The Penfolds story simply can’t contain itself.
For years its narrative has relied on wines with a South Australian provenance that expands from single vineyard to single region to multi regional.
Over several years that mantra has widened its chardonnay lens to include multi-Australian state-sourced wines.
Now Penfolds has stretched its boundaries even further to become a multi-national wine-making enterprise, more so than purely a globally marketed wine brand.
Let’s chisel this trajectory down to its brass tacks.
There now are Penfolds wines from one vineyard, such as Magill Estate Shiraz. There are others that are sourced from one region only, such as a Barossa-only shiraz and even a sub-regional Marananga district shiraz from the western side of the Barossa Valley. And a Coonawarra only Shiraz, as well as Cabernet from that region as well.
Then we come to the Penfolds multi-regional sourcing schemes, which for its Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon results in fruit from five regions, and similarly for its beloved St Henri Shiraz. This year’s release of the 2018 Grange comes from three regions.
Tasmania now comes into play as well, providing grapes for a straight state-based pinot noir and two chardonnays in differing blended proportions with Adelaide Hills fruit.
And now for the rest of the world. We already have witnessed the Penfolds livery on bottles of very smart French Champagne. This year we can buy Penfolds red wines grown and made in Bordeaux, as well as a blend of French and Barossa Valley fruit, and also we can wrap our lips around three Californian reds, one of which is a blend with a South Australian inclusion. Later in the year we are told there will be wines grown and made in China under the Penfolds banner.
Penfolds World is well and truly established. In its own marketing lingo, this release “showcases Penfolds’ enduring House Style” for all the world to see. That goes for winemaking style in one sense, and a business plan without borders in another.
“Penfolds is building a global ambition not just on paper but with our feet in vineyards across two hemispheres,” Penfolds Managing Director Tom King expounds.
“We are focused on making Penfolds wines from the best winemaking regions globally,” he adds.
That journey started in a partnership with Champagne Thiénot, then brought to life a 20-year endeavour in the US with a Californian wine release, and now the latest relationship with a leading a Bordeaux winery has resulted in two new red wines added to the collection.
How this international enterprise will pan out depends on whether Penfolds’ SA-roots story resonates as an evolving global luxury brand especially in Old World and traditional markets.
“The team has been engaging customers, critics and partners across the world – Australia, Europe, Asia, USA, Canada et al – in the lead up to the release to taste and discuss the philosophies behind making wine in two hemispheres to deliver one Collection,” a Penfolds marketing executive told Winepilot. “An allocation of each release is available in key markets, so naturally the USA and France will be able to talk to Penfolds endeavours on home soil.”
China, of course, is the next cab off the rank, the executive revealing the imminent release of the first Penfolds wine made in China in an acceleration of pre-existing plans in the market.
“Penfolds has a long-term commitment to China,” the executive said. “Californian and French wines from The Penfolds Collection 2022 will be available to purchase in China, and a very small quantity of Australian-sourced Penfolds is available in market with tariffs applied.”
While all this action is occurring on the world stage, it might be worth reminding ourselves that Penfolds is about to release its latest collection of traditional Australian wines ready to the public on August 4.
At their unveiling to reviewers and critics, it was reiterated by the ever-present Penfolds marketing team heads that South Australia remained the “home and heart” of the business.
Of course, leading these stalwarts is the much-awaited 2018 Grange, which Chief Winemaker Peter Gago very much fancies as having a rightful place with many favourite vintages. He loves looking at wines down the decades and cites the 1978, 1998, and 2008 Granges as being integral milestones along the way to this release.
This particular 2018 Grange is going to get a fair bit of attention when it hits the ground, firstly because it is an exceptional wine that sits among the very best of its 68-year lineage. Secondly, it will garner all kinds of twittering and commentary because it will go on sale at the ooh-aah mark of $1000 per 750ml bottle. This should come as no shock to anyone who is in touch with the global market for icon wines, and is timed perhaps to coincide also with what is expected to be a wave of very high critical praise.
So, we might as well start the ball rolling.
Penfolds 2018 Grange Shiraz – 100/100
Barossa Valley/ McLaren Vale/ Clare Valley 14.5% $1000
A much-awaited vintage that fulfils expectations and then some. It has all the elements that you come to expect but still you have to sit back and marvel that so much can be going on inside one wine. Firstly, it simply ain’t Grange unless it is wearing its traditional American oak coat, and this iteration isn’t going to shy away from that. But perhaps it is the generosity across the board of South Australia’s 2018 vintage that gathers in 18 months of barrel maturation, puts shape to its broad-shouldered dark fruits, turns oak notes into chocolate and sarsaparilla characters on one side of the brain and beef and mushroom braise in the other. All in all, it is a fabulous balance of inputs: big fruit, classically prominent oak, all its structural tannins and acidity fitting cleverly into one exceptionally complex and engaging being. Palate length is indefinite, perhaps suggesting similar cellaring potential well into the second half of the 21st century. Magnificent.
