Grange versus Bin 389, a masterclass
Very interesting tasting this afternoon. It was held at Australia House (where they have the annoying rule that if the invitation says 3.30 pm, you aren't even allowed in the building until 3.30 pm), and it involved a vertical of two Penfolds wines: the iconic Grange, and its sibling the Bin 389. There was a good turnout, including cricketing legend Ian Botham.
Peter Gago presented, and did a very good job in keeping the tasting moving. But when he took questions, he simply avoided answering mine by being horridly, politician-level evasive - I'd asked him about the extent and timing of additions of acid and tannin. His response was that they didn't add tannins, but did tannin finings, and talked about all the other finings that they don't use. He said that they added grape-derived tartaric acid 'which all falls out anyway', and that they have a Barossa Sangiovese which they didn't add any acid to at all.
But it's the wines we were there for, and they were lovely. Penfolds have a distinctive, instantly recognizable house style. Grange is an icon and lasts for ever, as the 1955 and 1971 we enjoyed at the Landmark Tutorial showed. [It's probably partly because of the addition of acid -totally normal in Australia - and tannin that the wines live so long.]
Bin 389 is underrated. It's a great, ageworthy wine in its own right. 1986 389 was fading but complex (not the best bottle, apparently), 1990 was beautiful with lovely pure fruit, 1991 almost as good but more woody, 1996 was weaker, 1998 fantastically fruity and 2004 was brilliantly intense.
As for Grange? 1986 was brilliant, 1990 and 1991 both fantastic but rather different in style, 1996 was very good but has sticky out acid, 1998 was a backward classic, and 2004 was in a league of its own - a truly great Grange with amazingly intense fruit, great focus and real complexity. It's horribly expensive, but a really special wine. Gago and his team truly are custodians of a national treasure.