July 24: Shiraz is the ubiquitous grape of Australia with four out of five producers growing it, but not many Aussie reds come close to Penfolds Grange, the Grand Wine King which commanded a record price of Rs. 54,00,000 in an auction last month, writes Subhash Arora featuring the wine for the inaugural Shiraz Day celebrated in Australia yesterday, explaining why the price of such collectibles keep on shooting up
Yesterday was the first Shiraz Day celebrated in Australia, which is surprising. After all, according to Wine Australia, four out of five Australian wineries grow Shiraz, the most planted red wine grape and almost half of red wine grapes planted across the country. After peaking in demand, the volume of Shiraz exports has dropped but it is still very popular.
There is an upward trend in the price for bottled exports of Australian Shiraz, according to The Shout. For the 12 months ending May, the average value grew from A$6.10 per litre (Rs. 310) in 2015 to A$8.57 (Rs.455) per litre in 2020. While the volumes have not grown, it commands higher export prices. Still a darling of Australian wine, some of the vines are the oldest in the country, producing red wine of very high global standards.
Penfolds Grange- King of Australian Shiraz
So how much do you think an Australian Shiraz should cost? Rs. 400, Rs.4000, Rs. 40,000? This one from 1951 vintage of Penfolds Grange Hermitage fetched the highest ever price for an Australian wine in an Auction by Langton’s of -hold your breath – Rs. 54,00,000 (A$103,000)!! That’s Rs. 54 lakhs. The complete set of 1951-2015 fetched A$372,800 (almost Rs. 20 million) at the same auction last month.
Grange has been considered an unparalleled Aussie wine for decades and is a symbol of their high quality, competing and comparing with the best in the world. Even at around Rs. 40,000 for a regular vintage, it is considered a good value for collectors. But you don’t buy wines like 1951 grange at regular wine shops or even at specialists but only at auctions where collectibles command record prices at times.
To uncork it or not
Certainly not the best vintage to have been produced, 1951 was the first vintage by Penfolds Grange. There are less than 20 of these in the world today out of around 1800 bottles produced (about 8,000 cases are produced now on the average). Such aged collectibles are rarely uncorked and when they do, it is usually an iconic experience and much hyped international event. But every bottle when opened reduced the supply.
Demand is generally on the increase thanks to the super-rich who don’t know what to do with their money so a collection that will add to their liquid assets, drives the price up even further –the simple formula of supply and demand works for such wines. So, the auction price is not linked to the quality as to the rarity of the vintage and the story that goes with it and the Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1951 has a unique story.
Tribute to France and winemaking
Grange may have become the Grand wine of Australia but it is also a tribute to French winemaking and France- be it Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rhone where Syrah is the king grape. But it is also a tribute to fine winemaking that goes beyond the adage, ‘the wine quality is made in the vineyards’. Peter Gago, Chief Winemaker of Penfolds since 2002 says, ‘everything from the quality of the grapes to the right bottling equipment are a hallmark of wines like Grange from Penfolds. A lot of people talk about the critical time of picking but the time of bottling the wine is as important. There are hundreds of decision making processes along the winemaking track and if you get it right, you can do something quite magical.’
Grange is made from grapes harvested over a wide area. The precise composition of the wine thus changes from year to year and it is the expertise of the winemakers rather than the quality of the specific places or vines on which the grapes are grown.
Grange 2011 Fiasco
Most Grange vintages have been excellent in quality since 1951 and worth cellaring, except the aberration in 2011 due to the poor climatic conditions during the grape growing period. But it was still good enough for collectors to buy and complete the Set. ‘It had been a nightmare because of the cold and wet season with the top grape crop below par, even though it was one of the finest red wines from South Australia’, says Gago who was pleased that there would be an uninterrupted line of all vintages back to the first vintage in1951.
The best-performing vintage of Grange in the current market are: 1986, 1990, 1991, 1996, 1998,1999. 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 are also highly regarded. Anniversary vintages, particularly 30th and 40th anniversaries, also drive prices up. They used to label it as Penfolds Grange Hermitage till 1989, to signify the French wine appellation in Rhone Valley but had to drop Hermitage because of EU objections Having toured Europe in 1950, Schubert had visited Rhone too and implemented wine-making techniques in Bordeaux on Shiraz, with a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon to create a red wine to rival the finest Bordeaux wines in quality and ageing potential.
The first vintage to be commercially released was the 1952. It was styled as a powerful still wine when fortified wines were in fashion. Negative reviews by wine critics and poor commercial prospects for the wine led Penfolds management in 1957 to drop the Grange project, but he persisted secretly through 1959. As the earlier vintages aged, they came to be highly appreciated and in 1960 Max was asked to restart production- not knowing he had never stopped or missed a vintage since 1951.
The 1990 vintage was named 'Wine of the Year' by Wine Spectator in 1995 while the 1998 got 99/100 points. The 1971 vintage released originally at A$10 only, topped the score against other renowned international wines of the 1970s in a blind tasting in 2015.
For earlier related Articles, please visit:
Super Grange ‘g3’ released in Hong Kong
Penfolds Grange has a Story in Every Bottle
Raising a Toast to Penfold Grange and Aldi Shiraz
Penfold Grange 2011 dethroned as Top Oz Wine
Grand Grange 2007 Hits Aussie Supermarkets
Indian Wine Academy introduced Indian Wine Day on November 16, 2017 with the support of The Lalit group of hotels to recognize and promote Indian Wine industry. It has been celebrated at the Lalit Hotels in India and London and is increasing in scope every year. The 4th edition will be celebrated on 16 November 2020-editor
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