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.]