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Gago's secret Penfolds $3000 superwine


Philip White has tasted the new crowning glory of Penfolds – a majestic blend of three Granges that costs $3000 a pop.

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It’s the wine that didn’t exist. As the whispers spread around the highest echelons of this big wine village, it seemed to get further away from reality: what was it? Where is it? Is it real? How much would it cost?

Eventually, Penfolds chief winemaker, Peter Gago, had to release his latest ace card in the astonishing Penfolds deck. One couldn’t help getting the feeling he’d done a Max: working quietly away for years on a dream wine that eventually had to turn into money. He had to fess up.

When he finally presented it to a disbelieving handful of wine critics under strict embargo a few weeks back, Gago was excited like an impish schoolboy.

There are 1200 bottles of the new beauty. It’s called Penfolds G3, and it’s $3000 a pop. It’s a blend of three Granges – 2008, 2012 and 2014 – which were selected, assembled, and aged in barrels as a blend before bottling.

The wine will be available only at the Penfolds cellar door at Magill.

Gago is coy about other details. He won’t reveal the percentages of each vintage in the assemblage.

When asked about how he’d chosen the components, he said: “08 had such character as an anchor. ’14 was chosen deliberately so no one can do this at home. Of course that wine’s not yet released. Even if they did, we’re not revealing the percentages but they’re all significant. Even if a person does have a measuring cylinder and the vintages to emulate it, it hasn’t matured as a blend in Grange oak.”

The 2008 wine was decanted from 750ml bottles. Some of the 2012 and 2014 Granges was set aside in barrel after the rest was bottled. These three components were then blended and matured for over a year in “current Grange-use barrels”.

He repeatedly stressed the importance of the selected wines maturing in oak as a finished blend, as happens with the selected components of each vintage of Grange before bottling.

“It’s not chemistry,” he said. And after a perfectly theatrical pause, ” … it may be alchemy.”

So how was it priced?

“I’ve spoken to some customers who expected an extra zero.”

He was coy about the next release. Is it blended? Can’t say. Will this be an annual event? No.

Seeing the possibility of a parallel version after the formidable “White Grange”, the Yattarna Chardonnay, I asked what varieties would be in the first Y3. Polite change of subject.

So what’s it like?

I was too dumfounded to take notes. It’s not at all like any of its components. It’s finer than any of them. It’s tight, majestic essence. The soul of Penfolds. The spirit of that grand old stone pile of Penfolds Magill, with its long underground drives stacked with a century of dusty secrets.

Even the presence of a “significant” proportion of the 2008 hasn’t given the wine any sense of that age. I thought maybe he’d matured that in magnums, but no. That would have explained its youthful countenance. So were those bottles under screw cap to guarantee the freshness of the assemblage? Maybe we’ll never know.

I was suspicious that the wine had been ‘freshened’ with another addition between barrel maturation and bottling, but no. It’s so svelte and crisply architectural that I thought perhaps it had more Cabernet than Grange usually contains, but another no. “It’s around 2 per cent Cabernet,” he said.

After all that, and the mystifying fact that it projects no sense of age or years other than bright, tight, ravishing complexity and finesse, the wine is perfectly approachable now. It’s easier to drink, for example, than that mighty 2012 Grange which one presumes must be, what? Like a third of the finished assemblage?

While it sets a new, very high bar for Penfolds, that’s very obviously what it is: Penfolds has a bold new peak on its towering red pyramid. But the damn thing doesn’t even seem like any Shiraz I’ve had from anywhere.

Having spent 20 minutes marvelling at its mystifying, captivating bouquet, I emptied my glass in three glorious disbelieving gulps. That was weeks back, but I can still taste it, and suspect I’d recognise it in a flash if I ever get near another glass.

The experience reminded my only of one thing: the way the late Henri Krug would cover his blending bench with dozens of wines to assemble the Krug Grand Cuvée non-vintage Champagne. Many of these aged bases would be oxidised and awkward, almost like young sherry. And yet once he’d assembled his selections in the beaker, the wine would be fresher, younger, more spritely and deliciously bright than those components.

Gago’s right. Alchemy is the word.

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