Langton’s Classification: a demand based view of Aussie wine quality

Wine advice, being an almost entirely subjective thing, tends to be a mire of opinion and opinionation. The track record and consistency of the critic count as much as those of the wines reviewed. There is, however, one objective view of quality: auction values over long periods of time.

Langton’s wine auctioneers have come up with their own classification of Australian wines, made public during the recent Penfold Red Wine Clinics. It was an entirely appropriate time, coinciding as it did with the release of a new vintage of Grange Hermitage, star performer of the Australian auction circuit.

Langton’s Classification of Distinguished Australian Wines groups wines according to performance in Australian auctions. In the words of Andrew Caillard, Langton’s Sydney manager, “the most important criteria for inclusion on this list are a minimum of ten years of vintage, and a consistent record on the auction market.”

Thirty four wines– twenty two reds, ten whites, and two fortifieds, spread over three categories…make the grade. And while we may all wade in with our two bits worth on the classification, it does, in some senses give a ‘pure’ market value. And particularly because it takes into account consistent performance over time regardless of vintage, it can claim some validity as a form guide of Australian producers.

On the other hand, promising and proven new comers are excluded. So we shouldn’t let it prejudice our views of the untried. As well, if we imagine the auction system as a giant sieve that never stops shaking, inevitably there’ll be casualties as some top wines tumble through.

Not surprisingly, Penfolds Grange Hermitage stands alone, the sole wine in Langton’s ‘outstanding A’ category. First made in 1951 on an experimental basis, Grange’s unique qualities became widely appreciated only in the 1960’s. It has since remained the most sought after auction wine.

The just-released 1987 vintage ($85 to $100 a bottle) demonstrates why. It’s inky deep in colour and the aroma and flavour assail the nose and palate in volumes. It hasn’t the fleshy richness of the 1986, but it makes up for that by being more in the classical Grange mould: intense, firm, and infinitely complex…a sure bet for the cellar.

Andrew Caillard tells me Grange is the first Australian wine drawing international buyers to Australian auctions. Almost half the bottles offered now go offshore. That certainly underpins the value of our only ‘first growth’. Its price resilience is remarkable considering how other wines have been devalued in this long, deep recession.

Six red wines qualify for Langton’s ‘outstanding B’ category. South Australia contributes four and Victoria two.

Of the South Australians, two come from the Penfold Group: Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707 (a Coonawarra-Barossa blend with minor additions from other South Australian vineyards) and Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon (100 per cent Coonawarra). Petaluma Coonawarra completes a trio from the great terra rossa. Henschke gets the fourth South Australian guernsey with Hill of Grace from the vineyard of that name in the hills to the east of the Barossa.

Both Victorian wines hail from the Yarra Valley: the elegant Mount Mary Cabernet and Yarra Yerring’S blockbuster Dry Red No.1.

Langton’s pack all other ‘distinguished’ wines into the ‘excellent’ category, all listed below:

Excellent’ whites: De Bortoli Botrytis Semillon (Griffith, NSW); Lakes Folly Chardonnay (Hunter Valley, NSW); Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay (Margaret River, WA); Mount Mary Chardonnay (Yarra Valley, Vic); Petaluma Chardonnay (Adelaide Hills, SA); Pipers Brook Chardonnay (Launceston, Tas); Petaluma Rhine Riesling (Clare Valley, SA); Rothbury Estate Individual Paddock Semillon (Hunter Valley, NSW); Tyrells Hunter River Riesling Vat 1 (Hunter Valley, NSW); and Tyrells Chardonnay Vat 47 (Hunter Valley, NSW),

Excellent’ reds: Brokenwood ‘Graveyard’ Hermitage (Hunter Valley, NSW); Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River, WA); Henschke ‘Cyril Henschke’ Cabernet Sauvignon (Eden Valley area, SA); Henschke Mount Edelstone (Eden Valley area, SA); Lakes Folly Cabernet (Hunter Valley, NSW); Lindemans Limestone Ridge Shiraz Cabernet (Coonawarra, SA); Lindemans St George Cabernet (Coonawarra, SA); Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River, WA); Mount Mary Pinot Noir (Yarra Valley, SA); Penfolds St Henri (multi-district blend, SA); Redbank Sally’s Paddock (Vic); Virgin Hills Dry Red (Keyneton, Vic); Wolf Blass Black Label (multi-district blend, SA); and Yarra Yerring Dry Red No.2 and Pinot Noir (Yarra Valley, Vic).

Excellent’ fortifieds: Chateau Reynella Vintage Port and Hardys Vintage Port.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 1992 & 2007