Great Expectations: The Penfolds Tasting

It’s hard to get VinoDuo giddy with anticipation of a wine tasting…we drink wine every day and while we’re not jaded, it takes a lot to get us excited.  The invite from Martignetti and Penfolds, the great Australian wine conglomerate, though, had us hooked at “Be among the elite few…global release...2006 Grange.”  While Penfolds produces wine under multiple labels and for many budgets, Grange is the gold standard of Australian Shiraz, with a hefty price tag to match. Past vintages have been rated in the high 90’s by wine reviewers and sold for upwards of $500 a bottle. So the opportunity to attend the unveiling of the 2006 Grange, along with other “Penfolds Icon + Luxury Wines”, was tantalizing.

And the icing on the cake? The event was held on the roof deck at Boston’s best new waterfront restaurant, Legal Harborside. The views of the Harbor were, of course, heavenly as were the Angus beef sliders, sushi, cheeses, and passed hors d’oeuvres.



The problem with great expectations is they can be easily dashed.  Among the Penfolds portfolio we found a mixed bag of surprises, disappointments, and conundrums. And while the Grange 2006 and 2008 (100 Points from Robert Parker/$750 a bottle) was, indeed, an extraordinary wine, we left the tasting even more frustrated by the thorny relationship between wine ratings, reputation, and extravagant pricing.


There were some disappointments along the way including the RWT (“Red Winemaking Test”) and the St. Henri Shiraz, which we both disliked. Lisa’s notes on the Thomas Hyland Chardonnay (Adelaide 2011) read “too creamy, too thin, too bland.” Equally non-committal was her assessment of the 2008 Bin 44 Yattarna Chardonnay: “harsh, raw, ick.”  And at $85 a bottle, no less.

The Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz was very good, but the tannins make this wine a not-yet-ready-for-primetime selection. The 2010 Koonunga Hills Shiraz is also characterized by its big tannin structure and could be a good choice in a year or so.

THE CONUNDRUM – Why is a 100 Point/$750 bottle better than a 90 Point/10 bottle?

The day after the event, VinoDuo dived into the crawlspace/wine cellar to dig out a 2010 Evodia Old Vines Garnacha from Calatayud, Spain. This Eric Solomon Selection (we love most of Eric’s picks) is a real charmer: delicious, drinkable, and less than $10 a bottle…that’s $740 less than the 2008 Grange. And yet the same Robert Parker who gave the Grange a 100 scored the 2010 Evodia a 90.  

Clearly, comparing the 2008 Grange (Shiraz) and the 2010 Evodia (Garnacha) is the ultimate apples/oranges exercise. Different soils, different grapes, different vintages, different method, different…everything.  And yet. Paired with a luscious lasagna, the Evodia was as enjoyable to drink as the Grange.  How to justify the extra $740 for the Grange? Snob appeal? Marketing prowess? Or does the Grange simply rise to the level of a perfect and perfectly costly wine by virtue of its extraordinary craftsmanship, sophistication, and staying power?

Do you, oh oenophile reader, have answers to these questions?  If a $9 wine satisfies as well as a $30 wine or a $300 wine, when does the more expensive wine go into your shopping cart or glass?  


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