There’s plenty of irony in the gift of a $3,000 bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange causing the downfall of the NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell today.
The ‘59 (tasting from 2007)was one of the so-called ‘hidden Granges’, which were made by Grange creator Max Schubert and his winemaking team in secret from the Penfolds board of directors, after Schubert had been ordered to cease making the wine. The reason was that it was causing embarrassment to Penfolds. People were criticizing it as a ‘dry port’ that no-one would want to drink, let alone buy.
Schubert chose to ignore the directive and continued making the wine in 1957, 58 and 59, unbeknown to the managing director Gladys Penfold Hyland*. The only difference was that he was not able to procure new American oak barrels for the wine, so he used the previous years’ barrels. Apart from the lack of new oak, the vintages were not outstanding and Schubert never viewed the wines as typical Granges.
The reason the ’59 is expensive (Langton’s quotes between $2,500 and $3,500 and the O’Farrell bottle cost just under $3,000) is its scarcity. Not much of it was made and it’s now very rare.
The reason Nick Di Girolamo chose the ’59 to send to O’Farrell as a gift is that it’s his birth-year. The irony is in the fact that O’Farrell appears to have attempted to make this bottle his very own ‘hidden Grange’. On Monday he denied that neither he nor his wife had received the bottle Girolamo claimed had been sent to their Sydney home address.
O’Farrell said he was away on an Easter holiday at the time and had no memory of the wine. But the next day a hand-written letter from the O’Farrells to ‘Dear Nick’ thanking him for the ’59 Grange was tendered to the ICAC inquiry. Game, set and match.
It was a sad day. I’m not usually a Liberal voter but I thought O’Farrell was a decent man and quite a good Premier. It’s another terrible waste of talent to NSW, thanks to the corrupt doings of Eddie Obeid and his grubby mates.
Sadly, the 1959 Grange will henceforth be known as the Barry O’Farrell Memorial Vintage.
*Young Grange is a big, tannic, oaky wine and the few people who tasted it in the early 1950s found it very bold and rather aggressive, the kind of wine they had little experience of. These days Grange is never released until it’s five years old. When in late 1959 the Penfolds board re-tasted the earliest vintages, at the urging of board member Douglas Lamb, they saw what superb wines they’d matured into, and the order was rescinded. Schubert almost got the sack, as Gladys was furious he’d ignored her orders.
This Thursday is World Malbec Day, a day nominated by Argentina’s winemakers, but surely a day to celebrate the wine, wherever the grapes were grown. It’s worth reflecting on Argentinian malbec, which is one of the great winemaking phenomena of our time.
Along with Marlborough sauvignon blanc and Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, it has turned the wine world on its head, helping to redefine a grape variety and redraw its boundaries.
Coonawarra’s Hollick Wines (tastings) is the latest Australian winery to get a financial boost from the Chinese.
Hong Kong-based Yingda Investment Co Ltd has taken a majority shareholding in the vineyards and winery operations of the Hollick family business, which has a winery, restaurant and cellar door in Coonawarra and vineyards in Coonawarra and Wrattonbully.
The family, which consists of founders Ian and Wendy and their children Mel and Kate, will continue to operate the business with existing staff. Yingda is a division of Shenzhen Guoneng International Trading Co Ltd (SGITCo), of China. The company is involved in hospitality and tourism and owns five-star hotels, resorts and vineyards in China. It brings opportunities for Hollick staff to do work exchanges with the Chinese staff.
Chinese interests have for some years been the biggest investors in Australian vineyards and wineries, with Gemtree (tastings) (McLaren Vale); 1847 Wines and Ross Estate (now Hemera Estate), both in the Barossa; the contract-crush winery Belvidere in the Langhorne Creek region; the Hunter Valley’s Capercaillie (tastings) and Wynwood Estate (formerly Golden Grape Estate) and Western Australia’s Ferngrove (tastings). The large Stonehaven winery at Padthaway and Rutherglen Estates (tastings) are also Chinese owned.
Ian Hollick said the investment would guarantee staff employment, enable Hollick to purchase more fruit to increase its output, and facilitate the entry of Hollick wines into the Chinese market.
Drift Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2013 $16
Drift is Grant Burge’s Marlborough brand, and it’s very keenly priced. From the Wairau and Awatere Valleys, it has much of the personality of the latter, with slightly green capsicum and radish aromas, also spearmint, with a vital, fruity, razor-sharp palate. It’s delicate, refined and delicious, and great value for money. Now to 2018. 13 per cent alcohol. 92/100 - Huon’s Wine 360
Food: anchovy-stuffed olives
Stockists: Superbarn Sutherland; Harbord Beach Hotel; Royal Hotel Bondi
Willow Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Mornington Peninsula 2013 $35
This is much more complex, multi-layered sauvignon blanc than the usual fare, with smoky, funky, slightly sulfidic aromas and barrel ferment overtones. The taste is soft and refined yet flavoursome, with some ‘wild’ balsamic character, and great balance between primary fruit and artifact. Superb. Now to 2020. 12.5 per cent alcohol. 95/100 - Huon’s Wine 360
Food: whole snapper baked with herbs
Stockists: Vintage Blue; Balmain Wine Shop