Here’s a riddle for you. How do you get more than 40 normally garrulous wine writers to be silent?
Answer: Have master winemaker Peter Gago centre stage introducing the annual release of the “Penfolds Collection”, which is pretty much a romp through some of the most famous of Australia’s red wines including Bin 707, St Henri, RWT, Bin 389 and yes of course, the big kahuna, Grange.
Mind you, there are also some pretty handy whites to taste as you will see below.
Here’s a round-up of the Penfolds new releases I tasted (in order served) – some with thumbnail tasting impressions of some, and others in greater detail. I’ve also denoted my (relative) value selections with an asterisk * if you’re looking for some value when not shelling out $900 for the Bin 95 (which we saw upon release at one retailer for $764).
And while on the subject of prices, I’ve gone with the RRPs so you know what Penfolds owner Treasury Wine Estates thinks their little gold mine is worth. Remember to shop around and you could save quite a few dollars.
2018 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling
Classic Eden Valley riesling with characters of lime and grapefruit with zingy acidity. Thirst-quenching and ideal from magnum – something we enjoyed post-tasting with a light lunch.
2017 Bin 311 Chardonnay
A blend of fruit from Adelaide Hills, Tumbarumba and Tasmania.
Complex aromatics, plenty of “matchstick”/sulphide and white stonefruit notes. The palate is long, with a chewy, grippy finish.
* 2017 Reserve Bin A Chardonnay
100% Adelaide Hills fruit. This has great intensity and nervosité, and shares some aromatic similarities with the Bin 311, however has more finesse and more power. Really vibrant palate of extraordinary tension, the flavours are intense and with great persistence of aftertaste.
The 40% new oak in this wine has seamlessly integrated. An outstanding Australian chardonnay of Grand Cru Burgundy quality.
* 2016 Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay
A blend of fruit from Tasmania, Henty, Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba with 35% new oak.
This is more low key than the Bin A with a no-less satisfying, yet more subtle, bouquet of fruit and low(er) key oak.
The palate has an underlying minerality which supports the white stone flavours and oak nuttiness as they stylishly coat the palate.
Lovely citrussy notes to close on the long finish. This surprised me with its restrained power and “natural” beauty. This is Le Montrachet in style to the above’s Chevalier. Both outstanding and very different.
2017 Bin 23 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir
Pale bright cherry red colour. Nose of morello cherry, touch of “sous bois” (forest floor) with a back note of menthol. Enters the palate with an easy caressing “hello”, rolls through the mid-palate where cherry notes ride some new oak to a fresh satisfying close.
2016 Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro
A blend of 72% shiraz, 16% grenache and 12% mataro. Medium dark plum colour. The nose has top notes of bright grenache red fruit, with savoury bass notes from the “S & M”. It’s plush on entry, moves quickly to the tightly wound, dark, brambly fruit flavours and stays lively through a medium-long finish.
* 2016 Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz
Perfectly ripe fruit aromas cloaked with some new oak. The bold palate marries excellent intensity to an elegant shape, with flavours a melange of ripe dark fruits and classically Coonawarra ferruginous minerality. The oak and bright acidity are both present and doing their job. Delicious.
2016 Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz
Multi-regional blend, matured in seasoned American oak. Dark black/plum colour with a bold bouquet of macerated ripe red and black fruit characters, plus savoury notes with some iron and molasses base. A generously-sized palate where the chocolaty fruit flavours impact first before the charcuterie arrives to keep things savoury throughout the firm lively finish. Handy.
2016 Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz
Barossa floor shiraz, which had 12 months in 32% new oak (25% American, 7% French). There’s nothing restrained about this wine – the rich, ripe dark fruit aromas come for you with a supporting higher-toned oak backlift. The palate is one big ball of muscle with plenty of dark fruit, savoury elements and oak making their presence felt. Tough to assess right now, I’d like to revisit in 6-12 months.
* 2016 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon
A blend of fruit from the Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully and Padthaway matured in 34% new oak (25% French, 9% American). Dark with deep red highlights, it has a classic new-world Cabernet bouquet of blackcurrant pastille, forest floor and a delicious lick of choc-mint. Seduces on entry with the bright red fruit flavours merging with complex spicy notes that wrap the firm integrated tannins throughout the lingering finish. An excellent 407.
2016 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz
A multi-regional blend with 37% new American oak. Intense black/red in colour, the volume on this “Baby Grange” just went up.