Penfolds RWT Bin 798 Shiraz 2020 – 96/100
Barossa Valley 14.5% $200
While multi-regional sourcing for many of the Penfolds high-end reds is now the accepted practice, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the Barossa Valley still carries some home ground advantage. And this glorious creation tells us that in no uncertain terms, driven by all the dark plum and blue to black berry vibes of major Barossa shiraz. Settle all this down with 16 months in French hogshead barrels, almost half of them new, and the layers all fit together in genius balance: gentle spicing, cola, sarsaparilla, mocha, building a palate echoing with regional power and gravitas.
Penfolds Bin 169 Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 – 98/100
Coonawarra 14.5% $300
Penfolds’ connections with the Coonawarra region are historic, yet never stuck in the past as house styles evolve to meet contemporary tastes. This cabernet leads the way in such a journey, showcasing varietal purity with its crimson berries and delicate offsets, manifest in pretty floral aromatics, mint leaf gels and the background waft of herb garden lavender, rosemary and thyme. Then weave in a lovely wave of French oak derived baking spice, which gently transitions into a layer of finely controlled tannins in the finish. A lively, energetic, youthful and expressive wine that translates to pure delicious pleasure.
Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2020 – 95/100
Magill Estate, Adelaide 14.5% $150
When the marketing folks talk about Penfolds’ heart and home, this is embodiment of that mantra in wine, a single estate shiraz from the original winery site in the Adelaide foothills. It’s always carried itself in a more medium-bodied manner compared to many of its stablemates, and that goes for this vintage too. Plenty of savoury notes add interest to the blue-black fruit purity within, entertaining the nose and palate with a sense of crushed black olive and light meat stock, taking into account 15 months in a mix of French and American oak that offers a mocha like backdrop, finishing with fine gravelly tannins. There’s a huge promise here, too, with all its youthful savoury elements suggesting an intriguing journey as it matures further.
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2019 – 98/100
McLaren Vale/ Barossa Valley/ Padthaway/ Wrattonbully/ The Peninsulas 14.5% $135
This can only ever be a stylistic expression of the shiraz variety, as sourcing from six SA districts eliminates regionality. (For the record, The Peninsulas is a defined GI region, this fruit coming from the outskirts of Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula.) The wine’s point of difference within the Penfolds range is that it has no new oak maturation and spends only 12 months in large format seasoned vats. The result is a sophisticated, dark, almost mysterious shiraz, a wine with secrets within that one suspects will reveal great joys over the next 20 to 30 years, as its forebears have proved for more than half a century. For now, in and around the black fruits there are flint, mushroom, licorice and roast meat notes. Plenty to unpack. A serious SA shiraz that remains a really enticing proposition.
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2020 – 97/100
McLaren Vale/ Barossa Valley/ Padthaway 14.5% $100
Over the years this wine has been referenced as “Baby Grange” because it is matured in the same barrels that held the previous vintage’s Grange. The makeup of the wine is however totally different, in this outing a 51% cabernet sauvignon/ 49% shiraz blend. As such it perhaps is the most quintessential of all Penfolds’ South Australian reds. There certainly is plenty of magic in the wine, with cabernet leading the first sensory impressions while more robust, savoury shiraz sits under cover of darkness. The fruit profile is dark cherry and black forest cake, then later suggestions of roasted root vegetables rise to speak their piece. Palate structures are well knitted and solid, and already there are early signs of maturity. It’s a big wine now with plenty to look forward to in the decades to come.
Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 – 96/100
McLaren Vale/ Barossa Valley/ Coonawarra/ Padthaway/ Wrattonbully 14.5% $120
As with the St Henri shiraz, with five regions in play here this is all about varietal expression, measured by a mix of warmer to cooler districts. That allows a broad brush of characters to show themselves here in the immediate cabernet aromas and flavours of cassis, dark berries and fruits of the forest that then get a lovely little tickle of mint derived no doubt from the cooler sources in the Limestone Coast zone. Fifteen months in a mix of French and American oak, a minority new, have offered another layer as well, along the lines of cedar and dark chocolate. There’s lots to love here, from the vibrant cabernet fruit profile to the succulent and expressive tannins that are juicy yet supportive, the palate even and beautifully balanced in its final hurrahs.
Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2020 – 95/100
Barossa Valley 14.5% $100
While the broader Barossa Valley is a major provider in many Penfolds reds, here we focus in a bit tighter to a sub-district that arguably offers uniquely recognisable characters in its own right. Typically western Barossa, this is riddled with charcoal and blacksmithy notes, iron roofs, old sheds and tractors. Sounds a crazy way to express its initial smells but it does it every time. The fruit takes its time to find its way through all that nasal entertainment, and when it does it’s all dark plum compote surrounded by oak notes (12 months in French and American barrels) with a side hustle of sarsaparilla leading the spice feels. Rich, robust and full of sub-regional bravado.
Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz 2020 – 94/100
McLaren Vale/ Barossa Valley/ Clare Valley 14.5% $50
Originally known as Kalimna Shiraz after the Barossa vineyard it was sourced from, now we have four SA regions in play without the Kalimna name attached. You couldn’t taste a more classic Penfolds shiraz than this with all its rich, dark, ripe fruit inside a subtle wrap of American oak that adds familiar chocolate and spice notes to the palate. There’s cola too, then some crumbled earthiness, while fruit acidity remains lively and the textural tannin profile friendly and welcoming. Value is most attractive as well.
Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2020 – 94/100
Coonawarra 14.5% $60
A shiraz that always offers a comparative opportunity within the Penfolds portfolio, this time solely derived from the cooler climate Coonawarra region in South Australia’s south-eastern corner. The result is a more crimson-coloured fruit and berry profile, rather than blacker fruits. Importantly, this comes hand in hand with a good smatter of white pepper that confirms its cool climate credentials. Deftly crafted, this is a compact and neatly concentrated wine without excessive extraction, its bouquet suggesting old-fashioned butcher shops, lamb and sawdust, yet never denying its core vibrant shiraz fruit, tickled with garden herbs and finishing with mouth-coating, dusty talc-like tannins. A wine that desires a rich lamb dish.
Penfolds Bin 138 Shiraz Grenache Mataro 2020 – 93/100
Barossa Valley 14.5% $60
A blend of 65% shiraz, 29% grenache and 6% mataro that comes together in a fairly solid Barossa style, exotic fruits and smoked meaty savouries entwined. There’s an inherent earthiness as well, that anchors a heady bouquet, while a core of sweet Barossa fruit shines mid-palate before a coating of assertive tannins makes its presence felt. Quite a robust expression of this blend.
Penfolds Bin 23 Pinot Noir 2021 – 96/100
Tasmania 13.5% $50
We leave the mainland now for an exploration of cool-climate Tasmania and what that can bring to the pinot noir variety, a lovely counterpoint to the shiraz-dominated Penfolds collection. It’s a bit tricky to nail down the exact district/s this wine comes from, though there are clues to it being just south-east of Launceston. No mystery to its variety however, as it’s clearly pinot from a set of red fruit and blue floral aromatic notes. Smash strawberry, raspberry and violet petals together and you get the drift, while some earth and gravels add a terroir grounding. A wine with lively acidity and balanced structures, full of energy and a genuine varietal/source intrigue that pinot noir offers when at its best.
Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2020 – 98/100
Tasmania/ Adelaide Hills 12.5% $175
Majority Tasmanian fruit from the White Hills Vineyard outside Launceston, the proportions flipped in comparison to the latest Bin 311 variation. Immediately complex and layered, with house styled flintiness in play within a matrix of immensely attractive and seductive aromas that highlight the magic that happens when such energy-driven fruit meets the finest of oak regimes (French barriques, 86% new for eight months). Yeast buns and toasted almonds pop in and out for a nasal visit, before you enter pure chardonnay heaven as you taste: white stone fruits and yellow grapefruits in an engaging conversation with creamy elements counterpointing lifts of tangy acidity, finishing with impressive length. Everything here is of the finest design. World class.
Penfolds Reserve Bin A Chardonnay 2021 – 94/100
Adelaide Hills 12.5% $125
Even within its white wine collection, Penfolds has honed in on a single cool-climate region, specifically the Adelaide Hills, to showcase this always fascinating chardonnay expression. The practice is to work the wine as individual wild ferments in separate French oak barriques (50% new), so that there’s plenty of opportunity to develop all manner of secondary characters in the final cuvee. This 2021 iteration is still in a very tightly wound space where the nose is so fine and restrained that for now, drink at room temperature for at least some initial unfurling of all its elements. Flavour wise it also remains quite closed at the moment, with crunchy white stone fruits and citrus juices driving the line. There’s a lot hiding in here yet to come to the surface, and I suspect it will be a thrilling ride when that happens.
Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2021 – 95/100
Adelaide Hills / Tasmania 12.5% $50
The more accessible of Penfolds’ three chardonnay iterations, and not just in terms of price. This latest vintage has a greater proportion of Adelaide Hills fruit than in the past few years, and immediately strikes one as a wine with more complexity and impetus than previous 311s. The nose leans towards a richer chardonnay sense, with impressions of yellow and green citrus fruits, the faintest of flintiness and even a suggestion of creaminess. Flavours go straight to white nectarine with a delicate tang of yellow grapefruit flesh, acidity reverbing with pithy mouthfeels. Penfolds insiders refer to this wine as “Baby Yattarna” which suggests wine quality as well as great value.
Penfolds II Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2019 – 93/100
Bordeaux/ Barossa Valley 14% $500
A wine from northern and southern hemispheres, old and new world. Breaking the rules or writing new rules? The interest here is as much about the success of the blending relationship of the two regions as it is about all the specific tasting elements. The breakdown is thus: 59% cabernet sauvignon and 12 % merlot from Bordeaux, with the 29% shiraz component from the Barossa Valley. The French wines were made at two cellars owned by the House of Dourthe, the shiraz at Penfolds’ Nuriootpa winery. The three parcels were blended and bottled in South Australia. In the glass, the first messages are all about dark fruits, mint and herbals, licorice as well as Middle Eastern spices. Oak makes its presence felt after 18 months in French and American barrels, a good percentage new. The wine is still very tight with tannins in charge of the palate – put a bottle way back in the waiting room as there are years ahead for the fruit balance to rise and shine.
Penfolds FWT 585 Cabernet Merlot Petit Verdot 2019 – 95/100
Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux 14% $120
Penfolds love an acronym, this one standing for French Wine Trial. The wine was made at Cambon la Pelouse with Penfolds winemaker Emma Wood regularly on the ground, in the vineyards and cellars, steering the ship admirably through the house style channels. The assembly here is 53% cabernet sauvignon, 34% merlot and 13% petit verdot, coming together with pure Bordeaux elan, all the dark fruits and kitchen herbs associated with the region and varieties: sage, bay leaf, purple florals like lavender and violets. There’s even some gingery spice to tease and entertain, as crumbled earth and minerals weave through the palate, classic stylistic tannins playing in the background before feathering outward in the finish. Intriguing and satisfying.
Penfolds Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 – 94/100
Napa Valley, USA/ South Australia 14.5% $225
Sticking with the latest Penfolds’ global project of combining northern and southern hemispheres, here we shift to the US west coast where somewhere in the region of 85%-90% of this cabernet was sourced, the remainder from unspecified South Australian vineyards though from its background eucalypt aromatics there’s most likely some Coonawarra input. Importantly this is all about ripe cabernet fruit, dark berries and cassis top to bottom, while gentle and supportive tannins keep the spine upright and taut. Very accessible right now on release, which brings joy to the drinking, dare we say even “easy” drinking cabernet.
Penfolds Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 – 95/100
Napa Valley, USA 14.5% $120
Let’s get the in-house Penfolds riddle out of the way: the Bin number 704 is the reverse of it’s South Australian classic Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon. This is all Napa Valley material crafted by Penfolds winemakers, confident and expressive from the outset, more redolent of crimson berries than darker fruits with a fabulous waft of the full spice cabinet, thanks perhaps to a judicious 17-month maturation in French oak, 40% new. There’s plenty of drive in the palate, warm with ripeness, potent though deftly proportioned.
Penfolds Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz 2019 – 93/100
California, USA 14.5% $90
This Australian style “claret” out of three US west coast regions has a wonderful back story. In 1998, Penfolds planted a selection of vine cuttings from its South Australian Kalimna and Magill Estate vineyards in California, and now, in this wine, grapes from those original travellers take their time-honoured place. The blend is 83% cabernet and 17% shiraz from Napa Valley, Sonoma and Paso Robles, matured for 17 months in, unsurprisingly, American oak, 40% new. While the fruit notes are all about ripe, sweet, dark berries, this is more a celebration of savoury elements, olive paste especially, charcuterie as well. Palate flavours are rich and complete, enhanced with a wrap of sweet, baking-spicy American oak. Familiar and welcoming with classic Penfolds manners.