Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1985

9 06 2011

Last night we drank a bottle of wine with dinner, but not just any bottle of wine. We drank a 1985 Vintage Penfolds Grange Hermitage! Why? Because it was my husband’s birthday and I was cooking rib eye on the bone for our dinner, and this wine was reputed to be at its peak. I bought this bottle for my husband back in the early 1990s and gave it to him for Christmas. Unfortunately, this sort of Christmas present can’t be opened for 15 to 20 years, so it’s been a long wait for him!

Why did we decide to drink it now? Well, we had opened some dozen or so Penfolds Bin 389s (1990 and 1991 vintages) a few weeks back, and without exception, we had to throw every one of them out — the wine was well past its peak and had turned sour. Very sour. That was SO disappointing, so we decided we’d better drink some of the older wines we’d been keeping for ‘special occasions’ sooner rather than later. Which meant we took another look at the Grange.

A few hours before dinner, my husband opened the bottle (the cork shattered as he tried to remove it, though the seal was good). He then decanted it to let it breathe — and to remove the floating bits of cork. We drank it from Reidel glasses, with a large bowl suitable for red wine.

So what does a $500 bottle of 1985 Grange taste like? (Yes, $500 is around the average price per bottle for this wine on the internet; I think I paid about $75 or $90 for it when I bought it back in the early 1990s — a LOT of money for a bottle of wine then… and now!)

Here’s my (very amateur) assessment of this wine, which was a 99% shiraz/1% cabernet sauvignon mix:

  • Nose: Lovely aroma, but not as full as I expected
  • Colour: Rich earth/plum tones
  • Palate: Very smooth and mellow, with reasonable tannins that exploded in the mouth when I swished it around. But I was surprised (and disappointed) that it finished quite short and didn’t linger in either the mouth or the back of the throat.

Overall, was it worth $500? In my opinion, no.

Yes, it was probably at its prime for drinking, and it matched well with the food, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t as full-bodied as I expected for a shiraz. That said, I’ve never had Grange before, so perhaps my expectations were wrong. It was very nice, but I suspect that in a blind tasting I wouldn’t have picked it as my favourite as it was a little too smooth for a shiraz — for my palate, anyway.

We have one other bottle of Grange left — a 1990 vintage, I think. So when we open that one in about a year’s time, we’ll see how it compares. According to internet reviews and pricing at the moment, it’s a ‘classic Grange’ and resells for around $750+ a bottle! Yikes!

Penfolds Grange 1985 - empty!




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