Chief winemaker Peter Gago presented this tasting of the top wines from Penfolds, a company established in 1845, but for whom the 1950s are just as significant: in 1951, winemaker Max Schubert returned from a study tour in Europe to create Australia’s answer to the great wines of Bordeaux and Penfolds now legendary Grange was born.
Though the company, now part of a larger group called Treasury Wine Estates, makes huge volumes of its entry level wines, they have continued to produce much smaller volumes of ultra-premium wines and the portfolio of those now extends to several white and red bottlings. For Grange, the almost as venerable St Henri Shiraz, Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon and other wines in this collection the Penfolds philosophy is to make multi-vineyard, multi-district blends with grapes sourced from all across South Australia. The latest Bin 707 includes grapes from Coonawarra, Barossa, Wrattonbully and Padthaway for example. But other wines such as the Magill Estate Shiraz and Reserve Bin 10A Chardonnay come from single districts or single vineyards, showing a very different expression of South Australian terroirs.
This was a superb collection of wines. Penfolds seems to have polished and refined the wines at this level over the years, so that whilst these examples have unmistakable traits that say South Australia, the purity of the fruit, the impeccable balance, the suave sophistication of the tannins in the reds is hugely impressive. I do not think the wines can be criticised for being too ‘international’ because of that, as expressions like Barossa Shiraz, Coonawarra Cabernet and Adelaide Hills Chardonnay are true to type. It is particularly interesting to compare some of these pairs of wines, such as the Bin 10A and Yattarna Chardonnays, to see just how much the character of a specific district (Bin 10A) contrast with a wine (Yattarna) made by blending various districts to create a very different style of wine.
During the London International Wine Fair in May 2012, The Wine Gang was charged with selecting the “Best in Show” wines. It was a new release from Penfolds, the Cellar Reserve Mataro 2010, that scooped the title of Best Red in Show, so although it was not featured in Peter’s tasting, I have included it here.
Penfolds, Reserve Bin 10A Chardonnay 2010, Australia
Sourced entirely from the Adelaide Hills district, the fruit for Bin 10A is whole bunch pressed before being filled straight into French oak barriques (72% new) where it undergoes wild yeast fermentation and natural malolactic fermentation. It has a bold, light green colour and lovely nose of oily green beans and fig in a pungent style, with creaminess and apple fruit and a wisp of smokiness. On the palate terrific clarity and precision, brimming with lemon and lime and the nutty, gently toasty richness filling in. Long, balanced and delicious. Penfolds suggest this will drink well until 2019. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Penfolds, Yattarna Chardonnay 2009, Australia
Though also from a different vintage, the stylistic difference in this wine is huge. This 2009 was sourced from Tasmania (50%), Victoria (43%) with only 7% from Adelaide Hills, but the recipe changes each year, always aimed at hitting a distinctively cool but concentrated style. Ageing is in 40% new and 60% one-year-old French oak barriques. This still has a vivid green tinge to the colour, but a much funkier, more earthy nose with all sorts of complex fragrances, the wild yeast nutty complexity more obvious under less new oak. Big, bold, lemony and with a savoury, tangy presence, it has excellent length and finishes with broad flavours yet tight, very youthful structure. One to revisit over coming years. Penfolds say drink now-2016. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Penfolds, Cellar Reserve Mataro 2010, Australia
The Wine Gang’s ‘best in Show’ red wine, this has loads of deep, American oak spice and coconut in this Mataro (Mourvèdre), but it has a perfumed, fragrant fruit character too showing richness and pepper, plenty of garrigue too in a polished, svelte style. Long and deliciously creamy and ripe. Should age well for a decade or more. 94/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Penfolds, Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Australia
This is the inaugural release of this wine, very different in style from the Bin 707 Cabernet, coming from a single district and aged in French, not American, oak. The fruit is from two prized blocks of Penfolds’ own vineyards, and is aged for 14 months in new French oak hogsheads. At first it is quite closed, but there’s a delicate, almost floral and mint leaf edge here, then a rush of cassis begins to fill in. The oak adds a smoky incense note. The palate has a really firm backbone, the tight, powerful tannins framing really juicy fruit that bursts onto the mid-palate with sweet blackcurrant. Savoury and fresh on the finish, this is concentrated but long and elegant too. Penfolds suggest drinking 2014-2032. 94/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Penfolds, Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Australia
irst released in 1964, this latest 707 is sourced from Coonawarra, Barossa, Wrattonbully and Padthaway, matured for 13 months in new American oak hogsheads. It has more spicy, tobacco notes than the Bin 169, with cedar and sinewy black fruit that is quite savoury and lean. There’s less immediate sweetness and plushness on the palate, but plenty of sinewy structure suggesting this needs time in the cellar. The tannins are big, dense and chewy but not aggressive, the fruit becoming richer in the mouth over time. Lovely stuff, built for the long haul. Penfolds suggest 2014-2035. 94/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Penfolds, Magill Estate Shiraz 2009, Australia
From the Penfolds home estate vineyard in front of their original winery close to Adelaide, this is made in the 160-year-old winery in big, square open fermenters and then basket-pressed. Ageing is in 67% new French and 25% new American hogsheads, the balance in second use French oak. A bit of real meaty concentration here, a lovely sense of cool earthiness and dark, sinewy black fruit. The palate has a delicious dry, savoury character with a touch of spice and pepper, a touch of leather too. There is sweetness on the palate, a big raft of glossy black fruit, but then that serious, creamy, dark and structured character asserts giving this a long, rich finish. Penfolds say drink 2014-2030. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Penfolds, RWT Barossa Shiraz 2009, Australia
Another regional expression aged only in French oak, so an alternative take on the established house philosophy. Fruit is chosen largely on its aromatic qualities apparently, and ageing is for 14 months in French hogsheads, 60% new. It is dramatically dark and deep, reflected in the nose too which has a muscular depth of black fruit, little notes of espresso and sweet aromatic spices, a plummy richness beneath. The palate is bold, plush and structured, with a lot of fleshy weight and the support of oak, but it is fresh and juicy, the depth cut by tantalising acidity into a crisp finish. Penfolds suggest drinking 2013-2030. 94/100.See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Penfolds, St Henri Shiraz 2008, Australia
Almost as iconic an icon as the Grange, St Henri appeared in 1957 as a counterpoint to Grange, with no oak influence, aged as it is in huge, 50-year-old wooden vats. In 2008 around 9% Cabernet Sauvignon joins the Shiraz in the blend. Dense and dark on the nose, there is a fine, curranty character and enticing blueberry fruit. It has depth, but it has brightness too with a delicious mouth-feel and real life and energy. The tannins are fine but rounded, but there’s so much juicy, plum and sweet blackberry fruit flooding the mid-palate. Big and bold, and structured too. Penfolds suggest it will drink well until 2038. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Penfolds, Grange Shiraz 2007, Australia
Grange has been produced in every vintage since 1951, always from multiple vineyards and districts, and often with a little Cabernet in the blend (in this case 3%). It is matured for 21 months in all new American hogsheads and fruit this year came from Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Magill estate. It has a very bold, dark colour and the nose is already ravishing with sweet, ripe, totally focused fruit. A drive of juicy black fruits, edged with green peppercorns and a touch of smoky bacon, the fragrant spice of Sandalwood and coffee comes through. The palate is hugely sweet, with a massive, creamy texture and so much chocolaty ripeness, a touch of clove and a nice rasp of plum-skin tannin just to ruffle the velvet of the finish. Huge length and focus in a great Grange vintage, which Penfolds suggest will drink 2014-2045. 97/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com