Friday, 31 May 2013

1999 Penfolds St Henri - wow, what a red!

This is one of my all-time favorite red wines.  I started drinking it almost a decade ago and it was great then, and is even better now.  This wine has a few more years before it starts to fade, but I only have two more bottles left, so not a worry.  But if you have some of it in your cellar, you should drink it soon, at least in the next three years.

I had a funny introduction to this wine the first time.  I was in Dallas in 2004 on a business trip with some very senior banking executives and trying to a very large IT contract extension.  There were eight of us eating at a fancy steak house as you can only find in Dallas!  One of my team was a Frenchman, so the client asked him to order some fine wine.  Well this particular Frenchman did not do a very good job ordering the first bottle, and I looked at the one of the key client's face when he took a sip and could tell he was not happy with the wine.  I took the wine list and while not familiar with the Penfolds St Henri of any vintage at the time, I figured a Penfolds red in this price range would be a pretty good wine without me spending several times as much for a Penfolds Magill Estate or RWT.  I ordered a bottle, could tell the client thought I had made a great choice (the smile and thumbs up were evidence enough!), and subtly pushed the bottle the Frenchman ordered down to the other end of the table to be consumed.  And six bottles of 1999 Penfolds St Henri later, we left the restaurant very happy!

I then introduced my wife, DAZ in the Kitchen, to this particular wine about a year later when I found it on the wine list at a restaurant in Sydney.  She loved it and it continued to be a favorite choice for a few years when eating out during the mid-2000s.  And upon returning from Qatar in 2009, we bought some to keep in the cellar as you could no longer find it in restaurants.  This weekend is our 12th wedding anniversary, so we are celebrating by opening one of our last bottles and enjoying tonight and tomorrow night (if there is any left!).

This is not the best vintage, but still an excellent vintage.  The 1996 vintage would have been slightly better and also will last another decade longer, so if you read this review and want to secure some St Henri, either buy the 1999 and drink it soon, or buy some of the 1996 or 1998 which you can drink now and lay some down for later.

The1999 Penfolds St Henri is a lively, fruity wine with blackberry, boysenberry and tart plum flavors.  It also has a lot of spice and goes extremely well with chili infused dark chocolate.  I know that from previous wine / chocolate matching events, but more importantly I know that as my mouth is currently filled with this wine after eating a square of the Lindt Chili dark chocolate!  Wow - what a combination!

The wine also has big tannins and is moderately heavy on the palate.  It is 14% alcohol, but certainly not over the top.  It is a complex wine with a lot of nuance.  It has the mouth feel and slight odor of wet leather.  The finish lasts a long, long time.

We will be making a rice with seared beef dish tonight to have with the wine, but frankly, we will probably finish off the bottle before dinner.  We are two-thirds the way through it already.  It just goes down so easily!

James Halliday has mentioned that compared to the Penfolds Grange, that the St Henri is certainly under-valued given what a great wine it is.  This is a perfect example of wine economics.  I would always take eight or nine bottles of the current vintage St Henri over one Penfolds Grange and that is the current exchange rate between the two wines.  Frankly, it's a no-brainer to go with many bottles of St Henri over Grange.

I will finish this post the same way I started it:   wow, what a red!

Steve Shipley
Twitter: @shipleyaust
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1 comment:

  1. Steve

    Greetings from Singapore. I have some 89 St. Henri which was then bottled as a claret. I have let it go longer than I should have because of my extended period in Singapore but i recently had reason to open 4 bottles. 2 were very good but past their peak and two were some of the best reds I have ever drunk. They would have been $20+ purchases around 1992!
    Happy anniversary.