I tasted Penfolds’ blue-chip reds ahead of the 3 May release date – missing the “mine’s smaller than yours” retail price scrum invariably accompanying the release. Therefore, by the time you read this, prices at major retail outlets will likely have tumbled below the recommended prices I give below.
Yet again under winemaker Peter Gago, we see a magnificent suite of reds built for long-term cellaring. Each shows its own distinctive character. And all, except St Henri, bear the deep purple thumbprint of Max Schubert, genius Grange creator.
Retailer discounting notwithstanding, prices have moved up steadily in recent years, marking the internationalisation of the Penfolds brand – underpinned increasingly, like Bordeaux and Burgundy, by the rising wealthy classes in China.
With the exception of Grange, the wines come both cork and screwcap sealed. I recommend the screw cap in all instances. Grange comes only with cork at this stage, though Penfolds’ trials with other seals for very long-term cellaring will result ultimately in a cork alternative.
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2008
Grapes: Shiraz 91 per cent; cabernet sauvignon 9 per cent
Regions: Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Adelaide Hills
Maturation: 1,460 oak vats, more than 50 years old
History: Developed by John Davoren in the early 1950s; first commercial vintage 1957.
Style: Elegant, medium-bodied shiraz without the input of new oak, a thumbprint of most Penfolds reds
Deep red colour with a vivid purple hue at the rim; pure, ripe, and youthful mulberry-like varietal aroma; the beautiful, pure fruitiness flows through to a supple, juicy palate – the fruit layered with fine-boned, drying, savoury tannins. This is big but typical St Henri – elegant, understated, no oak in sight and built for long-term cellaring. Can be enjoyed now, but from experience should drink best from 15 years of age and continue to evolve for decades (reliably under screw cap).
Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2009
Regions: Penfolds Magill Estate vineyard, Magill, South Australia
Maturation: 12 months in 67 per cent new French and 25 per cent new American oak hogsheads; balance in one-year-old French hogsheads.
History: Initiated by retired Grange creator, Max Schubert, with support of Penfolds executives, following mooted redevelopment of the suburban Magill site. First vintage 1983.
Style: Medium bodied, finely textured shiraz reflecting seasonal conditions in the 5.2-hectare vineyard.
Deep red/black colour with youthful crimson and purple tones at the rim; the aroma combines ripe varietal fruit and spice meshed with oak (an effect produced by barrel fermentation says Peter Gago); has quite an acid attack after the St Henri – accentuating both the vibrant berry flavours and the well-integrated oak characters. Layers of assertive but velvety fruit and oak tannins add texture and carry through the finish with the fruit. A particularly good Magill with good cellaring potential – best drinking after another two or three years in the cellar.
Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009
Regions: Barossa Valley, usually northern and western areas.
Maturation: 14 months in 60 per cent new, 40 per cent one-year-old French oak hogsheads
History: Trialled from 1995 by John Duval. First vintage 1997, released in May 2000. Winemaker Peter Gago says RWT helps protects Grange from periodic suggestions to lighten it up.
Style: An aromatic, opulent and fleshy expression of Barossa shiraz, contrasting with the power and intensity of Grange. Matured in French, not American oak.
Deep, dense red/black colour with purple rim; the nose delivery highly aromatic plummy fruit mixed with sweet, spicy French oak, promising a wine of opulence; the palate delivers the promise – big but graceful, combing ripe Barossa shiraz flavours with sweet oak and layers of juicy tannin. There’s a meaty note too, reminiscent of the browned outside of char-grilled steak, adding a umami dimension to the fruit/oak amalgam. RWT 2009 should drink very well after another few years of maturation and evolve well for a decade or two if well cellared.
Penfolds Grange Shiraz 2007
Grapes: Shiraz 97 per cent; cabernet sauvignon three per cent
Regions: Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Magill Estate
Maturation: 21 months in new American oak hogsheads
History: Developed by Max Schubert from the 1951 vintage.
Style: Powerful and unique expression of warm-climate shiraz capable of very long term cellaring. Becomes finer and more elegant with prolonged bottle ageing
Dense red/black colour all the way to the rim; an all-Grange aroma – ripe, penetrating and idiosyncratic; enormously powerful, mouth-puckering palate; an exquisite, exotic lump of flavour and texture, all in one piece, the many components inseparable from one another. Somewhat firmer and without the particularly buoyant fruit of the 2006 vintage – a typical Grange expression of the vintage. Are there any other Australian wines as good as this? Yes. Are there any others that taste like this? No. This is unique. Best drinking should be from 15 years and beyond – for many decades if well cellared.
Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Grapes: Cabernet sauvignon
Regions: Coonawarra, Barossa, Wrattonbully, Padthway
Maturation: 13 months in new American oak hogsheads
History: First made in 1964 from cabernet grown in Penfolds Kalimna vineyard, Barossa Valley. Discontinued between 1970 and 1975 because of cabernet shortages. Relaunched 1976 and not released in 1981, 1995, 2000 or 2003.
Style: A powerful style in the mould of Grange. Know affectionately within Penfolds as “Grange cabernet”.
Dense red/black colour with brilliant purple rim; a beautifully aromatic Bin 707, led by sweet, ripe, dark berries, typical of Coonawarra cabernet, seasoned by sweet oak; beautiful, sweet, dense, ripe fruit pushes through the firm, griping tannins on the palate. The overall impression is of power with elegance in a wine we know from experience retains its clear varietal character for decades, becoming finer and more elegant with age. This is a classy Bin 707, at home with lamb or beef now, but likely to be at its best in fifteen years or more. Chateau Shanahan’s 1986 still drinks perfectly, so no rush with the 2009.
Penfolds Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Price: $250 but available only at the cellar door.
Maturation: Fine-grained French oak hogsheads
History: New under this label, but Penfolds made a Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon in 1973 – the best parcel from the vintage.
Style: Winemaker Peter Gago says Bin 169 is to Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon what RWT Shiraz is to Grange – a fragrant, elegant expression of a regional specialty, matured in French rather than American oak. Gago believes Bin 169 will protect the unique Bin 707 style just as RWT protects Grange.
Not tasted this year, but sampled previously on a couple of occasions with Peter Gago, Bin 169 easily sits with Australia’s finest cabernets – a pure, vibrant, luxuriously textured expression of Coonawarra. Bound to sit near the top of any masked tasting of cabernets from anywhere in the world.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published, in part, 9 May 2102 in The Canberra Times