Penfolds including Grange and Thomas Hyland

Penfolds is surely one of the world’s most recognised wine brands. This Australian company was established in 1845, when Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold planted vine-cuttings from southern France in the gardens of his cottage near Adelaide. He called the cottage The Grange, after his wife Mary’s family home back in England. One hundred years later, Penfold’s was established as Australia’s premium wine producer. In 1951, when winemaker Max Schubert returned from a study tour in Europe, he set about making Australia’s answer to the great wines of Bordeaux, and thus was born Penfolds Grange. Grange remains the flagship of all Antipodean wines, although now Penfolds sells enormous quantities of wine at all price levels.

xThis tasting event came to Edinburgh, with a chance to try the latest release of Grange, the 1997 vintage, as well as a broad cross-section of Penfolds extensive portfolio of wines. More specifically, it also heralded the launch of a brand new category within the Penfolds range, the Thomas Hyland wines, named after Dr. Penfolds son-in-law, who steered the company to prominence from the late 1800’s until 1914.
The Thomas Hyland wines were released in the USA a year earlier than Europe, and in their first vintage picked up 90 points from the Wine Spectator (for the Chardonnay), whilst the Shiraz was awarded 88 and the Cabernet Sauvignon won a gold medal at the prestigious Royal Adelaide show. They are intended as fruit-driven styles, with only background oak.

The Penfolds range is a bit confusing I think, so here’s a quick re-cap on how their label’s work, and where Thomas Hyland will fit in:

Super Premiums:
Grange, Bin 707, RWT, Magill Estate, St Henri, Yattarna
Reserve Bin Whites:
Eden Valley Riesling, Clare Valley Riesling, Trial BinBin Range:
Bin 389, Bin 407, Bin 138, Bin 128, Bin 28, Bin 2

Thomas Hyland:
Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon

Koonunga Hill:
Chardonnay, Sémillon/Chardonnay, Shiraz/Cabernet, Cabernet/Merlot

Rawson’s Retreat:
Chardonnay, Semillon/Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz/Cabernet, Riesling


Peter Gago (who featured in an earlier meet the winemaker piece on wine-pages) is now the chief winemaker at Penfolds, and presumably has overseen the creation of this new range. The Thomas Hyland wines are, in my opinion, very good examples of varietal wines in their price bracket. The tasting was not blind. Indicative prices are in pounds sterling (approx £10=$15US).

Rawson’s Retreat Sémillon/Chardonnay 2002 – £4.99
60% of the blend is Sémillon. Rounded, boiled-sweet, candied-fruit character. Apple and bright, crunchy Asian pear. Also bright and lemony on the palate, with hints of tropical, pineapple ripeness and a touch of waxiness. Very fresh and clean, minimal oak style, with tongue-tingling apple acidity. Good.

Eden Valley Reserve Riesling 2001 – £9.99
Very clean, crisp, lemon and lime nose. Quite delicate, waxy aromas emerge, with a floral hint. Fairly unctuous fruit quality on the palate, with clean citrus flavours but definite hints of more lush, tropical qualities before good, firm acidity grips the finish. Very bright and focused style with hints of minerality, which should age well over 5 – 8 years. Very good.

Koonunga Hill Chardonnay 2001 – £5.99
More nutty, cashew aromas here suggesting greater oak and malolactic influence. It is darker in colour too, with juicy peach and tropical fruit. On the palate a vanillin sweetness of oak layers over nectarine and pineapple, with a tangy grapefruit acidity freshening the finish. Very good.

Thomas Hyland Chardonnay 2002 – £8.99
The fruit for this brand new range within the Penfolds stable comes from premium cooler climate regions, including the Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley. 2002 was one of the coolest vintages on record for South Australia, and this Chardonnay benefited from an extended “hang time”. The wine is fermented in French oak, a 50/50 split between new and one year old barrels. It has a lovely biscuity, vanillin nose, with fine citrus fruit, then a creamy apple quality emerges, all underpinned by gentle toastiness. On the palate the fruit has fine depth, with a more peachy, apricot kernel quality and glimpses of savoury complexity and tropical fruit lushness. It is a powerful wine, with good weight and punchy alcohol, but with more length and elegance than the Koonunga Hill. Very good indeed/excellent.

