(until the 1989 vintage labelled Penfolds Grange Hermitage
) is an Australian wine
, made predominantly from the Shiraz (Syrah) grape
and usually a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon
. It is widely considered Australia's "first growth
" and its most collectable wine. The term "Hermitage
", the name of a French wine appellation, was commonly used in Australia as another synonym for Shiraz or Syrah. In 1953 two versions of Grange were made, one 87% Shiraz and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, the other 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.
The first vintage of Penfolds Grange was made on an experimental basis in 1951 by winemaker Max Schubert
, while he was employed by Penfolds Wines
. Having toured Europe in 1950, Schubert implemented wine-making techniques observed in Bordeaux
upon his return, aiming to create a red wine able to rival the finest Bordeaux wines both in terms of quality and ageing potential.
Individual bottles of the 1951 vintage are still held by collectors; one sold at auction in 2004 for just over A$50,000. The first vintage to be commercially released was the 1952. Penfolds Grange was styled as a powerful still wine in an age when fortified wines were in fashion. Negative reviews by wine critics and poor commercial prospects for the wine led Penfolds management in 1957 to forbid Schubert from producing Penfolds Grange, but Schubert persisted in secret through 1959. As the initial vintages aged, however, their true value came to be appreciated, and in 1960 the management instructed Schubert to re-start production, oblivious to the fact that Schubert had not missed a vintage.
The great 1955 vintage was submitted to competitions beginning in 1962 and over the years has won more than 50 gold medals. The vintage of 1971 won first prize in Shiraz at the Wine Olympics in Paris. The 1990 vintage was named 'Red Wine of the Year' by the Wine Spectator magazine in 1995, which later rated the 1998 vintage 99 points out of a possible 100.
Penfolds Grange also carries a "Bin" designation, referring to its storage location in Penfolds cellars while aging. 1951 was Bin 1, 1952 was Bin 4, and later vintages carried various designations. By 1964 the designation was standardised as "Bin 95."
By the end of the 1980s the wine came to be regarded as a collector's item. The name "Hermitage" was dropped from the label with the 1990 vintage, following objections by the European Union authorities to the use of a French place-name, as no third-country wine entering EU may carry a geographical name recognized by European wine officials.
Unlike most expensive cult wines
from the Old World
, which are from single vineyards
or even small plots (called blocks) within vineyards, Grange is made from grapes
harvested over a wide area. This means that the precise composition of the wine will change from year to year and it is the branding
and expertise of the winemaking which purchasers value, rather than the qualities of the specific places where the grapes are grown or the particular vines. The quantity of Penfolds Grange produced varies considerably from year to year and is a carefully guarded secret. Despite the vagaries of grape sourcing and vintage variation due to growing conditions, some believe that there is a consistent and recognisable "Penfolds Grange" style.
In May 2005, ownership of the Penfolds brand, along with its museum collection of Penfolds Grange, passed to Foster's Group
upon its acquisition of the previous owner, Southcorp Limited.
- Caillard, Andrew (2004). The Rewards of Patience. 5th ed., Australia: Penfolds. ISBN 1877082376.