The Inside Scoop On This Year’s Most Exclusive Holiday Wine Gift

If you get your hands on this wine, for yourself or anyone on your holiday gift list, please write and let me know.

I won’t want to miss the chance to congratulate you, first because there is so little of it in the world – only 1200 bottles total, at around $3000 AUD each – and second because you’ll be expressing more of an appreciation for Australian wine than most American consumers do. (The reasons why Australian wines aren’t more highly regarded in the US has become an enthusiastic curiosity for me. More on that in a later post.)

The wine, called Penfolds g3, was released formally on Wednesday night at a black tie dinner in Hong Kong. The “g” of the name signifies Grange which, if you follow the rating system of coveted wines, you’ll recognize as a label that lands regularly in the categories titled “Iconic” and “100 Points.”

Cathy Huyghe

Penfolds g3, a new and very exclusive offering launched this week in Hong Kong. I tasted from bottle 1196 of 1200 made for the whole world.

What’s so special about this particular wine?

Grange itself is a blend, and g3 is a blend of three blends including one (2008) that was the only Australian winery to receive to receive 100 points from both Wine Spectator magazine and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. The other two Grange vintages in the g3 are 2012, which is still aging in barrel, and 2014, which has also been made but has not yet been released.

Who’s able to get their hands on this wine?

Anyone can express interest in securing a bottle through Penfolds’ website. When I asked Chief Winemaker Peter Gago who, in his opinion, he would like to taste this wine, his first response was indicative. “The loyalists,” Gago said. Those people, that is, who now and have for many years appreciated and enjoyed Penfolds Grange.

His second response was perhaps particularly curious: he’d also like it to land in the hands of “the odd skeptic.”

“I’d like them to have a look at this,” he said. “Forget the labeling. Just taste the wine, and tell me what you think.”

He didn’t mean it as an aggressive sort of challenge. It was more of an encouragement for consumers to come to it with a clean slate, without the preconceived notions or expectations, and just judge it on its own merit.

That is, admittedly, hard to do. But the point stands. Set aside the pomp of the launch that Penfolds as a brand does so well. (They won an award for their Ampoule campaign back in 2013, which was launched in Moscow.) Set aside the exclusivity. Set aside what you know, or don’t know, about Grange. And you’re left with the wine that’s in your glass.

Would this wine stand up to the best you’ve ever tasted?

In my opinion, yes, even as someone who’s written before about the real and perceived value of expensive “unicorn” wines. (I tasted the Penfolds g3 from the bottle marked 1196, out of 1200 produced.) I’ll be curious to see the reviews and feedback as they come out, and whether the Penfolds g3 stands up to the challenge. I’ll be curious to see whether there’s a bias, for or against, a wine from Australia in relation to the standard bearers from Bordeaux or Napa or Piemonte.

Here’s where it’s useful to note what was, for me, the other significance of the “g” in the name of this wine. “G” is for Grange, of course, but I think it’s also for gestalt, meaning that this wine is intended to be greater than the sum of its parts. Its parts are, of course, those three different vintages but its parts are also its provenance, its confidence, and its playful wonderment.

The g3 is a reminder that winemakers experiment. That may be an obvious thing but it isn’t spoken of (or admitted) very often, and maybe “playing around” is hidden behind the cover of R&D or the more serious and cachéd buzzword of “innovation.” But the playfulness is here in this wine. Does Penfolds want to toy with one of the world’s most highly regarded wines? No, and toying with it isn’t the point. The point is that winemakers, even these winemakers, wonder What If.

What if we blended three very successful vintages of Grange?

What if we went pretty far out on a limb and placed a very significant bet there?

What if we dared to seek perfection?

“G3 fulfills our idea of what the perfect Grange is,” Gago said. “Perfection doesn’t exist. But everything else being equal, we’ve tried to put together something that really expresses what we’d like to think the purest Grange is.”

Do they succeed?

You have my answer, and I’m curious for yours. As I said, if you get your hands on a bottle of g3, I’d really like know.