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  • Writer's pictureLushmuddled

Penfolds Grange Vs. The Hunter 2014

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

The name of this should be The Hunter Vs Grange. The Hunter Valley is definitely the underdog in the industry. Calling it Grange Vs The Hunter sounds like Penfolds is picking on the weak kid in a schoolyard. The Hunter Vs Grange is much more evocative of a David and Goliath situation.


June is Hunter Valley Wine and Food Month. There are plenty of events on on but what grabbed my attention was this tasting. It's held at Wine House (right across the road from Brokenwood) and places Penfold's Grange against three Hunter Valley wines - Mount Pleasant Maurice O'Shea, Brokenwood Graveyard and Silkman Reserve Shiraz. All the wines are from 2014. This was a brilliant vintage in the Hunter which really put the region back on the map for a lot of drinkers, and it was a cooler year in South Australia so the Grange isn't as big as it can be. It's a good match up, really. The tasting will cost you $98pp, which isn't bad considering that all four bottles would cost you somewhere between $1500 and $2000. I've also been cooped up with a broken leg so I felt like I deserved a treat. That, and I've been dying to try the Maurice O'Shea 2014 since it was released.


The tasting is blind, sort of. Four glasses are placed in front of you with your wine already poured. You know exactly what wines you're tasting, but not which glass is which. The idea here isn't to trick you - it's to get you thinking. As much as I dislike blind tasting (it's such a useless thing - when will I ever need to identify a wine by smell and taste alone?) this is a good way to do it. A booklet is provided for all your note taking needs, which will come in handy to keep track of your thoughts.


I don't want to say this was easy, because I don't know if I nailed the wines. But I am surprised how decisive I was about my choices. I was expecting to agonise over it for the allotted hour time slot. Granted, I drink a lot of wine and have a lot of experience with the Hunter, so the Grange, from South Australia, stood out like a sore thumb. The rest was just identifying the house style. I've had some Mount Pleasant wines in the past and and one of the wines definitely tasted like Mount Pleasant from the Jim Chatto era. I've also drunk a lot of wines from Liz Silkman and I'm confident that I could identify which wine was made by her. That just left a final glass which, by simple elimination, had to be the Graveyard. It got me wondering, how much of having a good palate is just, simply, having a good memory for tastes and smells?


Suzanne, our host, told us that from what she has seen, about 80% of tasters identify the Grange correctly. In a line up of Hunter Valley wine, having a South Australian monster really is a case of 'one of these things is not like the other.' She expects that only 30% of tasters will get all the wines correct. The answers are released at the end of the month, and those who identified the wines correctly go into the draw for a generous prize. I'm keen to see what order they were poured and if I got it correct. My tasting notes, for the curious, are below. I have, though, mixed up the order so I don't influence any one else's decision.

GLASS ONE

Deeper colour, consistent and clear cherry. Deeper flavour, almost plump, certainly more rounded. Fruit forward nose. Clean. Pretty. Soft, grainy tannins and good acid line. Flavours of sour cherry, ice tea, tomato leaf and a solid finish. Really precise and focused. I reckon it's Silkman.


GLASS TWO

Clear, medium cherry red with rusty edges. Dusty oak and cedar on the nose, dried leather and cherry again. Nice choc/spice element. Savoury, dusty tannins. Dried fruit, pot pourri, bitter roots and cinnamon. Astrigent finish. I'm fairly sure of the others, so this has to be the Graveyard.


GLASS THREE

It's Grange. The colour is so much deeper and darker. Heady, deep, brooding nose of baking spice, dark olives, rich plum and Christmas cake. Yep...tannins like licking a brick, firm and drying. Olives again, kirsch, blood sausage, forest berries. The acid seems pretty high, but it has length and length. It's definitely Grange.


GLASS FOUR

A more vibrant colour. Back to a savoury nose, red earth, dried cherry. It's floral, but nothing overt. Restraint. Soft and plump but also firm and confident, quietly assured of itself. It has weight and substance. Prosciutto rind, pine needles, cedar, red plums and dark cherry. It's gorgeous. It's lovely. It reminds me so much of the Mount Pleasant wines I've had in the past that I'm banking on this being O'Shea.


The tasting is available every day in June and must be booked in advance. You can call Wine House on 02 4998 7668 or visit winehousehuntervalley.com.au. I'll update this in two weeks or so with the results!


UPDATE:

Wine House revealed the order of the wines a few weeks ago. The stats from the June tasting sessions have been revealed but, in fairness, there is one masterclass left. The Grange Masterclass was postponed to October (for obvious reasons) and the stats my very well change. So, without further ado, the stats are:


CROWD FAVOURITE: Mount Pleasant Maurice O'Shea


79% of tasters identified Penfolds Grange

35% of tasters identified Brokenwood Graveyard

25% of tasters identified Mount Pleasant Maurice O'Shea

21% of tasters identified Silkman Reserve


Now, there is some maths here which I can't do. Luckily, Wine House has done it for me. Only 12% of tasters correctly identified all four wines. Again, these stats will likely change after the Penfolds masterclass. I'm absolutely stoked that the Mount Pleasant won People's Choice - I'm a huge fan of Jim Chatto and the work he put in at Mount Pleasant to breathe new life into it. Tasting it, it was certainly more approachable in it's youth than the Graveyard and Grange, and had a nice combination of weight, freshness and structure.


I'm quite proud to say that I'm one of those 12% of tasters who got it all right, but that is a low number. It's not surprise that Penfolds got guessed correctly most of the time - like I said, it was a case of 'one of these things is not Hunter' as well as South Australian Shiraz being such a commonly consumed drink.


Judging by the stats, most people are familiar with the Penfolds and Brokenwood wines. Again, this isn't a surprise. Both wines are quite high on the Langton's Classification and a common collector's item. Given that COVID limited interstate travel, I imagine most people who attended this tasting were Sydney siders and, sadly, Sydney-siders aren't all that supportive of the Hunter. Not in the same way the residents of Adelaide, Melbourne or Perth support their local wineries. We would, it seems, rather drink a Barossa Shiraz than a Hunter one. Hopefully, though, the Mount Pleasant being the crowd favourite has opened a few eyes to the tasters and has shown them just what the Hunter can do.




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