Spring lamb chops, barbecued asparagus and mashed potato seemed to call for a bottle of 1990 Penfolds St Henri, especially given it is ages since I have tasted/drunk that wine at home. The battle with the cork was a case of resuming hostilities with the appalling corks that Penfolds has managed to put into its wines over the decades. I really thought that by 1990 they had got their act into gear, but this proved otherwise: despite using a screwpull (without the frame, thus penetrating the cork well below its base) it simply broke in half and then cored out, the bottom half clinging ferociously to the sides of the bottle neck. I now understand why Peter Gago uses two screwpulls (partially dismantled such as mine) when removing corks from older vintages of Grange. A super-fine stainless steel sieve dealt with the many tiny fragments (and larger pieces) left floating on the top of the wine.
Enough of that, I suppose. Next to Magill Estate, St Henri has always
been the most elegant of the Penfolds red wines, a legacy of Jack Davoren who
despised the use of new oak. In bygone decades, this wine would have been
accurately described as ‘a Claret’, seemingly meaningless unless you contrast
it with Burgundy. Since the St Henri is predominantly shiraz when the
term Burgundy was widely used in Australia, there was no pinot noir to speak
of, the terms are obviously either obsolete or misleading. Not only is
the wine elegant, but remarkably fresh, fine and supple. No pyrotechnics
here, simply delicious old vine shiraz that escaped the Vine Pull Scheme in the
Barossa Valley. It was good before I began to eat, but really came into
its own with the food, the flavours becoming richer.