Back in the day, the last decade of the last century actually, Neil and I used to buy wine at auction. Wines made before we got into wine appreciation. Wines no longer available in retail.
At one auction a lot of four bottles of Penfolds Koonunga Hill Claret came up. A Penfolds wine at the bottom of the ladder where Grange sat on the top. A wine with a legend that when Max Schubert first made it in 1976, it was from the young vines destined for Grange. The vintage on auction: 1986.
1986: One of the most brilliant South Australian vintages ever at that time and in 2016, as I write this, still rates as one of the very best.
1986: The year John Duval took over as Penfolds Chief Winemaker.
I put my hand up to bid. The lot was ours. A bottle was opened the following weekend. OMG. Amazing!
We clinked our glasses to toast our success in securing the wine so cheaply.
It was 1999 when we took a bottle in a sock to a dinner with our wine gang friends — labels always had to be hidden. We didn’t want to seem like cheapskates when the wine was revealed so we took an ‘expensive’ label in another sock. Well, what was the wine of the night? Koonunga Hill 1986 of course.
Our wine inventory said we had two left but they had eluded us for years. We must have opened them and not recorded the imbibing. It happens. But one came to light when rummaging through some cartons recently. Time to check it out again.
The wine: Penfolds Koonunga Hill Claret 1986
Labelled ‘claret’ but the fine print states a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Maturation: American oak casks.
Alcohol by volume: 13%
Closure: Cork. It’s travelled a little on one side but holding tight on the other.
Fill level: perfect.
Then in the glass …
The colour: Like the colour of Delmaine’s traditional redcurrant jelly on a teaspoon — a faded garnet that seems dark and opaque when looking straight on but translucent when tilted against white paper.
The bouquet: Mellow oak, earthy spices, dark fruit — yes there is still fruit after 30 years— and a dusting of chocolate
The taste: A little reticent at first, then bright fruits burst out of the depth — red fruits most definitely — redcurrant and cassis with a shimmer of aromatic spices and a tickle of red peppercorns. There’s a ferrous nuance to the earthy, mushroomy, perhaps ever so slightly compost layer that surges and recedes; but the finish is bright-fruited with a flourish of zest, hints of liquorice and the most subtle suggestion of mint.
A mouthfilling wine with a silk-edged velvety texture and a finesse to the flow and a lingering aftertaste filled with the jammy fruit that was in harmony with the Morello cherry jam I pulled out of the cupboard to compare.
The verdict: Thirty years old! Unbelievable.
The food match: Cheese
Footnote: The bottle I opened obviously a much better bottle than that opened for the Rewards of Patience Seventh Edition (2013) where descriptors included ‘amontillado’. That sounds like their sample had gone a little sherryish to me.