I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there are certain great wines that I’m never going to taste. We just don’t travel in the same circles. Expecting to meet-up with, say, a bottle of Chateau Petrus is, for me, every bit as realistic as expecting to bump into Cary Grant at the grocery store. Given that Grant is dead and Petrus is $5,000 a bottle, the odds either way are against me.
Every now and then, however, life throws you a curve. I had dinner with Sir Edmund Hillary once, for example, which was about as cool as it gets and completely unforeseeable. Milton Berle told me a joke standing at a deli cash register. Tina Louise flirted with me.
It happens, once in a while, that a normal person encounters a legend — but it is best not to count on it, because life isn’t like that.
So it is with my list of impossible wines. They are there, and I am here, and seldom the twain shall meet.
Last week, without warning or forethought, I was invited to a tasting of Penfolds wines that included three vintages of the legendary Grange. The tasting was at Westport Whiskey & Wine, and standing at the front of the room was Steven Leinert, Penfolds’ senior red winemaker. Right there on the table were three decanters filled with different vintages of one of the wines I never figured I’d taste.
And let me tell you something: I don’t remember the joke Milton Berle told at the cash register, because it wasn’t that funny. Sir Edmund Hillary was a genial old man with some good stories and bad breath. And Tina Louise’s flirtation had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her own need to be the center of attention. In short, legends are, beneath it all, just people.
And Grange is just wine. Pretty good wine, sure: complicated, subtle, distinct. But in the end, even at $500 a bottle, just wine. Perhaps it would be more if I knew it better. It has been said that you don’t really know a wine until you drink six bottle of it, and I will almost certainly never drink six bottles of Grange.
But the lesson I’m taking away from my encounters with legends of all types is they are best revered from a distance. Wine is no different from people, and I’m not enough of a connoisseur of either to really understand, when I’m standing right next to them, what it was that I had been so in awe of.
Tasting notes below:
2004 Grange — Dark ruby to the edge. Big nose: oak, pepper, maybe a little mint. Very complex and intricate. Medium/high acidity, medium tannins. There’s a flavor in there like sweet mustard, with a long clean finish of cherries and charcoal smoke. The word that comes to mind is “composed.” This is a very composed wine.
2005 Grange — Darkest ruby leaning to black. Rich, deep, heavy nose with oak and a whack of alcohol. Chocolate on the palate, and sharper acidity than the ’04. If this were a blind tasting I’d argue it’s a little out of whack, but since it’s Grange I’ll keep my mouth shut. The long finish has more acidity in it than I’d prefer.
2006 Grange — Dark purple that coats the glass. The nose is slightly smoky. Medium acid, med/high tannins. A well balanced wine that is so, so young. The long nice finish is cherries and chocolate and a touch of youthful herbaceousness.
The rock star of the tasting was, for my money, the NV Grandfather Tawny, a solera-aged Shiraz/Cab/Mourvedre/Grenache fortified wine that was amazing. It was all bright cherries and roasted nuts, old and new at the same time, with perfectly balanced sweetness and a finish that is what I wish the whole world tasted like. It’s about $100 a bottle and worth every penny.