It is one of the highlights of the year, of course, when Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago launches the new Penfolds Collection, and takes the floor in front of hundreds of journalists, showing that, if he hadn’t become one of the world’s top winemakers he could easily have cut it on the standup comedy circuit. Yesterday’s launch of Penfolds Grange 2016 was a little different – six wine writers in London’s 67 Pall Mall club with Gago beamed in live on Zoom. The wines were all present and correct and were showing well. Our man at the tasting was Australian wine expert and chef Roger Jones who assesses each wine in full.
Many people like their Grange with 40-50 years on the clock but it is interesting how charming the newer vintages are in their youth. Having said that, Peter said that if he was going to steal any vintages from the Penfolds Cellar it would be 1952, 53 and 55.
Yesterday morning I was one of a small band of six journalists invited to attend a Live Zoom with Penfolds head winemaker Peter Gago who was launching his Penfolds 2020 Collection. Normally this would have involved Gago delivering this personally in London to a much bigger audience. Peter has been the custodian of Penfolds Grange since 2002, and like all great Australian winemakers (for example Ed Carr from The House of Arras) he was born in the UK – Newcastle upon Tyne to be precise. His early career in Australia involved teaching maths and chemistry to high school children before he went to Roseworthy College at the age of 29; the rest, as we say, is history.
During Lockdown Richard Siddle had an exclusive one-to-one session with Gago which you can access here
We went straight in to bat with four white wines, these are under the direction of Kym Schroeter, 34 years at Penfolds and the last 16 as head of white wine making. It has been fascinating seeing the white wines of Penfolds evolve especially as most people talk in the red language when discussing Penfolds. The Chardonnays especially are now hitting top marks and showcasing Australian Chardonnay at its most restrained best.
I have listed all prices where known as RRP in Australian dollars
Penfolds Bin 51, Eden Valley Riesling, 2020, $40
Persistent lime/curd with a hint of the tropics, clean, focused, refreshed, generously textured fruit with lovely ripeness. This was bottled in May and ready to drink practically as bottled but will age gracefully, although I love the freshness and control on this wine and would drink it happily now.
Penfolds Bin 311, 2019, $40
This has changed from previous years when it was fully sourced from Tumbarumba, and is now made very similar to the Yattarna but at a fraction of the cost, Peter assured me that this “Baby Yattarna” would not jump in cost. White citrus, white stone fruit, fig, cashew, gunflint, lovely balanced acidity, quite beautiful. The grapes are sourced from: Adelaide Hills 34%, Tasmania 52%, Tumbarumba 14%. This wine over delivers and is a must buy for anyone wanting to get on the Penfolds ladder.
Penfolds Reserve Bin 19A Chardonnay 2019, $125
The Reserve Bin have always been a favourite of mine, sourced from the Adelaide Hills, this has however jumped in price from the very early releases but the quality is right up there with the best from the New World. Flint, lemon, grapefruit, white peaches, cashew, touch of crème brûlée, focussed with a limey focus, quite outstanding.
Yattarna Chardonnay 2018, $160
Similar multi-regional components to the Bin 311, but using the very best, to me this is the most forward and restrained Yattarna to date, peeled white peaches from a South of France market, zesty lime, hint of aromatics, subtle balance, poised. Perfectly fine to drink now if you like it youthful but will evolve perfectly.
Penfolds Pinot Noir Bin 23, 2019, $50
This is their introduction to their Pinot Noir series. Classic Greek yoghurt with English strawberries on the nose, petals and violets, then a hint of tempura sage, on the palate you get cherries and spices evolving and giving an uplifted finish. Originally sourced from Adelaide Hills, now this is multi-regional with Tasmania and Henty in the fold as well as Adelaide.
Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, 2018
Spiced pepper, paprika, toasted caraway shortbread, dusty, meaty and textured, delicate fruit; a touch too savoury for me, needs time to evolve.
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna, 2018
Multi-regional sourced fruit; this wine is named after the original Kalimna in Barossa and has been produced since 1959. Some spices and coconut from the seasoned American oak, I like the acidity and fresh bitter chocolate, raspberry aromatics bit this needs time.
Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz, 2018, $100
Plush, deep Barossa style, French and American oak, silky, expensive-perfumed nose, hints of an Arabic market. Mulberries, spice, juicy fruit-forward, a touch of Cola. Great value for what’s in the bottle, has a cult following, excellent wine but sells out too quickly.
Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Shiraz Grenache Mataro, 2018
Raspberry liquor, plush leather boot polish, confectionery, jam, milk chocolate and savoury meaty spice.
Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, $100
Inspired by Bin 707 this was first released in 1993 with the 1990 vintage. Blackcurrant and plum, savoury and spiced, tobacco, cedar, spiced tomato chutney, dark olives. American and French oak sourced from Coonawarra, Padthaway, Wrattonbully, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley & Robe, definitely a multi-blend but delivers a pretty perfect finish.
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, $100
Often referred to as “the baby Grange” and great value. Sumptuous balance between Cabernet and Shiraz. The most cellared red wine in Australia, Grange is number two. Black Forest gateaux, seamless, sweet beetroot, matchstick, cedar, crème de cassis, a multi-dimensional wine sip, well balanced. 60th anniversary for this wine, with 30-year-old Bin 389 reaching huge auction prices.
Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018, $650 (up from $500 last year)
McLaren Vale 26% Barossa 18% Coonawarra 25%…. 100% Cabernet, yes it’s big but carries it well. Blackcurrant, olives boysenberry, kirsch, granite. Seamless, powerful, big rich style, rhubarb and sweet cranberry, cedar, chocolate with clean spices. The mouth feel and aftertaste are both quite superb, complex and layered… the Cabernet Grange!
Penfolds RWT Bin 798 Barossa Shiraz 2018, $200
Great value compared to Grange; opulent, sweet, ripe, dark oak, milk chocolate; although we call it RWT in the UK it is more commonly know as Bin 798 in Australia. Barossa Valley 60%, new oak hogsheads barrels. Espresso coffee, chocolate, mocha, black fruit, hazelnut crème brûlée with raspberries and blueberries, lovely sharpness with freshness, hint of raspberry ripple ice cream, quite superb.
Penfolds St Henri 2017, $135
Shiraz with 3% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Barossa, McLaren, Eden Valley, Port Lincoln. Used to be called St Henri Claret made by a Frenchman back in 1890, Max Schubert brought it to Penfolds in the 1950s, making the first release in 1957. Penfolds has always kept it to the old-style old oak, the mouthfeel is skin, seed and sinew, very different to the oak, fruity-enthused modern Shiraz. Some Port Lincoln fruit giving it sea freshness. Very pleasurable, hedonistic perfume of mulberries and meaty salami. Plush, glossy, black olives, dark, rippling freshness on the palate – bright and fresh like an aged Tondonia from Rioja.
Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz, 2018
Sourced from the original Penfolds estate although the remaining Magill Vineyard is a fraction of the original estate which was sold long ago for housing development as part of Adelaide City. French and American oak with nearly 42% new in total. Figgy, dark cherries, crispy chicken skin left in a roasting pan, celery leaf, sweet peppers. Everything is grown and pressed within metres of the winery, hand picked and basket pressed, producing a plush, silky, vibrant wine.
Penfolds Grange 2016, $950
Shiraz with 3% Cabernet. Is it as good as the 2015? well it is certainly more forward. Gago’s tasting notes are always worth a read and his tasting notes for the Penfolds Grange 2016 include this epic paragraph: “A fusion of preserved figs, black plum, blackberry and black liquorice flirts with an aromatic elation of fish oil, anchovy, soy and sesame.”
I would add a darkness, tobacco, soy, and the whiff of a barrel of salted anchovies, rich wagyu beef. To begin with it is lively exciting, alluring, then as the complexity grows on the palate it is saying “give me some time”, but certainly does not need 40 years and would be a fabulous wine within five years, even sooner if it was decanted and served in a suitable glass. Many people like their Grange with 40-50 years on the clock but it is interesting how charming the newer vintages are in their youth. Having said that, Peter said that if he was going to steal any vintages from the Penfolds Cellar it would be 1952, 53 and 55. Now there’s a thought….
Penfolds Grange G4, ($3,500, only 2,500 bottles made)
This follows on from the G3 and there will be one more, G5. Based on the vintages 2016, 2008, 2004 and 2002, with all four blended then aged together in barrel. Sadly Peter only opens these bottles when he is in attendance, so I will have to wait till next year to report on the G4; but he was not giving much away except there is little chance of being able to buy a bottle.
A luxurious as ever tasting, highlighting Peter Gago’s continued road towards perfection, never happy to sit still and a perfect custodian of Penfolds Grange and the Penfolds Collection.