jamie goode's wine blog: Lunch with Peter Gago

Monday, October 05, 2009

Lunch with Peter Gago

Had lunch today with Peter Gago, who since 2002 has been Penfolds Chief Winemaker. This job title makes him the custodian of Grange, Australia's most famous wine, which enjoys true celebrity status. Since its beginnings in the 1950s, Grange has just four of these custodians: Max Schubert, Don Ditter, John Duval and now Peter.

It's the first time I've spent proper time with Peter, who is ideally suited to one of the most fun jobs out. Basically, he gets to travel the world as a Penfolds (and therefore Grange) ambassador, drinking a heck of a lot of back vintages in the process with some very interesting people, including a fair smattering of celebrities.

Our discussions today were broad ranging and quite organic, in the sense that we drifted from one theme to another without much structure. Peter is smart, articulate, and has a rich fund of stories. He's an interviewer's dream, in that you hardly have to ask a question to get a lot of juicy material in return, but much of the discussion was of an off-the-record nature.

Peter is a Champagne nut. It's probably his favourite wine style, outside his own portfolio; he started off as a sparkling wine maker, working closely with Ed Carr. Last night he was staying at the Capital Hotel, and he dined there. On the wine list he found a 1943 Krug, priced at 155, which he promptly ordered. He showed me the bottle, which he had kept and which he had with him: interestingly, it had a bluish tinge to the glass. He'd snagged a bargain (did they miss a zero off?).
I like Peter. While he's an accomplished 'people person', you don't feel like he's trying to 'spin'. We didn't drink any Grange with our lunch (in recent months, I've done a wide range of vintages of this wine) but we did look at several other wines, including two newcomers to the Penfolds portfolio. They're a pair of new releases under the Koonunga Hill label, with wonderful retro labels.

Koonunga Hill used to be quite serious. First released in 1976, it didn't cost much, but it was an ageworthy red that over-delivered. Over time, the brand became a little devalued, but the new releases are raising the game a little. The first is called Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling 2008, and it's just lovely, with a delicate sweet honeyed note to beautifully balanced lime and lemon fruit. The second is the Koonunga Hill Seventy Six Shiraz Cabernet 2008, and it's brilliantly sleek, smooth, well defined and just delicious, and will likely age beautifully over a decade. Both will be priced around 9, and at this level represent fantastic value for money. It's great that this historic old label is being revived in this way. [The current Koonunga Hill releases will remain for the time being, though. These new wines are quite a bit different.]



At 11:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Penfolds wines have been of declining interest for a decade. They are almost all too hot, heavy and sweet.

At 4:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, yes I agree with previous poster. Generally Penfolds wines, with the possible exception of Grange delivers less and less value for money. Grange may still deliver it but even there I am not convinced.

Peter Gago's position must be massively frustrating: Trying to deliver a "boutique style product" under the umbrella of a big conglomerate.

It all goes back to the original acquisition of Penfolds by SouthCorp and the subsequent reverse takeover of SouthCorp by Rosemount where the son in law of the founder/owner of Rosemount was installed as CEO of the new entity.

This man proceeded to drive the new company into a modern version of self immolation.

Penfolds is still sufferring from this, and Fosters, the new owner of the group has not helped.

At 7:43 AM, Anonymous Ben Smith said...

Enotria hosted a Shiraz masterclass at our regional tastings last week and I have to say Grange (02) was looking pretty ordinary next to Mt Langi, Stonewell, Hill of Grace and others.

At 8:05 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

There's no doubt that Penfolds have experienced some difficulties during the last few years, but have you tried the 2004 Grange? Three Chardonnays we tried yesterday: Bin 311, Bin 07A and Yattarna were all superb, too. I think they're heading in the right direction. Penfolds should be about premium wines; not the current Koonunga and Rawsons Retreat ranges, which are not great.

At 12:29 AM, Blogger Camoranesi said...

I would largely agree with the first two posters, and would add that it is about time that there is some genuine criticism of their prices - in some cases their wines are pretty well put together. But they're horrendously poor value. For me, some of the time Penfold's look like ageing rockers on a superannuation tour - all past glories, PR and lights, extortionate prices, and their fans really want to like them like they used to. But deep down...


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