The nose leaps out of the glass as one big bowl of red and black fruits served up with a deliciously creamy vanilla bean complexity plus Asian spices splashed about for good measure. Full-flavoured, pedal-to-the-metal attack of the dark fruits and cream, rising to their peak in the middle palate. They continue at that intense level all the way through the long, briary finish.
* 2015 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz
Multi regional blend of 93% shiraz and 7% cabernet sauvignon with zero new oak, and maturation in 50-plus-year-old large oak vats. If the 389 is a bit brash and in your face, this is about discreet power. Colour has a deep black centre and the nose is all savoury with notes of black olives, herbs and cured meats. This is impressive, like a great wine from the Northern Rhône, with a complexity of dark black fruits with the tang and vigour of fresh herbs, fennel and firm integrated tannins. The flavours are long and stylish and easy to enjoy now for a wine with such potential longevity.
Great wines drink well from day one – take this home tonight and enjoy.
2016 Magill Estate Shiraz
The fruit entirely from the estate vineyard at Magill, just 10 minutes east of Adelaide’s CBD. Matured in 100% new French and American oak (no percentages provided) it has a dark, brilliant deep plum red appearance.
Choc-mint and chocolate-coated berry aromas spring from the glass, propelled in part by a touch of VA (volatile acidity – that vinegary note) and in part by intensity of the underlying fruit.
The palate is muscular, making a real statement on entry with intense fruit weight. There’s lots going on with notes of spice, red and black berries, cherry pip, and sticky date pudding to enjoy. These all play beautifully together and culminate in a long and powerful finish. Excellent.
2016 Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon
Produced with 100% new French oak maturation for a brilliant dark red colour with highlights, this is unmistakably cab sav and Coonawarra with the blackcurrant/cassis highlights being backed up with the ferruginous backbone of its birthplace. A beautifully proportioned and confident cabernet, with the dark small red berry fruits dominating a lithe palate that’s long and fragrant. An elegant wine of considerable gravitas.
* 2016 RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz
All shiraz, all Barossa, matured in 72% new French oak this RWT (for ‘Red Winemaking Trial’ – the name originally given to this 1995 project) has a deep, dark black/red appearance. Gee the aromas are enticing; exotically spicy with both savoury and sweeter notes, some top deck chocolate characters and all framed discreetly with that new French oak.
The complex multi-layered, multi-dimensional palate runs all the bases (World Series starts soon). Powerfully built and really intense yet with such exquisite shape and balance. Plays like classical music with the volume cranked up. Brilliant.
2016 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon
A multi-region blend matured in 100% new American oak. Dark, impenetrable black/red in colour. Huge bouquet, macerated fruits with Asian spices, plenty of meaty notes, cloves and other herbs, with well-integrated oak there too. If the RWT plays classical, this is full-throttle Guns n Roses with its intense plush attack, that’s really muscular through the middle palate, reprising the characters of the bouquet before finishes long with firm fruit and oak tannins. RWT or 707? That depends on what music you prefer to listen to on the day
2014 Penfolds Grange
Multi-regional blend. 98% shiraz, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. 100% new American oak.
It seems like only yesterday that I was buying 1972 Grange for $9.99 per bottle (that’s not a typo) by the dozen, as the then Penfolds owners, Tooth & Co, were desperate for cash flow and was decimating the Pennies red wine stocks to get every dollar in the door they could. My how times have changed, with the decimal point having almost completed its journey two places to the right.
So is the 2014 Grange up to the standard of those before it? In short, yes.
Alongside the intensely dark red appearance, where does one start to describe the bouquet? Multi-layered aromas with top notes of formic acid, mid range of Asian spice, black olives and Italian parsley, it’s a multi-cultural kitchen on the nose, with big bottom-end characters of a long-simmering court bouillon.
The palate is ridiculously seductive and easy to enjoy with such generosity of character and balance. The flavours are all complex and savoury, with their highlights and completeness satisfying like a great main course in a Michelin starred restaurant.
It effortlessly carries the new oak without any residual traces of coconut or vanilla and has extraordinary length thanks to the fully dressed and integrated tannins. A great Grange.
Frank Wilden is a retail food strategist and a “lapsed” restaurateur whose love of wine began nearly four decades ago.
Frank is writing this regular wine column for Business Insider Australia. Get in touch with him via @thefrankreport on Twitter
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