Rawson’s Retreat Shiraz/Cabernet 2002 – £5.99
Bright, zingy purple colour with equally bright and zingy raspberry and cherry fruit on the nose; quite tight and kirsch-like. On the palate there’s a flood of warm, chocolaty flavour backed up with plum and spice. It is chewy and densely-textured, with plenty of tannic grip and punch into the finish. Straightforward, juicy stuff of fine quality. Very good.

Koonunga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet 2001 – £6.99
This has a more rounded fruit quality, with blackcurrant/cassis intensity and a sweeter influence of American oak. The palate has plenty of sweet-edged black fruit. Again, a plum and chocolate bittersweet quality adds an edge to the mid-palate. Good balance, and though big-framed and pretty one dimensional, this is very good/very good indeed.

Thomas Hyland Shiraz 2001 – £8.99
This Thomas Hyland sees 11 months ageing in both French and American oak, but only 15% of it is new. It has a lovely bright nose of mulberry and eucalyptus, with some chocolate-coated raisin and cherry. Very individual and up-front. Good, spicy, velvety black fruit on the palate. Lots of sweetness and fudge-like quality, with punchy weight of alcohol and tannins. Long, focused and very good/very good indeed.

Thomas Hyland Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 – £8.99
Similar oak treatment here, and around 65% Coonawarra fruit. This doesn’t sing nearly so much on the nose, with deeper-set blackcurrant and dark, savoury plumskin notes. It has some toast and spice, but quite subtle. Very juicy blackcurrant fruit on the palate; crushed black fruits with good tannins giving grip and quite a grainy texture with a savoury plum quality. Seriously styled and quite long, this is very good indeed.

Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 1999 – £9.99
Bright crimson hue. Lots of coconutty and vanillin American oak here, with an overripe fruit quality of mulberries. On the palate it is ripe and sweet, with juicy cassis and raspberry. Dry tannins add a coarse graininess and savoury character. The oak bolsters the black fruit and there’s a creamy depth into the finish. Very good indeed.

Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 1999 – £9.99
A lot of oaky influence on the nose here, a more subtle, nutty toastiness (French oak?) and a slightly rubbery note. Plum and cherry fruit emerges. On the palate this is quite lean and more European in style than the Bin 28, with savoury, cedary black fruit and a little olive note. It finishes well, with moderate tannins and oak. More Rhône-like in some ways, but not a totally convincing package. Good/very good.

Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 1999 – £14.99
Very attractive, deep, mulberry, spice and overripe black fruits, with a touch of mint and eucalyptus, some plummy, chocolaty dark notes too. There’s a deep, Porty quality here, and a little vanillin. By contrast the palate has a slightly under-fruited feel – not lacking stuffing or spicy depth, but it is just a touch drier and inkier than I’d like. There are plummy flavours and lots of spice and herbal complexity. Good balance, but perhaps not a great 389. Very good indeed.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 1998 – £29.99
This is arguably Penfold’s “purest” expression of Shiraz: it is made in 50-year-old 1,460-litre casks, not barriques, and sees no barrel ageing. Until the 1980’s St-Henri sold for exactly the same price as Grange, it’s oakier cousin. This has a very, very deep colour. It is concentrated and terrifically sweet, with an old wood character that is shiny and nutty, reminiscent of polished old wood and chestnut. The fruit is sweet and black, with cassis and damson, some tarry, mulberry quality too. Beautiful palate: sweet and shimmering like black silk with cassis and ripe summer berries, underpinned by chocolaty depth. Grippy tannins and good acidity add backbone. Excellent length and a fine wine. Probably a vintage variation helping make this so much better than previous wines, but clearly superior. Excellent.

Penfolds Grange 1997 – £110
I have tasted every vintage of this wine since the 1989, and several older bottles too. Typically huge nose: a powerhouse of thick vanillin aromas, sweet and coconutty with plenty of bittersweet chocolate and vanilla-pod depth. The fruit is ripe and lush, with lots of tarry, meat-stock aromas too and thick black fruit. The palate is concentrated with a sweet core of dense black fruit. For the moment this is a muscular concentration of power: Oxo cubes, blood and black fruit are densely layered. Bolstered by warming, toasty oak and good tannin/acid structure, this finishes with ripe, creamy quality and good length. Penfolds have really pulled a fine Grange out of the bag in a moderate vintage. Excellent.