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Bottle of first Grange breaks record in Australia

A bottle of 1951 Penfolds Grange, the first vintage of the famous label, has been sold at auction for over AU$51,000 – making it one of the most expensive bottles ever sold in Australia.

Nick Stamford, managing director of MW Wines with the 1951 Grange. Photo credit: MW Wines

The bottle was sold on Wednesday 19 July for AU$51,750 (£31,500) by MW Wines, a specialist in old back vintages of Grange which is based in Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne.

As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, it was sold to a collector based in the city who wished to remain anonymous.

The previous record for a bottle of ’51 Grange was set in 2004 when one sold for AU$50,000, while another sold for AU$43,700 in 2009.

Nick Stamford, managing director of the company, called the result “staggering”. From an original production if some 160 cases only 20 bottles at most are thought to still exist.

The 1951 was the first vintage of Grange produced by one of Australia’s great winemakers, Max Schubert.

Schubert had the idea of producing a non-fortified wine from Shiraz after a trip to Bordeaux and the Rhône in the late 1940s.

The first vintage of Grange to be released commercially was the 1952, with the majority of the ‘51s having been given away by Schubert.

The wine struggled at first leading Penfolds to tell Schubert to cease production, which he did, officially, but in fact he continued making the wine in secret between 1957 and 1959 (the famous ‘unofficial’ vintages) before the wine was revived in 1960.

Along with Henschke’s Hill of Grace it is Australia’s leading fine wine label today.

The bottle sold on Wednesday was reportedly tasted by Schubert himself in 1993, a year before his death in 1994, and again by current winemaker Peter Gago in 2012. Both tastings took place during one of Penfolds’ frequent re-corking clinics for old bottles that have been taking place for 25 years now.

Tasting notes from the Penfolds team in 2012 state most ‘51s are now in poor condition: “The wine itself is past its peak although some bottles still have fruit sweetness and flavour length. Largely the wine has a dull tawny colour and skeletal palate structure with little flesh and fading tannins.”

This particular bottle, however, supposedly passed both clinics with flying colours, although there’s always the chance that in the last five years it has gone the way of all (grape) flesh.

Stamford told the Herald: “The 1951 is now quite notorious for many of them being not in great shape for drinking. Some are fantastic, but very variable.”

On the other hand, as a “piece of history” he thought it extremely unlikely that the buyer intended to drink the venerable wine.

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