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra, McLaren Vale and other regions. The amount of Shiraz used varies each year, but is generally around 90%, the remainder being Cabernet Sauvignon. Grange is always aged in 100% new American oak barrels.
The tasting was lead by Peter Gago, the irrepressible head winemaker at Grange/Penfolds. A former maths teacher, Peter is a brilliant speaker, and a great ambassador for both Penfolds and Grange worldwide. His wife is speaker of the upper house in the Australian parliament, so I would imagine they meet up once every few months. See below for tasting notes.
Dom Perignon Oenothèque Tasting Notes
DP OEnothèque 96, Disgorged in 2008, this had a big rich nose, leesy rich peach fruits, rounded and subtle with excellent acidity (the hallmark of the 1996 vintage), and very good length. Still needs time, but a wonderful Chamapagne. 17/20
DP Rosé OEnothèque 86, There was no Oenothèque Blanc made in 1986, so we tasted the rosé instead. Lovely crushed sweet strawberry fruits, a touch of honey and orange peel, with a very dry finish. Very good. 16.5/20
DP OEnothèque 76, A wine that explodes with flavour. It has a deep gold colour, light mushrooms on the nose, and a superb seductive honeyed, developed palate that goes on and on. Lower in acidity than the 1996, but still very linear, yet powerful 18/20
DP OEnothèque 66 in magnum This had a wonderful nose, all brioche, toasted nuts and mushrooms; on the palate it was full and rich with grilled hazelnuts, buttery with lots of sous-bois and mushrooms, finishing dry. It is possibly fading a little, but a very ipressive wine. 18.5/20
GRANGE TASTING NOTES
Grange 2006 A pup of a wine. Deeply-coloured, not hugely forthcoming on the nose at first, and very closed and tight on the palate. It opens up to reveal a youthful nose of plums, blackcurrants and dark chocolate with toasty new oak. On the palate there is a massive concentration of dark plums, cassis, coffee and spicy new oak. It finishes very well with impressive length and very firm un-evolved tannins. A great wine in the making but needs time. Lots of time. 18/20
Grange 1996 This still has a very youthful colour, but has started to evolve wonderfully on the nose and palate. Forward ripe cassis and plum aromas, with some spicy new oak. The palate is loaded with seductive smooth ripe sweet cassis, dark fruits and dark chocolate, finishing very well. This is young, and will continue to evolve but is irresistible now. A great combination of power and intensity, but perfectly balanced. 19/20
Grange 1986 Full, forward aromas of plum, spice and cedarwood; on the palate it is rich, sweet, ripe and velvety, almost hedonistic at times, with dark chocolate, spice again and a firm long finish. Drinking perfectly now, but will improve further. 17.5/20
Grange 1976 Two bottles opened and sadly neither were in good condition.
Grange 1966 This was a lovely fully mature wine with mint and caramel on the nose; gentle leafy sweet ripe fruit, old leather, truffles and milk chocolate. Not going anywhere but a beautiful wine. 18/20
Grange 2003 Served at dinner later that evening; rich, with very concentrated broad sweet plums and spicy American oak. Powerful and full of flavour, but not quite as impressive as some of the earlier vintages. Maybe it just needs more time? 15.5/20